Archives July 2013

White Flint Loses a Friend

We are sad to share that White Flint lost a friend and advocate suddenly this Monday.  Blog readers will recognize Geordan Harris as the proud uncle of a baby almost born in Seasons 52 this March.  Those more active in White Flint redevelopment know him as a member of the JBG team that brought us North Bethesda Market, Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar and the forthcoming North Bethesda Market 2.

Even more, Geordan was an all-around great guy who was invested in his community, his family and his work.  He insisted on focusing that work on Montgomery County, where he was born and raised, and was proud to spend his career improving his hometown. Many have crossed paths with Geordan at neighborhood and other meetings and he was always a great supporter of Friends of White Flint.  He will be sorely missed by many.

Progress continues at Pike + Rose

Pike + Rose from Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard

Construction at Pike + Rose seen from Old Georgetown Road. Photo by the author.

Work continues on Pike + Rose, the new neighborhood being built at the soon-to-be-former Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. The project already looks very different compared to our last visit to the construction site last month.

1 of the 3 buildings in the project’s first phase, a 174-unit mid-rise apartment building dubbed PerSei, appears to have topped out. Meanwhile, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, an office building, has almost reached its full height, but Pallas, a high-rise building with 300 apartments, has just gotten off the ground. The 3 buildings will share 150,000 square feet of retail, including ground-floor shops and restaurants, and a parking garage.

Developer Federal Realty Investment Trust plans to complete the rest of Pike + Rose in 3 phases over the next 5 years. When finished, the project will contain an additional 430,000 square feet of retail, 1,500 new residences, 1.1 million square feet of offices and a luxury hotel.

Now that 2 of the buildings are close to topping out, we can start to see how they will relate to each other, to the street, and to White Flint as a whole.

Pike + Rose Phase 1 From Across Old Georgetown Road

11800 Grand Park Avenue (left) and PerSei (right) seen from the car dealership across Old Georgetown Road. Photo by the author.

In keeping with the White Flint Sector Plan, the buildings at Pike + Rose come right up to Old Georgetown Road, which is envisioned as an urban street with wide sidewalks, bike paths, and restaurants with outdoor dining. “I’ve got 6 leases signed with restaurants on Old Georgetown Road,” said Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty, at a recent meeting about rebuilding the street. “I want outdoor cafes and street trees.”

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been reluctant to make changes to Old Georgetown in the near term, meaning that it may remain a cars-only zone for the indefinite future. But one day, the street and the buildings on it might look like this:

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11800 Grand Park Avenue (left) and PerSei (right) in the future. Image from Federal Realty.

It’s still business as usual at Mid-Pike Plaza, the strip mall that Pike + Rose will eventually replace. From the parking lot, you can get another view of 11800 Grand Park Avenue, which on its lower floors will have a high-end iPic movie theatre and a live music venue operated in conjunction with Strathmore. Both of these are scheduled to open in fall 2014.

Future Office + Retail Building

11800 Grand Park Avenue, seen from the parking lot of Mid-Pike Plaza. Photo by the author.

Comparing the current photo to the rendering below, you can start to see what Grand Park Avenue will look like: a fairly narrow street lined by wide sidewalks with street trees and outdoor seating. Judging from the proportions, it might be comparable to Maryland Avenue in Rockville Town Square, another Federal Realty project.

Rendering of Pike + Rose. When finished, it'll be 5 times the size of Bethesda Row.

Roughly the same spot in the future. Rendering from Federal Realty.

It’ll be interesting to see how this project evolves over time. As I wrote last year, one of the challenges facing Pike + Rose is becoming an authentic gathering place for the community. It’s one thing to put up buildings and lay out streets, but another entirely to make a place where people will want to spend their time.

Construction at Pike + Rose Farmers' Market

New buildings at Pike + Rose rise behind the Pike Central Farm Market.

And it might happen, judging from the weekly Pike Central Farm Market held in the parking lot of Mid-Pike Plaza each Saturday. The market hosts over 40 local vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to wine, and when Friends of White Flint had a table there 2 weeks ago, it was packed. Eventually, this market will move to one of the squares inside Pike + Rose.

The buildings and public spaces may not be done yet, but the people and activity are already here. That’s a good sign for when Pike + Rose becomes a reality.

For more photos of Pike + Rose under construction, check out this slideshow.

