Archives February 2013

Walkability App for Your Phone

We’ve written before about  Walk Score, which quantifies how walkable streets and cities are. Now, you may be able to see how walkable different places are with the new phone app Walkonomics.

Walkonomics was created by UK resident Adam Davies, who rates walkability based on 8 factors: road safety, ease of crossing the street, quality of pavement/sidewalks, hilliness, ease of navigation, fear of crime, the beauty of the street and if a street is “fun and relaxing.”

The Walkonomics app was just recently released, and, probably owing to its UK origins, we couldn’t find too much information on the streets around us. However, you can add them yourself.

Read more about Walkonomics in a recent article from the Atlantic here.

Signs of nightlife on Rockville Pike

This is in Bethesda, but White Flint will be there soon. Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

If you’re planning a night out, you might naturally gravitate towards Bethesda, Silver Spring or the District. But what about here in White Flint? As it turns out, you could do worse than spending your evening on Rockville Pike.

By now, you’ve probably read the Washington Post article about Montgomery County’s nascent Night Time Economy initiative, intended to make the county a more attractive place to live for young professionals whom officials hope will stick around when they’re older. This dovetails nicely with the White Flint Sector Plan, which will turn White Flint into an urban hub with places to live, work and play, including after dark.

That’s great for the future, but how are we doing right now? In other words, can you have a successful night out in White Flint, say, this weekend?

Using Yelp and Google, I found 26 “bars” on Rockville Pike between White Flint and Rockville Town Square (and a few just off the Pike) that are open until at least 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends and serve alcohol. (I put “bars” in quotation marks because, save for a few exceptions, Montgomery County requires establishments that serve alcohol to sell an equal amount of food.)

Map of venues on Rockville Pike open until at least 11pm on weekends and 10pm on weekdays. Click for an interactive map.

Map of venues on Rockville Pike open until at least 11pm on weekends and 10pm on weekdays. Click here or on the image itself for an interactive map.

I was impressed by the quantity and variety of options. If we were to measure the “pub shed” of each establishment, mapping everyone within a quarter-mile walk of each bar or restaurant, I imagine that it would cover most of White Flint and Rockville Pike.

Yes, there are a lot of national chains like T.G.I. Friday’s (whose original claim to fame is inventing the singles bar), but there are also a number of local places as well, notably Cafe 20/20, a Korean karaoke lounge. (If you’ve never done Korean karaoke before, I highly recommend it – unlike American karaoke bars, each party gets its own room, protecting you from humiliation.)

Of course, one upside to hanging out in Bethesda or the District is that if you go to one bar or restaurant, there are likely others within walking distance, releasing you from the need for a cab ride or designated driver. That’s one of the benefits of New Urbanism: higher density means more people, which means you can support more businesses in a smaller area, be they supermarkets or hardware stores or Korean karaoke bars.

You can already see New Urbanist principles at work in Rockville Town Square, where there’s already a cluster of restaurants and bars open late. In addition, there are apartments and condominiums above, meaning that you can even live above the bar. (With adequate soundproofing, of course, because you have to go to sleep eventually.) As White Flint grows, we’ll see more developments like it, allowing you even more chances to have a night out in Montgomery County.

By the way: if you have any suggestions or corrections to this map, please let us know!

Dancing in the Street

Does land use and zoning get you so excited it makes you want to just get up and dance? It does for some people!

Amanda Thompson, planning director for Decatur, Georgia, took her passion for planning to the streets – literally! Check out the video and accompanying blog post on PlaceMakers. She makes some great points on mistakes to avoid and best practices in a very creative way.

Maybe one day walkable White Flint will also be…danceable?

More transportation funding in Maryland means a stronger economy

Traffic on the Capital Beltway near Kensington. Photo by magandafille on Flickr.

Improving Maryland’s transportation network isn’t just about being “green,” or even moving people and goods. It’s about supporting our regional economy, and a small increase in the gas tax can go a long way.

Earlier this week, University of Maryland Diamondback columnist Andrew Do argued that increasing Maryland’s gas tax would be a “burden” and a “punishment” on drivers. With gas prices nearing $4 a gallon, I’m sure many drivers feel the same way. But what a gas tax can accomplish is well worth it.

