I was reading two great books on urbanism that inspired me to submit my first post to the FLOG! The first book is called “The Option of Urbanism” by Chris Leinberger and the second is “Home From Nowhere” by James Kunstler. I am thinking of buying some extra copies if anyone on the steering committee is interested in reading them.
It is clear in both of these books that there are numerous great examples of urbanism that works and suburbanism that doesn’t from the sociological, environmental efficiency, and mobility perspectives. Why is this the case? How can we design and plan White Flint to be a community that works?
I decided to compare this experience to my life today. As most of you know, my wife and I live with our two kids in Kalorama Triangle exactly 1/2 mile from both the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park Metro Stations. Kalorama Triangle (and Dupont/Adam’s Morgan in general) is one of the most dense parts of our metro area and it is also one of the most diverse economically and racially. Of course, having grown up in the suburbs, if I had never lived in a place as dense as Dupont Circle, I would have no frame of reference for how density can actually improve mobility and decrease trip time and traffic. So I have decided to begin a weekly log of my trips and separate them into Auto, Pedestrian, & Metro. I am going to encourage other people to do the same and post their results on the FLOG so that we can start looking at data from various people all around DC and the County. My goal is to establish what planners call a pattern using data points. My hypothesis is that where there is density balanced with good design and mobility options, behavioral changes naturally serve to decrease auto trips and thus congestion.
The current sector plan utilizes a traffic model which in theory predicts how many cars are going to travel through a given intersection 30 years from now on average between 5pm and 6pm Tuesday through Thursday, to determine how much density the “system” can handle, and thus the sector plan. I would argue that the plan should determine the Vision first, the type of place that we are trying to create, and determine the density necessary to achieve the design, streetscape, and amenities that would support such a great place. Once this is determined, appropriate infrastructure and mobility improvements should be explored and determined to allow the Vision to be realized.
The first approach doesn’t guarantee much since urban style development will rarely be achieved using a suburban style traffic model the result being simply more of the same. The second approach guarantees that change will actually happen and the Vision will be achieved by making sure that appropriate incentives are in place for redevelopment. For 50 years we have allowed the auto to rule planning decisions and we have ended up with unattractive commercial areas, unsafe streets for pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers (increased speed increases both incidence of accidents as well as injury), and deterioration of the sense of community that many residents crave. Areas of the Country, the metro area, and the County that have planned for pedestrians have thrived so clearly there is another option!
So here is my first entry for the weekend starting on Friday 2/27 through Monday 3/2. In this 4 day period, I took a total of 11 trips. 10 were by foot and only 1 was by car. The car trip was only 2 miles to a grocery store where I parked once and did 3 errands by foot at various stores. My total time in a car for 4 days was 12 minutes on that one trip and since the network of streets in DC is relatively good and the trip was local, I did not encounter any traffic. My trips by foot (3 of which involved the metro as well) included seeing a show at National Theater, attending an event at my daughter’s school, a cocktail party, the bank, picking up dinner at the local falafel place, the corner grocery store (I forgot an ingredient), work, and sledding with my kids at a nearby park (among others). The walking trips varied from 1/8th of mile to 3/4 of a mile in each direction. In addition, we hosted two play dates with a total of 4 other families all of which walked to our apartment from their homes.
I won’t be as detailed in the future, but I think it is important for us to put some reality into what we are talking about and have been talking about for the past 2 years. If the atmosphere is pleasant, the streets are safe, the transit is accessible, and the amenities are local, people of all ages and stages of life find alternate modes of transit and get out of their cars! This is not unique to my family; it is the experience of thousands of people in the metro area that live in apartments, condos, townhomes and single family homes near transit in pedestrian friendly mixed use communities. Most of these people don’t spend time worrying about traffic because other than their trips into the suburbs, traffic is not a big part of their life. Given where we live and what we have experienced over the past six years here, this seems obvious to me, but maybe it isn’t so obvious after all.
If you read this entry and it made you stop and think about your travel habits, that’s great, please post your personal experience. I would like to get a rich tapestry of data points from people who live near metro stations throughout the area as well as those that don’t so that we can better understand the types of environments, densities, and amenities that are necessary to encourage the highest non auto mobility. In the end, if we let the auto drive the bus (so to speak), White Flint will never become a great destination and thus no one will walk. If we stop talking about mobility in regards of the auto alone, I think we could advance this conversation and the sector plan much further towards reality.
Towards a new White Flint!