Cities may be safer than we think

A recently published study in the Journal of Injury Prevention reveals that contrary to popular belief, cities are in many ways safer than rural areas. The researchers note that, “although variability among urban areas clearly exists, when urban areas were considered as a group, risk of serious injury resulting in death was approximately 20% lower than in the most rural areas of the country.” While the risk of homicide was greater in urban areas, many more people die more often from motor vehicle accidents: “the magnitude of homicide-related deaths, even in urban areas, is outweighed by the magnitude of unintentional injury deaths, particularly those resulting from motor vehicles. In fact, the rate of unintentional injury death is more than 15 times that of homicide among the entire population, with the risk resting heavily in rural areas such that the risk of unintentional injury death is 40% higher in the most rural counties compared with the most urban” [emphasis added]. More generally, the authors found that injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death across the entire population. Researchers conclude that “when considering all mechanisms of injury death as an overall metric of safety, large cities appear to be the safest counties in the United States, significantly safer than their rural counterparts.”

While differences exist among various subpopulations, and variables such as access to trauma care may complicate the results, this study suggests that land use and transportation patterns may influence risk of injury. Additionally, research like this illustrates that the reputation of urban areas as inherently unsafe places is not completely justified.

Read the study “Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the United States?” here, and also check out highlights from the study on Streetsblog Capitol Hill here.

Walkability Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity

We’ve talked about the benefits of making White Flint more walkable, and less car-oriented, for several different populations:  for young adults, for seniors, and for young families.  Why not close the loop and show that this international trend does, in fact, benefit everyone?

The Atlantic Cities recently published a report highlighting how suburban sprawl is a factor contributing to childhood obesity.  “While the reasons for the dramatic increase in childhood obesity surely are many and complex, one of them is reduced physical activity,” they say.  Using nearby Loudoun County as an example, the piece highlights the reality of kids not being able to safely walk to school.

“The truth is that Loudoun’s schools are theoretically within walking distance for some students, but there’s a lot more to walkability than proximity.”    That’s a statement that transcends many aspects of White Flint planning.

Read the whole Atlantic Cities piece here.

White Flint’s future depends on “complete streets”

Gibbs Street in Rockville Town Square is a “complete street.” Photo by the author.

The future of White Flint as a new downtown for Rockville Pike depends on whether people can get around safely and easily, no matter what mode of transportation they use. One way to make that happen is with “complete streets,” which are often described as streets designed for people of all ages and abilities traveling on foot, bike, by car or transit.

Complete streets show that different kinds of transportation can share the street. They often include features like level, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, frequent and safe crosswalks, medians where people can wait while crossing a busy street, and narrower travel lanes that slow cars down. They work best around buildings that are close to the street, creating “eyes on the street” that keep everyone safe and attentive.

There’s no such thing as the “perfect” complete street, as different situations often call for different design solutions. But let’s look at some good examples from around the country. We’ll focus on commercial streets, because they most resemble the streets that will be built (or rebuilt) in White Flint, and they often carry a lot of car traffic.

No curbs and broad crosswalks make walking in the Mosaic District safe and inviting. Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

Here’s a street in the Mosaic District, a new mixed-use development in Merrifield, an area of Fairfax County that, like White Flint, is making the transition from suburban to urban. There are wide, tree-lined sidewalks with benches for sitting. Each block has one or more large crosswalks in a different material than the street so drivers will notice them, and the sidewalks bump out so people don’t have as far to cross.

There aren’t any curbs anywhere in the Mosaic District. This makes it easier for people in wheelchairs or with strollers to move around and makes the street feel like one unified “space” as opposed to separate spaces for walkers and drivers. There are raised bumps at the sidewalk’s edge so blind people don’t unwittingly walk into the street.

This bike lane protects cyclists and drivers from potential conflicts. Photo by EURIST e.V. on Flickr.

One alternative is to place the bike lane between the parked cars and the sidewalk, like on this busy commercial street in Stockholm. This reduces the chance of passengers “dooring” a cyclist; since the bike lane is closer to the sidewalk, people who might otherwise be intimidated by cycling might take it up.

Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn. Photo from the NYC Department of Transportation.

This street in Brooklyn used to be a dangerous, high-speed road before the New York City Department of Transportation turned it into a complete street. Now, there’s a landscaped median where people can wait while crossing the street. In the future, Rockville Pike will have medians like this as well.