Forty years ago, the state of Maryland set up the Transportation Trust Fund, a dedicated funding source for the Maryland Department of Transportation. It gets money from a variety of sources, ranging from the gas tax to car registration fees and transit fares. In recent years, however, it has been depleted not by mismanagement, as Do suggests, but by falling revenues and rising costs.

The gas tax works because you pay for what you use. Those who drive more place more wear and tear on our roads, and they should pay to maintain them. Out-of-state drivers also use our roads, and the gas tax allows them to pay their fair share.

Currently, the gas tax is 23.5 cents per gallon, the same as it was in 1992. Meanwhile, construction costs have doubled. At this rate, the Transportation Trust Fund will run out in 2018. That means no money for transit, no money for roads, and no money to even maintain what we already have.

Even if you don’t use public transit, you reap the benefits of it. Each day, over 700,000 Marylanders take transit, including the Metro, the MTA, and local transit providers like Montgomery County’s Ride On, to work, school and other activities.

Not only do they get an alternative to sitting in traffic, they reduce congestion for everyone else by not driving. A study of our regional transit network’s benefits found that it saves us 148,000 hours a day from being lost to traffic congestion and 40.5 million gallons of fuel each year. If not for transit, we would need to build over 1,000 new lane-miles of highways, the equivalent of adding 15 lanes to the Capital Beltway.

On top of that, every dollar we invest in transit generates $6 in local economic activity. That means more jobs, stronger businesses, and more tax revenue to pay for transportation and other public services.

According to a recent study from the Texas Transportation Institute, DC area drivers already spend an average of 67 hours each year in traffic. That’s wasted time, wasted gas and wasted money. As our state continues to grow, our transportation network needs to grow or it will only get worse.

That means building the Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the Baltimore Red Line between Woodlawn and the city, and the Corridor Cities Transitway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg. It means expanding MARC commuter rail so it runs all day, every day. And it means investing in our existing roads and bridges, ensuring that they can handle current and future traffic.

Like many transportation projects around the country, these efforts may be partially funded by the federal government, but they need to know that Maryland has some skin in the game as well. If we don’t find matching funds for crucial projects like the Purple Line and the Red Line this year when they come up for federal review, they may never get built.

Given, many people in Maryland do drive. Personally, I drive a 2003 Honda Civic, whose gas tank holds about 11 gallons. If our gas tax were raised 14.5 cents a gallon, which would bring it back to where it was in 1992 with inflation, it would cost me $1.59 extra to fill up.

Is that too much to ask? Some, like Do, might say yes. But it’s a small price to pay for securing Maryland’s economic future. I urge anyone who truly cares about our state’s future to join Get Maryland Moving in the fight for more transportation funding now. You can visit our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign our petition calling on Maryland legislators to act now.

Coalition for Smarter Growth Speaks Out on Rapid Transit

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has released the following regarding Rapid Transit in Montgomery County:

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 21st, 2013

Contacts:  Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth, (703) 599-6437

 

Montgomery Planners Propose 78-Mile Rapid Transit system 

Today, Montgomery County planning staff present to the Planning Board a 78-mile version of the proposed Rapid Transit System, based on several months of data-driven modeling and analysis.  The Rapid Transit System would be a premium, reliable transit service using dedicated lanes as much as possible to bypass traffic, running frequently throughout the day, and stopping at enhanced stations featuring real time arrival information and efficient boarding like that found on Metro.

“The Rapid Transit System will complement the Purple Line and our Metro system, offering high quality transit to more of Montgomery County and helping to address traffic and future economic development. It is an essential investment, providing residents more affordable transportation and a better option than sitting in traffic,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Facing an additional 200,000 residents, 200,000 new jobs, and a 22% increase in the amount of time residents will spend on roadways by 2040, planners know that the county’s roadways, already overburdened with traffic, will be unable to handle additional vehicles.  Their analysis, forecasting ridership to 2040, demonstrated that dedicating lanes to transit on several corridors could move more people per lane than individual vehicles, while improving traffic countywide.  They are recommending a phased approach based on that data, with a first phase that would include two lanes dedicated to the Rapid Transit System in the center of Rockville Pike and northern US29, and one reversible lane in the direction of rush hour traffic on parts of Georgia Ave, Viers Mill/University Blvd, and New Hampshire Avenue.   Their models show that their recommended network would attract a ridership of approximately 184,000 daily riders by 2040.

