If We Design for Walkability, Will You Actually Walk?

The new street and sidewalk grid that is coming to the White Flint district will bring many positive features to our area. The grid is designed around the beneficial walkability elements that we hope to encourage residents to follow throughout the region. These development projects and road projects use various walkability strategies that work for many areas across the world but the success of the new White Flint district really comes down to the question of whether people will actually walk or bike around the new projects, sidewalks, and bike lanes being built.

Steve Snell focused on this issue in his recent blog post. Snell discussed three main elements of walkability of which many city planners or community developers focus on. The first is the “physical access and infrastructure” of roads, streets, and sidewalks. We want narrow enough streets and wide enough sidewalks in order to feel comfortable and safe enough to walk and bike around our neighborhoods. The second element is places and things to attend, such as restaurants, goods and services, grocery stores, bookstores, and public spaces. The third element is “proximity.” In order for people to want to walk somewhere, these goods and services must be in close proximity, often about 10 minutes is the limit  people to want to walk. These are all important elements for walkability but there are other things that are often overlooked, according to Snell.

These elements include the physical appearance of where one is walking. If an area is walkable in its physical infrastructure, it may not be walkable in its appearance or appear unsafe. Or, perhaps, driving is too expensive especially as gas prices continue to rise. Or, do the residents have a disposition to walk and explore? Snell poses that city planners must truly understand why residents are walking in their cities and neighborhoods when they are planning to develop new urban designs. It is also important to understand if residents will actually walk, once the infrastructure is there.

With the help of Friends of White Flint, our White Flint Sector Plan incorporated the wants and needs of the residents, community members, and businesses. The Plan then reflects how each of these individuals are oriented towards walkability. The Plan indicates the need for the White Flint area to have a more connected street grid that promotes walkability because we know now that our residents, community members, and businesses are oriented towards walking.

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.

Update from White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee February Meeting

The February 10th meeting began with the mention of no new development taking place throughout the White Flint sector currently. The Pike and Rose development is continuing nicely with their first Phase.

Then the meeting turned to the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee update. The committee is in support of the county’s proposed Bill 33-13: Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements.  On January 24th, Planning Board Chair Carrier sent a letter to the President of the County Council supporting the Bill.   In the letter, the planning board agreed with the goals of the bill and acknowledged the need to change the 2007 urban road codes in order to have complete streets. They recommended that the bill include language that provides more details on issues such as accessibility, curb extensions, and shared use path.

Cindy Gibson, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Roger Berliner (who introduced the bill), attended the meeting as well. She provided the committee with an opportunity to learn more about the Urban Road Code bill. The bill will allow for urban areas throughout Montgomery County to have complete streets and will allow for more places like Bethesda and the future White Flint to exist. Since the urban road code was last updated in 2007, many new master plans and sector plans have popped up in hopes to create new and exciting areas across the county. Now that we have these plans, our roads, standards, and policies need to encourage what these plans were designed for: complete streets. This updated urban road code will be one step closer to creating streets and roads we really want and need. The bill will strengthen ADA, pedestrian, and bike language surrounding the county streets as well. Cindy also highlighted the public hearing, where Friends of White Flint testified, and that the County Executive’s support of the bill has been great.  (** We have since learned that Bill 33-13 is being tabled pending the results of a multi-disciplinary workgroup).

The meeting then moved toward the Implementation Coordinator report from Dee Metz. The county executive sent the CIP budget for approval on January 15th. As we have discussed in past posts, there are many proposed projects for White Flint in the CIP budget. These include the Western Workaround, District East (planning and construction), District West, Chapman Extended, and the North Bethesda Recreation Center. Questions from the public focused on the Western Workaround, one of the most important projects for White Flint. One question focused on the construction of the relocation of Executive Blvd in front of the North Bethesda Conference Center. The construction is funded in the CIP but the purchase of the land is not funded under the CIP budget. One of the funding sources is the White Flint Special Taxing District tax revenues but it may not be enough funding. The revenue will increase as the redevelopment moves forward, but it cannot move forward without the existence of roads. The county is working with the private landowner to secure the land that will be part of this project. In addition, we learned that the County Executive has discussed borrowing either $45 million or $77 million in revenue bonds.  If the county decides to borrow this money, they will not be able to pay it back until 2037. With the revenue bonds, the county needs to show a stream of income in order to secure the bond, which possess another problem.