Separate foot (on the left) and bike (on the right) paths on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

And here’s the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which I wrote about last week. Unlike traditional bike lanes, which are street level, the Cultural Trail gives bicyclists and pedestrians separate paths at the curb level. This helps people who may be afraid to bike feel more comfortable because they’re not mixing with car traffic.

What we have today

The intersection of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road today. Photo by the author.

Unfortunately, Montgomery County is home to a lot of “incomplete” streets that are designed only for cars and drivers, like Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road, shown here. While cars get 6 or more lanes, pedestrians get that skinny little sidewalk at the top right where they can walk inches away from rush hour traffic. The “slip lanes” at each corner, while great for drivers making right turns, make it harder for people to cross the street, especially those with limited mobility.

This is a place where walking is considered unusual, or even a last resort, as resident Mary Ward told us last month. I remember being in high school and hearing a rumor that one of my classmates had been seen walking in front of White Flint Mall. What was wrong with him? Everyone asked. That certainly wouldn’t have been the case if he’d been walking on a more pedestrian-friendly street like Woodmont Avenue in downtown Bethesda.

Building complete streets isn’t just about sidewalks for the sake of sidewalks. It’s about creating the kind of communities that we want to live in. A recent article from Good Magazine says it much better than I can:

Design can make it more delightful to walk than drive, so people don’t want to jump in their cars for errands. Design can make it safer to bike so everyone feels comfortable on the street, not just hardcore cyclists. Design can make public transit fast, reliable, dignified, and sociable. And design can make neighborhoods beautiful, so people are inspired to protect and maintain them.

A walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible White Flint is a stronger, more tight-knit White Flint. And that’s a good thing for everybody, no matter how you get around.

Paladar’s Grand Opening to Benefit Manna Food Center

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We’ve noted our excitement over White Flint’s latest offering, Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar.  And now you can be part of their exciting grand opening!  As a testament to their investment in our community, Paladar is partnering with Manna Food Center for a Ribbon Cutting and Fundraiser on Thursday, August 15th!

 

“Want a sneak peak of Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar? Join us and choose from a handful of signature appetizers, entrees, and deserts and enjoy handcrafted cocktails, wine or beer (two drinks are included).  Paladar is donating 100% of ticket sales to Manna Food Center to support our programs and services,” says the invitation.

 

If you’re not familiar with Manna Food Center, they are a laudable cause in Montgomery County.  In the past year, Manna provided food to 5% of Montgomery County residents, all of whom were experiencing hardship hunger.  They feed about 3,300 families each month using fourteen distribution points around the county.  Manna also created the staple Smart Sacks program that sends food home on Fridays with elementary school children to use over the weekends when school meals are not available.

 

Tickets to this fantastic event are just $40 per person and seatings are available from 6:30pm to 8pm for tables of up to six.  And, I’m delighted and honored to note that, along with Manna’s Executive Director, I will be cutting the ribbon to welcome this new member of our community!

 

Call the Paladar office at 301-816-1100 by August 7th to make your reservation! I hope I’ll see you there!

Complete streets should include room for strollers

We’ve written multiple times about how aspects of New Urbanism, such as walkable neighborhoods close to transit and smaller housing units without a huge lawn to maintain, appeals to many Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. It may be easier to understand how this lifestyle appeals to young adults without children and empty-nesters. But what about families with children? We’ve noted that more young families are seeking an urban lifestyle, and one of the questions I still hear a lot is “how are parents supposed to walk to the grocery store with their children?”

A fair point. Right now it’s difficult for anyone, with or without kids, to walk or bike along Rockville Pike safely – never mind while also carrying a bag of groceries. But complete streets can change that. By providing wider sidewalks with ample room for bicyclists and pedestrians, and appropriate buffers to safely allow these people to use the streets with cars, parents with small children and strollers can more easily use these streets.

One mother from Miami chronicled the dangers of walking along the street with her child in a stroller. While she’s not in White Flint, I’d imagine that a parent walking down Rockville Pike, or any of White Flint’s streets with fast cars and narrow sidewalks, may have the same worries.

stroller miami

Source: http://www.transitmiami.com/pedestrian/a-walking-moms-miami

Advocate for a Great White Flint

Looking for Ways to Get Involved and Ensure White Flint Reaches its Potential?

