Half of millennials and baby boomers prefer walkable communities, and they are willing to pay a premium to live in a pedestrian-friendly community.

Redfin reported that the price of a home rose with every additional point on a scale of pedestrian friendliness. Nationally, one Walk Score point can increase the price of a home by just about one percent. In Washington DC that translates into an increase in price of $4,386 or 1.22 percent for every point of walkability. In Washington DC, changing a Walk Score of 60 to a Walk Score of 80 generates a $133,000 premium for the average house.

The Redfin study noted that “fewer than 2 percent of  active listings are considered a walker’s paradise (Walk Score of 90 and above). Yet 56 percent of millennials and 46 percent of boomers prefer walkable communities with a range of housing amidst local businesses and public services. And like everything rare and desirable, walkability comes at a premium; homes highly “walkable” to amenities, everything else being equal, are more expensive than comparable homes in less “walkable” areas.”

Let’s fulfill the promise of pedestrian-friendly Pike District!

Easy Ways to Make Places More Pedestrian Friendly

Making places more pedestrian friendly is a shift we’re seeing globally.  Earlier this week, Wired.com published a piece called “7 Simple Ways to Make Cities More Friendly to Pedestrians.”  Some are concepts we’re already talking about for White Flint, like Complete Streets , orienting buildings to the street and moving parking behind/below buildings.  Check out the full article by clicking here — would these make you more willing to leave your car and take a stroll?

Thinking a bicycle might be more your speed?  Check out this video from Utrecht, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, where 33% of ALL TRIPS are made by bicycle.  See eight minutes of an ordinary morning commute condensed into two:

Heads Up on the Sidewalk!

Even despite our best efforts at advocacy and watchdoggingness (that’s a word, right?), we periodically find that things are not exactly happening according to plan.  By “plan” I mean, the White Flint Sector Plan — that 90+ page document approved by our County’s Council and Planning Department and overwhelmingly supported by the community — which is guiding the suburban retrofit we’ve been working toward.  The first sentence of the Plan reads,

This Sector Plan vision establishes policies for transforming  an auto-oriented suburban development pattern into an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit.

Lovely, right?  So, it’s frustrating when we come across new little installations that fly in the face of this vision.  Take, for example, Old Georgetown Road in front of Pike and Rose.  I was there this weekend to glance around the first restaurant to open on the property, Del Frisco’s Grille, when I couldn’t help but notice a few things about the sidewalk.  You know, the one we’re supposed to use to “walk to work, shops and transit.”

First – can we acknowledge how awesome it is to see the transformation we’ve been working toward for over seven years?  To actually see the the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue is pretty exciting!

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But, say you’re walking downhill (west) on Old Georgetown Road – away from the Pike.  Maybe you’re moving a little faster because you’re biking on the sidewalk, a little too unnerved to challenge the traffic by riding in a travel lane.   You will notice quite an improvement from our previous sidewalk.  A great buffer separates pedestrians from traffic – I felt pretty safe standing there with my little kid.

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I walked a little farther down the sidewalk and thought my eyes were playing a trick on me.  Was something in the middle of the sidewalk (and, no, I don’t mean the orange piece of construction equipment taking a break)?  Do you see it?

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It’s such a skinny little thing that I asked my helper (that’s Charlie, everybody) to help me highlight the scary obstacle SITTING IN THE CENTER OF THE  SIDEWALK!  See it now?  (You can click to zoom in on any of these photos, by the way).

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You kind of have to be right on top of it to see it and, depending on your circumstances, that might be too late!

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This skinny pole, again, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK, was installed by Pepco, we’re told.  It attaches to the utility pole to your left for, I don’t know, stability?  That seems important but, really, Pepco?  This was the best solution you could come up with?  Someone is going to get hurt with this obstacle in the middle of the sidewalk.  I repeat:  SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET HURT WITH THIS OBSTACLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK.

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When we turned around to return to our car (yes, we drove there), something else jumped out at me.  Can someone explain why the “walk sign” is sitting in the middle of the sidewalk?

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According to our County DOT and State Highway Administration, this location is necessary so those in wheelchairs can reach the walk request button.  Again, surely we could have found a better solution here because, if one of those persons in a wheelchair wishes to turn left at that corner, they’re going to experience a significant pinch point.

While we wish these were the only spots where infrastructure is falling short, we expect there will be others.  Get your voices ready!  