Said Lindsay Hoffman of Friends of White Flint, “We’ve come together in our neighborhoods and supported a vision for a walkable community in White Flint where it will be possible to leave the car at home and live a healthier, more affordable lifestyle.  Improved and expanded transit service on Rockville Pike is critical to making that vision possible, and we as residents will need to work together to ensure this proposal meets our communities’ needs and becomes a reality.”

“The planning staff’s network is smaller than the full Transit Task Force proposal but also much larger than the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) proposal.  The staff’s analysis is both rigorous and practical, and results in a network that can be effectively implemented,” concluded Schwartz.

In the planning staff’s brief, they reported, “ITDP did not do any ridership forecasting, whereas our transportation modeling work has shown that the forecast 2040 ridership on MD355 is far higher and we are confident that we should begin planning for a two-lane median busway for most of this corridor.”

The Montgomery County Planning Board will now have a month to review the staff’s recommendations before they release a draft for public hearings to be held in the beginning of May.  After public hearings, the Planning Board will submit their draft proposal to the County Council.

 

Informal poll suggests people like the name “White Flint”

On Tuesday, we talked about a new effort by the White Flint Partnership to find a new “brand” for the White Flint area. We also had an informal, completely non-scientific and non-binding poll of some serious (and not-so-serious) new names for White Flint. With 78 responses, here are our results:

Results of our informal poll about the rebranding of White Flint.

Results of our informal poll about the rebranding of White Flint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it turns out, many folks like the name “White Flint” just fine, as it took 53% of the votes. “NoBe,” an abbreviation of North Bethesda sometimes used to refer to the North Bethesda Market development at Rockville Pike and Executive Boulevard, took second place with 15%, followed by “North Bethesda,” with 14%. “Rockville” and “NorthFlintVille,” coined by local blogger Ben Harris (who we also interviewed for Tuesday’s article), were tied for fifth place with 5% each.

Holding up the rear are some of our not-so-serious place names, among them “SoRock”, “NoGro” (that’s North Grosvenor), “South Twinbrook,” and my personal favorite, “WhiFli” (pronounced “Why-Fly”). In last place with zero votes is “East Potomac.”

What did we learn? That even though White Flint may be the name of a mall (and before that, a locally common rock), people seem to like it. It’ll be interesting to find out whether the branding consultants hired by the White Flint Partnership will come to the same conclusions when they release their findings at the end of the summer.

Until then, check out Harris’s post for his blog, NorthFlintVille, about the significance of place names:

When people hear the words “Dupont,” “Clarendon” or “Old Town,” most people have a certain mental image associated with those words. So, particularly as Montgomery County embarks on a rigorous initiative to redevelop the White Flint area into a “destination” for the region, deciding upon a single name as an identifier for the neighborhood is a crucial step . . . it might just end up being one of the most important decisions made about the future of the neighborhood, rivaling the size and scale of new development, transit initiatives and infrastructure enhancements.

Walkable Neighborhoods Promote Healthy Economy

We’ve noted on this blog that walkable neighborhoods promote healthy bodies, a healthy environment, and a healthy lifestyle through the lifespan.  But, did you know that walkable neighborhoods also promote a healthy… economy?  A recent New York City study has found that more attractive walking options nearly tripled retail sales at local small businesses.

Follow the link to learn more:  http://www.everybodywalk.org/read/1096-walk-your-way-to-wealth.html

“Great Hopes for Hipness” in White Flint

Last Saturday’s Washington Post article “Montgomery County looks to get hip” announced that various county officials are looking into ways to make Montgomery appeal to the Millennial Generation/Generation Y, and White Flint is seen as an important asset.

The author explains, “The county has great hopes for hipness in the massive White Flint redevelopment along Rockville Pike. While developers envision high-rises and high-end stores, there are also plans for smaller, moderately priced living spaces, with walkable streets and coffee shops, yoga studios and casual dining.”

Friends of White Flint’s executive director Lindsay Hoffman is also quoted in the article: “What we’re hoping for is that [White Flint] will be the alternative downtown…with a variety of housing options at a variety of price points.”

County officials see attracting the Millennial Generation as a way to stay competitive with nearby jurisdictions, as well as grow the tax base to help support a population that is aging in place. This initiative may also create a better return on investment in terms of public education if those who were raised in Montgomery move back; according to school officials it costs around $180,000 to educate a child from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Check out the full article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/montgomery-county-looks-to-get-hip/2013/02/16/2d477284-7577-11e2-95e4-6148e45d7adb_story.html

What’s in a name? White Flint rebranding effort seeks to find out

Today it’s the name of a mall, but could it become the name of a neighborhood as well?