There were two main sentiments that came out of the committee meeting that are important to remember throughout this redevelopment process that I will highlight. The first is that the county needs to make Rockville Pike, part of the District West project, their priority for redevelopment in order to bring in other funding sources, such as the state government or even the federal government. If the county does not place the Rockville Pike redevelopment as a priority, then how will the state or the federal government? One of challenges we are faced with the prioritizing the Rockville Pike project is the BRT. The Rockville Pike design cannot be complete without the BRT design. We cannot accelerate one of these projects over the other since the projects go hand in hand. In order to show that the Pike is important, the county can use methods such as a issuing a priority letter focused on the Pike or using the CIP budget to reflect the importance of the Pike.  On a related note, the committee is looking into completing an update Streetscape plan/study for Rockville Pike.

The second highlight or sentiment is that once the Western Workaround project is completed, then other projects may be pushed forward. The Western Workaround was referred to as the “spine” of the Sector plan, so we need to push this project along. Other WF projects have been pushed back for funding to be used for the Western Workaround, so it is evident that this project should continue on. Construction is slotted to begin in 2016 so we look forward to this project and all the White Flint projects to begin.

White Flint Implementation Committee February Meeting Next Week

The next White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee meeting will take place on Monday, February 10, 2014, 7 p.m., at Wall Local Park/ Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center. The White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee is an overview committee appointed by the Planning Board in 2010.  It’s comprised of property owners, resident groups and representatives from the county’s Executive Branch.

The agenda for this meeting includes development updates, as well as an update from the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee. Importantly, White Flint-related projects proposed for funding in the County Executive’s Capital Improvement Programs (CIP) budget will be discussed. These projects are Chapman Extended, White Flint Fire Station #3, White Flint Redevelopment Program, White Flint District East, White Flint District West, and White Flint West Workaround.  In addition, the Council Bill 33-13– Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements which will be discussed.

Stay tuned for updates after the meeting on Monday.

What is “Driving” New York and D.C. to have the Smallest Share of Cars?

In our effort to make White Flint a walkable community, we like to find examples of trends or models throughout the United States and globally from which we can learn. Recently, it seems many other urban areas around the United States are also noticing a trend in their communities, declining presence of cars as their main means of transportation.

In a recent article by Derek Thompson, of The Atlantic, Thompson states that New York City and D.C. have the top two “highest share of non-car households in America”, with Boston and Philadelphia close behind, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. These four cities have something in common: they are known for having relatively good public transportation, which allows residents to rely more on this than a car. But is this the real reason behind the decline in car-use? It is most definitely a factor but even more striking is the overwhelming presence of the millennial generation in these cities. Young, recent college graduates flock to these cities because of the amazing job opportunities and amenities available to them. As we mentioned in past posts, D.C. has become the “millennial capital” of US, something White Flint hopes to capitalize on with its new residences, retail stores and its proximity to public transportation. As groups of people flock to cities, these cities must provide infrastructure that can support them and allow them to thrive. That is why public transportation in cities like New York and D.C. must be effective, which in turn creates smart and productive places. When a city has an effective public transportation system, cars become “an expensive nice-to-have rather than a have-to-have.”

Though this trend may be true for our neighbors (D.C.), can urban areas around Montgomery County begin to see a decline in car-use too?   We certainly have many residents that would prefer option to get around beyond the car.  Our hope is that White Flint residents will not rely so heavily on cars as their means for travel. Many of their goods and services will be readily available to them in a walkable and safe community without the need for a car.

The Power of Walkability: A Town’s Million Pound Loss

TED Talks recently released a video from April 2013 of Mick Cornett, the mayor of Oklahoma City, discussing the healthy transformation his city recently experienced. Mayor Cornett speaks about how his city, once named by Men’s Health Magazine as one of the fattest cities in America, was able to lose a collective million pounds through the use of a few strategies. Cornett mentions that focusing on sidewalks connecting services and amenities throughout the city was a huge factor in this amazing transformation. We hope that the sidewalks and walkable areas in White Flint will inspire healthy changes among our residents, as well!

Please enjoy this video and share any and all thoughts!

 

Updates from White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee January Meeting

Here are some updates from the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting on January 13th:

The discussion started with a focus on Woodglen Drive and Executive Boulevard. Committee members are concerned with the issues surrounding the shared-use path on Woodglen Drive.  There has been some confusion after the county permitting department made what appears to be a mistake when dealing with Paladar Kitchen and Rum Bar.  Although the sidewalk on Woodglen Drive should have been kept at 8-feet wide to allow for pedestrians and bicyclists, the permitting department told Paladar that 6-feet wide was sufficient.  So, Paladar’s outdoor seating furniture was purchased to these specifications.  Many argue that 6-feet wide is not enough, especially considering obstacles like street signs that create pinch points already.  All parties are negotiating how best to proceed.  Also, we updated you yesterday on the improvements to Woodglen Drive, which will include a bike lane right where Paladar sets its Valet stand.  That will need to be addressed, as well.