If you’d like to speak out on these issue, either comment here or on social media or email your concerns to Darcy Buckley in the county’s White Flint Implementation Coordination office at darcy.buckley@montgomerycountymd.gov. Although they don’t control Pepco, that office is the best place to coordinate an improvement to these two situations.

 

 

FoWF Advocacy

Friends of White Flint is the only independent organization that represents the entire range of stakeholders impacted by the redevelopment of White Flint. When we create a position, we tap into the residents, businesses and landowners in and around our area in order to build consensus. Our advocacy often occurs in person and over the telephone but, last week, we had the opportunity to send letters on three topics at issue within county government.  The first is regarding the renovations being contemplated for Nebel Street, the second is asking for Hoya Street to be completed and the last is advocating for additional funds in the Parks Department budget for urban park elements.

Check out the text below :

To MCDOT regarding the redesign of Nebel Street (and see the update at the bottom):

We are very grateful that traffic engineer Kyle Liang took the time to share MCDOT’s plans for Nebel Street with the White Flint Downtown Advisory Board last month.  Friends of White Flint was present at the meeting and would like to share some thoughts and recommendations based on the concepts provided.  Friends of White Flint is a community advocacy group which represents the entire range of stakeholder groups impacted by the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector.  Our members include not only hundreds of individual residents but also most of the condominium and civic associations in and abutting the sector, businesses, and property owners/developers.

Nebel Street is a unique and well-traveled border of the White Flint sector and, though it is mostly industrial at present, it is projected for growth in the near future.  We are grateful for MCDOT’s attention to the road, and the fiscally-prudent strategy to assess how best we can be using the existing pavement.  We agree that re-striping the road and incorporating bicycle infrastructure are excellent improvements.  There are three major concerns, however, which we’d like to share.

While we appreciate the dedicated bicycle lane, and are willing to trade that facility’s optimum width for the streamlining of the project, we are concerned with its abrupt end before Randolph Road.  Bicycle trips will not end mid-block and it is unfair and unsafe to terminate a bike lane suddenly, depositing bicycles in the lane with unsuspecting drivers.  We do, however, understand that the pavement narrows at this point, impacting the options.  If a solution which continues the bike lane until the intersection is impossible, then we ask for every effort to be made in ensuring the safe transition of bikes into traffic.  Specifically, we ask that MCDOT install highly visible signage at the curbs and sharrows in the lane.  The suggestion that paint in the travel lane, in the form of a sharrow, is economically prohibitive is unacceptable.

Second, we ask that MCDOT take a more comprehensive look at the intersection of Marinelli Road and Nebel Street.  The subject of lengthy discourse over two WFDAC meetings, this intersection poses a significant visibility risk for drivers turning left onto Nebel from Marinelli.  A curve, a hill and parked cars make it very difficult to see and we ask that additional traffic calming measures be considered, just as they were at the intersection with Old Georgetown Road.  While a three-way stop has been discussed most widely, our members have also asked that you consider roundabouts at both the interesection with Marinelli and Old Georgetown.  We offer this suggestion with the understanding that it might broach farther into the realm of a capital improvement but ask that you explore all options to improve safety at these intersections.

Finally, we ask that you take a look at improving conditions at the intersection of Nebel Street and Nicholson Lane.  This intersection is presently treacherous for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.  A hedge at the southeast corner obstructs visibility for all travelers.  Also, the travel lanes on Nebel approaching the intersection are not clearly marked.  Drivers often mistake which lanes are for turning and which are for through-traffic.  And, large tractor trailers are often parked on the west side of Nebel Street, approaching Nicholson Lane obstructing visibility and stretching into travel lanes. There must be better solutions, for the sake of both visibility and safety.

We understand that these improvements to Nebel Street are still in the conceptual phase but we applaud your forethought in tackling them.  It’s our hope that a portion of the traffic calming budget will be used toward these needed changes and that they could be installed this year.  But, in the interest of using our county funds most effectively, we hope that our comments will be considered so that the improvements will be comprehensive and long-lasting.

** Update on Nebel Street – we learned from Dee Metz, the county’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator that MCDOT is now planning a 3-way stop at the intersection with Nebel Street.

To the County Council on completing Hoya Street as part of their Capital Improvements Projects Budget:

Friends of White Flint is ecstatic about the proposed acceleration of funding to complete Hoya Street in the White Flint sector and we ask that you and your colleagues maintain it within the budget.  Friends of White Flint is a community advocacy group which represents the entire range of stakeholder groups impacted by the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector.  Our members include not only hundreds of individual residents but also most of the condominium and civic associations in and abutting the sector, businesses, and property owners/developers.