When Ben Harris and his wife moved from Logan Circle in DC to an apartment off of Rockville Pike in 2011, he didn’t know what to call his new neighborhood.

“I was telling people where I live and they would ask ‘What neighborhood is that?'” he says.

This confusion inspired the name of Harris’s new local blog, NorthFlintVille. “It’s taking North Bethesda and White Flint and Rockville and mashing them together, which in my experience is how people kind of think of the area,” he says.

The White Flint Partnership, a coalition of property owners working to transform White Flint from a suburban strip to an urban hub, wants to change that. They’re looking for a marketing firm to develop a new “brand” for the White Flint Sector Plan area.

Partnership member Lerner Enterprises owns White Flint Mall, which will be partially demolished and redeveloped as an urban neighborhood. Francine Waters, managing director of Lerner Enterprises, hope the study will “identify what would resonate the best not only locally, but regionally, nationally and internationally,” she says. “It’s not only a name but, frankly, telling the story of our journey from where we were to where we hope to achieve.”

Though little work has been completed, they plan to have something “sometime in the summer,” Waters says. The goal is to create a unified brand for the entire Sector Plan area that would be used by all landowners, though individual developments like Pike + Rose would still have their own identity.

There’s no consensus, official or otherwise, about what to call the area today. The Census Bureau calls the area North Bethesda, and the United States Postal Service calls it Rockville.

Montgomery County planners do use the name “White Flint,” after White Flint Mall, which in turn is named for the white quartz rocks historically found in the area. Ironically, the mall actually has a Kensington address.

As a result, the area’s name changes depending on who you ask. Harris tells people he lives “just north of the White Flint Metro station” or “somewhere up Rockville Pike, close to Rockville.” He adds, “Specifically, I tell people we live across from the strip mall with the Barnes & Noble in it.”

Some use different terms depending on who they’re talking to, like Vanessa Rodriguez, senior marketing manager at Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is participating in the rebranding effort. When talking to clients or potential tenants, she calls it “the White Flint district,” but if talking to a friend or relative, she’d “probably say Rockville or North Bethesda.”

“The problem with the White Flint district is that it does not feel like a cohesive area,” she says. “We need to cultivate that brand.”

Located in the District, NoMa is a successful example of rebranding a neighborhood. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Will a new name fix that? It might, judging from other DC-area communities that have rebranded themselves, like Capitol Riverfront and NoMa in the District or Tysons in Fairfax County. All three names were attempts by business and community leaders to shake those places’ once-negative or underwhelming reputations, they’re all beginning to draw new residents, businesses and investment.

While some may complain that these new names are artificial, they’re often born out of necessity. It’s not surprising that developers in NoMa chose not to use that neighborhood’s historical name; after all, who would rent a luxury apartment in a place called Swampoodle?

Not only that, but invented names have been used to sell real estate for centuries. Rockville was originally called Williamsburgh, after local businessman William Williams, who divided the town into lots and sold them in 1784. Later, the 19th-century developers of Kensington and Takoma Park named them after a posh London neighborhood and a Native American word meaning “near heaven,” respectively.

All of these names had to carry the weight of a place that didn’t yet exist and sell future residents and businesses on what could be. People already live and work in White Flint, but there isn’t a “center” or “anchor” that they can rally around. That’s arguably why some people today associate the area with Rockville or Bethesda, which do have defined centers. The White Flint Sector Plan seeks to change that by creating a “downtown” here, but what we call it sets the stage for what it will become.

So what could White Flint’s new name be? Rodriguez says that potential names have been “kicked around” in the past, but “nothing we really want to explore.” White Flint may not even be one of the names under consideration.

Given all of these issues, Waters acknowledges the challenge that lies ahead, including finding the right people to do the rebranding. “There are few [marketing] firms in the US that have done something of this magnitude,” says Waters. “It’s quite a phenomenal effort. We wanna make sure it’s done right.”

Thanks to everyone who took our poll of serious (and not-so-serious) names for White Flint! The poll is now closed.

**Updated 3/1/13 to reflect that the White Flint Partnership, not Lerner Enterprises, will spearhead the branding study effort.