The discussion then lead to an update from the County Executive’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, Dee Metz. The Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) for 2014- 2015 year was discussed. This implementation meeting took place before the budget was released. Dee Metz told the committee that White Flint should expect to receive a significant amount of money from the county. Since this meeting, the budget was announced.  Take a look at this blog post to learn more about what aspects are part of the Capital Improvement Budget and how you can get involved in ensuring that all WF projects receives a fair share of funding from the county.

The focus then went towards discussing the MCPS Board of Education Letter to Chair of the Planning Board. Back in October, the MCPS Board of Education sent a letter to the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. This letter was sent to the Chair to reaffirm the Board of Ed’s position on the locating the school site on the White Flint Park North site. The Board of Education is in favor of co-locating the elementary school with the White Flint Neighborhood Park at the White Flint Park North location. After this letter was sent to the Board of Ed, the Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association met and discussed the letter. Check out this past blog post to learn more about what was discussed at that meeting.  The issue is ongoing and we’ll keep you posted.

Francine Waters from Lerner Enterprises (and a member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors) discussed the organization, Communities for Transit. This is a private, non-profit organization in Montgomery County that focuses on educating and advocating for Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County. Communities for Transit has worked with FoWF and Coalition for Smarter Growth in the past. The organization recently created a video explaining what Rapid Transit will look like for Montgomery County. You can check out the video here.

The meeting ended with a note about the urban design and health. Nkosi Yearwood sent out two documents, Intersections of Health and Built Environment and 10 Principles for Building Healthy Places, that speak to the connections between the built environment of cities and the health of it’s residents. As the redevelopment in White Flint proceeds, it is important to understand how the urban design can impact the health of those in the area. We hope to provide a walkable, recreational, accessible community that will greatly improve the quality of life for our residents. It is important to remember why this redevelopment is happening and who this redevelopment is for.

The next Implementation Meeting is scheduled for 7pm on Monday, February 10th in the Multi-Purpose Room at Shriver Aquatic Center.

FoWF Testifies in Favor of Proposed Urban Road Code Amendments

Last night, Friends of White Flint Board Member Howard Feldman testified before the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee in support of the Urban Road Code Amendments proposed by Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer, who both sit on the committee. Thanks to the input of many of our members, our testimony supported the global concepts of Complete Streets and valuing all users, without purporting to be the experts on exact measurements for appropriate lane widths, etc.

We were pleased to join a wide range of advocates including the Commission on People with Disabilities, Sierra Club, Action Committee for Transit, White Flint Partnership, Montgomery County Young Democrats, Washington Area Bicycle Association, Lerner Enterprises, Coalition for Smarter Growth and Federal Realty, as well as individual citizens, in supporting the legislation.  Many who testified also offered suggestions for improvement.

Even Arthur Holmes, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation, testified that his agency endorses the goals of reducing speeds, improving pedestrian mobility and implementing the Complete Streets model.  He did, though, share many of the concerns we have also discussed – specifically the mobility of emergency and commercial vehicles and whether a blanket approach is the right one.

We thought Evan Goldman of Federal Realty, also a member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors, put it well when describing the places we most like to visit.  People choose walkable, vibrant cities for their travel, so we need to create that place here.  Offering roads that invite pedestrians is smart policy for residents and businesses alike.

Emailed testimony is still accepted for another week, or so.  Please email your support of the Bill to County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov and copy Councilmember Berliner at Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Below is the testimony from Friends of White Flint on Bill 33-13:



Testimony of Friends of White Flint

January 23, 2014

Public Hearing on Bill 33-13, Streets and Roads – Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements

 

Good evening, Councilmembers.  My name is Howard Feldman and I am presenting this testimony on behalf of Friends of White Flint, a community non-profit organization that has been working on the White Flint Sector Plan since 2007.  I own a small business within the White Flint Sector and am a business representative on the Friends’ Board of Directors.