Presently, Hoya Street ends abruptly just north of Old Georgetown Road.  In fact, when a driver begins their southbound journey from Rockville Pike, it actually appears that Hoya is a throughstreet that connects with the improving White Flint street grid.  It’s not until a driver is right upon it that they realize their mistake and need to turn around.  An improved street grid is crucial to a successfully redeveloped White Flint, and for addressing the ever-worsening traffic running through it.  A connected Hoya Street is at the heart of this.  Please get this project back on track by funding it as recommended by the T&E committee.

Thank you for considering this issue as you address the budget.

And, to augment the funding of the Parks’ department to allow them flexibility when addressing urban parks (like those planned for Wall Park and the White Flint Civic Green).  It’s our hope that the department will use some of these extra funds to make easy and relatively inexpensive improvements to Wall Park now, so we can increase our enjoyment of the space while we wait for the full improvement.  This is from our letter to the County Council on this budgetary item:

Green space is crucially important to the success of White Flint and we need the county to do its part to ensure our parks reach their potential. Therefore, we urge that the county fund Urban Parks Elements independently of other existing park needs so that these important areas can receive the attention they require.  It is our hope that some of this funding will be used toward improving Wall Park so that, even before its full transformation is complete, it can become an area of respite for residents of our growing White Flint area.

Advocacy is crucial to the success of the White Flint Sector!  Join us!

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!

Update: MCDOT’s plan for Nebel Street

In January, we reported that MCDOT had plans to calm traffic and improve the travel experience on Nebel Street.  Engineer Kyle Liang of MCDOT was at the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee to share some ideas on how that might look, and he returned this month with an update on their thinking.

As a recap, Nebel Street stretches from Nicholson Lane to Randolph Road and has 47′ of pavement, curb to curb. So, the question is: how do we best use this pavement?  At the moment, the road has three travel lanes (one in each direction and a center lane for left turns) and two parking lanes.  Here is MCDOT’s latest proposal:

20140311_212456_LLS (1)

 

Although the graphic says 10′ travel lanes, Mr. Liang said the lanes would be 11′ wide (which makes the road add up to the full 47′ available).  So, we have two travel lanes, two bike lanes and two parking lanes.  At the intersections with Old Georgetown Road and Marinelli, a center turning lane will be necessary so the extra space will come from a parking lane.  Because nearly all of the planned redevelopment is on the western side of Nebel, the parking there is expected to be prioritized.

 

Two major concerns we have: 

First – the pavement narrows as the street heads north toward Randolph Road so the bike lanes are projected to just end about half a block from that intersection.  Mr. Liang describes that a road sign would alert bicyclists and drivers that they are now to share the travel lane.  We believe that, at a minimum, sharrows (see below) should be painted in the travel lane to really drive the point home.  A bicyclist’s trip is not going to end abruptly mid-block, so we need to do everything possible to ensure their safety as they approach the intersection.  A sharrow is an inexpensive way to do this.

sharrow

Sharrow

Second – Concerns remain about the safety of turning left from Marinelli Road onto Nebel Street.  Because of curves and parked vehicles, visibility is very limited and makes for a treacherous turn.  The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee asked Mr. Liang to consider a three-way stop sign there to assist both pedestrians and turning vehicles.  A similar move at the intersection with Old Georgetown Road has made a world of difference and was, arguably, less in need of the improvement.

Marinelli
Image from Google Maps

It was noted that the stop bar, which you can make out from the photo above, is set back quite far from the corner which makes it even harder to see.  Mr. Liang did note the intention to add curb extensions to the eastern sides which will allow cars to move up even farther in preparation for turning and, hopefully, have better visibility in doing so.

Timeline

It’s worth mentioning here that this project does not yet have final funding so these ideas are totally conceptual.  But, the county does have a traffic calming budget so, if these improvements could be classified within this, we might be able to see the project completed this year.  In the meantime, MCDOT is collecting comments on the proposal.  Friends of White Flint plans to send a letter and we’d like your input – email us at info@whiteflint.org or comment here with your opinions!

“Road Diets” in NYC

As Mayor Bill De Blasio begins his role as Mayor of New York City, people are now examining all the changes the last mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, brought to the city.