Friends of White Flint promotes a sustainable, walkable and engaging White Flint.  Our membership includes hundreds of community members including residents, civic and condominium associations, businesses and property owners and we seek consensus to achieve positive solutions.  As we enter our seventh year, we continue our trend of holding hundreds of public meetings and speaking with thousands of residents to find common ground and community support for the Plan in place today.

The vision of our award-winning White Flint Sector Plan is to “establish 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.”  The plan goes on to say that, “… the pedestrian experience in most of White Flint is barely tolerable.”  Today, the Council is presented with an option to improve that pedestrian experience.

The term “Complete Streets” has been ubiquitous in our work.  This is a concept that calls for our roads and streets to value all users, not just the ones driving cars.  After all, it’s not the car that needs to get to work.  It’s the person.  Giving people more safe options to get around is a primary goal of the White Flint Sector Plan and we believe this legislation moves our county in the right direction.

This is not only a social and economic issue; it’s also a public health issue.  The American Public Health Association has addressed the Complete Streets movement after determining that 11.4% of all transportation-related fatalities in 2009 were pedestrians struck and killed by motor vehicles. They determined that less than 1% of pedestrians ages 72 and older are able to walk at the speeds required to cross most intersections safely. Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among children ages 3 to 14 and, in 19% of these fatalities, the children involved were pedestrians.

These road code amendments are necessary to improve the pedestrian experience in our county’s urban areas.  Doing things like narrowing travel lanes and limiting speeds will naturally slow  traffic.  Implementing changes in curb radii and adding pedestrian refuges will allow walkers to cross the street more comfortably.  These are important changes to roads that have valued only cars for too long.

We understand that these proposals are not without controversy but, rather than viewing these concerns as barriers, why not view them as opportunities for creative solutions?   Urban areas around the world have made the changes contemplated by this legislation and instead of scrapping the potential for progress, these jurisdictions have found ways to make them work.    If we’re designing our urban areas for the future, we need to be bold and brave and willing to tackle these challenges without throwing up our hands at the first wrinkle.

Car has long been king in our county’s urban areas.  But, just as we are introducing a new mix of uses in these places, we must prepare for a new mix of users.  That means giving people options to safely walk around.

We applaud Councilmembers Berliner and Riemer for their foresight in proposing these amendments and ask that the rest of the Council support this vision of investing in our future.  In order for White Flint to reach its potential, it must have the most forward-thinking infrastructure possible and this is an important step.

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“Trucks and Cities Are Like Oil and Water. Is There a Solution?”

Last week we discussed the County Bill 33-13: Streets and Roads- Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements that is up for approval. The Council is holding a public hearing tomorrow evening, January 23rd, where testimonies will be heard on this bill, one of which will be from Friends of White Flint. The bill offers amendments to the current urban rode codes that have not be updated in several years. The main goal of the bill is to “to expand and enhance the county’s complete street policy and to facilitate the implementation of pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, walkable, livable urban areas as envisioned in several of the county’s approved master plans.” As Lindsay discussed last week, implementing a bill that focuses more on complete streets is extremely important for White Flint in our mission to create a sustainable and walkable community.

With this bill up for approval, however, it is important to consider how these standards and policies will affect all aspects of transit in the area such as freight or truck movement. Freight movement through city and urban streets is crucial but raises many issues, such as trucks possessing huge blind spots and wide turns that often cut off bike lanes or even popping up on curbs. These issues cause safety problems for other drivers, pedestrians, and bikers, not to mention noise and air pollution. Trucks are necessary for cities to exist because “[O]ur cities run on the goods these hulking trucks deliver.” Reducing the width of travel and turning lanes could have a detrimental effect on truck travel through our urban streets. Instead of viewing these issues as barriers to passing this bill, we should look to creative solutions that include both a complete street model and attention towards other necessary transit movements happening in Montgomery County’s urban areas.

New York City provides a great example of how a city can incorporate freight and truck travel into their building codes by including “onsite loading facilities as part of their design.” There are other ideas that cities could use to cut down on truck congestion and pollution without disturbing the necessary movement of goods from one place to another. These include using more smaller trucks to carry goods than one larger truck, delivering during off-peak hours, consolidation of goods from more than one company into one truck, or cargo bikes/ pedal-trucks.

Friends of White Flint supports complete streets in our urban areas, providing pedestrians and bikers with a more liveable, walkable, and safe community.  But, our community is also comprised of businesses who need these deliveries made by large trucks, for example, and so we must also be conscious of how this complete streets model will affect all aspects of what we’re trying to build here.  It’s to this end that we rely on the experts to find creative, forward-thinking solutions.