Bloomberg and his staff succeeding in changing the built environment of New York City to better the safety and well-being of its residents. His team, including former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, were able to change the infrastructure of many roads and streets around the city to help pedestrians and bikers feel welcomed in their city. These changes, often called “road diets”, “shaved off excess space,” providing pedestrian-friendly spaces to once unsafe, car-centric streets. Branden Klayko provided before and after pictures of 25 areas throughout the city that show these road diets and pedestrian plazas.

Check out these amazing before and after pictures! The changes shown in these pictures are truly aspiring for us here in White Flint.

 

Why is the U.S. More Car-Dependent than Europe?

Car-centric travel was once the model every city, town, and country wanted to follow. In the height of motorization, the U.S. became the role model for the rest of the world for car production and travel. This gave room for other parts of the world to develop other strong modes of transportation. We began to see Europe focus their attention on a more balanced transportation system that encouraged pedestrian and bicycle friendly forms of transit much earlier than the U.S. Only recently has the U.S. and its policies focused on the need for complete streets.  Americans are extremely dependent on cars for transportation, but we are learning as time goes on why we need to focus transportation planning and funding on more infrastructures than roads for cars. But why did the U.S. become more car-dependent than Europe? What elements allowed the U.S. to develop this way? According to Ralph Buehler, there are 9 reasons why this trend happened.

  • Mass motorization– Mass motorization occurred earlier in the U.S. than other countries. In addition, Americans in general have “greater personal wealth” than Europeans, which allows households to purchase more cars more often.
  • Road standards– Related to mass motorization, the U.S. had to adapt its streets and roads to allow for cars to thrive in cities across the country. Infrastructures were created that would allow cars to succeed over any other means of transportation.
  • Vehicle taxes– Taxes on cars and gas are much higher in Europe than in U.S. Also in the U.S., parts of the gas tax are “earmarked” for road construction, which means certain programs or initiatives do not need to compete for funds. Europe does not function this way.
  • Interstate highway system– The highway system was created in the 1950s, allowing for suburban sprawl to explode across the country. As people spread out farther from cities, Americans became more dependent on cars to travel to services and amenities they need.
  • Government subsidies– Prices Americans pay for elements that allow us to drive (gas and tolls) only amount to “60 or 70 percent of roadway expenditures,” with the rest covered by other taxes they pay. In Europe, citizens pay more in taxes that are spent on road construction.
  • Technological focus– Americans focus more attention on “technological changes rather than altering behavior” to hinder the problems surrounding cars and car traffic. In Europe, actions are taken to change citizens’ behavior surrounding cars, such as creating “car free zones” or reducing speed limits in certain areas.
  • Public transportation– In general, the governments in Europe have supported public transportation for longer and with a higher monetary value than the U.S. government. The U.S. government often comes in too late to save a public transit system, allowing the system to slowly disappear.
  • Walking and Cycling– There are many European cities that have “implemented entire networks of bike lanes, separated cycle tracks, off-street bicycle paths, and traffic-calmed neighborhood streets.” The U.S. has only begun to incorporate these elements in redeveloping urban areas. The White Flint Sector has taken notice of this need to incorporate a walkable and bikeable street network or grid.
  • And finally, Zoning lawsRalph Buehler stated that the majority of European cities have a sustainable mixed-use land use planning that incorporates residential space with commercial and retail space. The U.S. has only begun to use this type of land-use planning. This is primarily due to zoning laws preventing commercial and retail spaces to exist in zoned residential areas.  Montgomery County is in the process of revising its own zoning code to bring this thinking into action.

The White Flint district faces many of these elements Buehler lists. With the sector plan, as well as the potential passing of the urban road code updates, we hope that we can start to shift the area’s reliance on cars as the main mode of transportation to a more walkable focus.

Safe Streets Act of 2014

On February 7th, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Safe Streets Act of 2014 (S. 2004) to the U.S. Senate, “which would require all new federally-funded transportation projects use a Complete Streets approach to planning, designing and building roads,” says Craig Chester.

The bill will create standards for federally funded streets and roads to ensure stronger road/traffic safety and more accessibility for all types of transportation, whether that be a car, bus, bike, or foot. A similar bill was first introduced to the United States House of Representatives in June 2013. Both of these bills “will ensure consistency in policies and funding needed to support these local efforts to ensure safe streets,” notes Chester. If these bills are passed, we hope that state and regional level governments will adopt more Complete Streets policies.  Already, we can see 610 jurisdictions in 48 states, as well as D.C taking action towards creating Complete Streets.

This concept has found its way here in Montgomery County too. Some of our County Councilmembers are taking action towards incorporating Complete Streets policies in our county with the introduction of the Bill 33-13: Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements. Our roads, standards, and policies in the county need to encourage complete streets in order for any development project such as the White Flint Sector Plan to be successful in creating walkable and sustainable communities. This updated urban road code under the Bill 33-13 will be one step closer to creating streets and roads we really want and need throughout the county. The bill hopes to strengthen ADA, pedestrian, and bike language surrounding the county streets. As we mentioned last week, this bill might be adjusted by a multi-disciplinary workgroup that has convened to hash out some of its details. We’ll learn more this summer when it returns to the Council for approval.

Both the House and Senate bills are great steps for our nation to take. It is one step closer to  ensuring national infrastructure and support for walkable neighborhoods and communities to develop across the nation.  With these bills, we can see that our nation is moving forward in encouraging healthy and sustainable living in many different aspects our lives, including transportation. We hope that within Montgomery County and specifically, the White Flint district, that we can encourage and promote complete streets through the urban design and standards we will enforce as well.

Chapman Avenue, Extended

The enhancement of the street grid throughout White Flint is going to both improve connectivity and act to diffuse traffic that presently has fewer travel options.  We’ve written extensively about the planned Western Workaround, which will straighten Executive Boulevard on the west side of Rockville Pike and add new Market Street.  But, yesterday, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee heard an update on a road project scheduled for the east side of the Pike that will extend Chapman Avenue.

Bruce Johnston, the Chief of MCDOT’s transportation engineering division, presented the plans for this big project that has been important to many who live in and around the area.  As you can see from the map below, the extension of Chapman Avenue will stretch from Old Georgetown Road to Randolph Road, with a couple of sharp turns in between.  It will run, essentially, parallel to Nebel Street and Rockville Pike, providing alternate routes for both and breaking up a huge chunk of land that previously offered no thru-routes.

 

Chapman-2 From website of Montgomery County Office of Management and Budget

Here are the technical bits on the project:  The total right-of-way for this new road is 70 feet.  Forty of those feet will be the road itself, with 12ft travel lanes and 8ft parking lanes on each side.  There will be 6 – 8 feet of grass and tree buffer between the road and the 5-foot sidewalks.  To improve pedestrian appeal, the road will be well-lit by 12-foot tall poles, topped with attractive glass globes.  Although the existing southern portion of Chapman has brick sidewalks, Johnston notes that these will be concrete.   Bikes will travel in the traffic lanes and the road is designed with a speed limit of 30 MPH.  The projected average daily traffic on this stretch is 450 vehicles per day and the northern terminus of the project, at Chapman and Randolph Road, will be a signalized full intersection leading into Montrose Crossing Shopping Center.

As you can see from the image below (which I took from Google Maps before adding the blue line – Bruce Johnston has a much lovelier and technically accurate version that I will share when I obtain), there was a significant amount of property along this route that the County had to acquire to proceed.  That process is nearly complete and it’s expected that demolition of the necessary buildings will begin this summer.  The next step will be to begin moving utilities, including stormwater management, underground.  From there, the road project itself will be put out for bids, hopefully late this fall or early next winter.

chapman -3 From Google Maps, enhanced by the author

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, then you know that there is legislation pending in Montgomery County that will amend our urban road code to, among other things, narrow travel lanes to 10 feet in width.  This would, obviously, derail this project which contemplates 12-foot lanes.  We’ve learned, though, that this bill is in a holding pattern while a multi-disciplinary working group convenes to determine the best way to proceed.  As we’ve highlighted, concerns exist about the “blanket approach” of the bill, especially as it comes to lane widths and turning radii.  The philosophy that has been guiding Complete Streets models in other cities, like Boston, has been to really custom design the roads for the anticipated users.  In any event, the 12-foot travel lanes are not expected to be a problem as designed here.  In fact, they’re considered necessary with such sharp turns in the road design.

A related project is the mixed-use White Flint fire station planned for, essentially, the property south of Randolph Road between Chapman Extended and Rockville Pike.  The fire station will be joined on the property by affordable housing for seniors and offices for the entity that will manage White Flint’s downtown urban district.  Property acquisition for this is still in process but the hope is that the whole project will be complete by 2020.

Both the buildout of Chapman Extended and the White Flint fire station are projects proposed for funding in the County’s Capital Improvements Budget.  Think they’re important?  Check out all of the White Flint-related projects that are up for funding, and find instructions on how to weigh in and let the county know your thoughts by clicking here.