Then, we have two great opportunities for you – and you don’t even need to leave the keyboard.

First, having a post office located in the White Flint sector is not only an important amenity, it’s also key to building our identity.  The US Postal Service presently holds a lease at White Flint Mall that’s set to expire in less than a year and they have begun a public vetting process for choosing their new site.  Community input is critical to ensuring that we keep this important service nearby.  So, by August 9th, please send an email to Richard Hancock at Richard.A.Hancock@usps.gov.  Let him know that you want to keep a post office in the White Flint Sector in Montgomery County, MD!

Second, Friends of White Flint is dedicated to ensuring that the promises made during the White Flint planning process are kept during the implementation and build-out. We hold property owners and developers to these expectations and we hold our public entities to them, as well.  At this point, infrastructure is key and the funding for these projects – like the roads that will diffuse traffic from Rockville Pike and the beautiful green spaces – has not been designated.

At this time of year, the County Executive is creating his Capital Improvement Projects budget and we need him to know that White Flint projects cannot be delayed any longer.  The projects added to this budget are placed in a six-year cycle, so we need to get them on the list NOW.  So, please email Ike Leggett at ocemail@montgomerycountymd.gov, and include the County Council at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov, to tell them that infrastructure must keep up with development.  Ask them to fund the Western WorkaroundWall Park, the Civic Green and the new Eastern Workaround (where Executive Boulevard will cross over Rockville Pike, just north of White Flint Mall).

You can also tell Mr. Leggett yourself.  He’s hosting a public budget forum on Tuesday July 30th from 7pm-8pm at the Bethesda/Chevy-Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane in Bethesda).

If we don’t ask for these things, we may not get them.  Your engagement is key!  Thank you for taking the time!

The Aurora Tops Out

On June 25th, the second residential phase of North Bethesda Center reached new heights.  The 18-story Aurora, being constructed next to Harris Teeter/Wentworth House at Old Georgetown Road and Nebel Street, had its “topping out” ceremony with nearly 100 people from developer LCOR and KBR building group.

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“It’s a milestone event that signifies completion of the structure for a building… [and] symbolizes the evolution of a building from structural construction to commencement of close-in activities,” says Mike Smith, Senior Vice President of LCOR.

IMG_1047The workforce is thanked for their service with a ceremony and lunch

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As is custom, all of the construction workers sign the final beam before it is hoisted into place.  It’s the last piece of steel erected into the project.

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The Aurora will have 341 units within its brick and glass facade.  The luxury building will feature studio, one- and two-bedroom units, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center, roof deck, swimming pool and community garden.  Leasing is scheduled to begin in January 2014 with the building’s anticipated delivery in July 2014.

 

 

Indianapolis Cultural Trail shows way for White Flint

Separate foot (on the left) and bike (on the right) paths on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Getting around White Flint by foot or bike today is difficult. Despite plans to create a new pedestrian and bicycle network in the area, how do you coax people onto the streets that were primarily built for driving? A new trail network in Indianapolis gives us a path to follow.

Last year, the city opened the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile network of foot and bike paths that loops around downtown with spurs to nearby destinations like universities, cultural venues and shopping streets. The trail “was about changing the way people thought about walking and running and jogging,” says Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), which spearheaded the project, in a video from Streetfilms. “We couldn’t just do a bike lane and change behavior. We had to do a new street.”

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: The Next-Gen in U.S. Protected Bike Lanes from Streetfilms on Vimeo.
The trail is designed for a variety of users, including commuters, recreational cyclists and runners, and tourists. Unlike traditional bike lanes, which are street level, the Cultural Trail gives bicyclists and pedestrians separate paths at the curb level. This helps people who may be afraid to bike feel more comfortable because they’re not mixing with car traffic.

Small design choices make the trail easier and safer to use. Frequent, well-placed signage helps pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers understand how to interact with the trail and other users. At intersections with small streets, the crosswalk comes up to the trail, making it level. At big intersections, special pavers help trail users see where it goes while letting drivers know to expect lots of foot and bike traffic.

Special markings at intersections help trail users and drivers alike. Photo by Graeme Sharpe on Flickr.

The idea to create a trail system first appeared in 2001, and CICF reached out to community leaders to build support for the $63 million project. However, the city didn’t have to pay for any of it.

$15 million came from a private donor, while the federal government provided a $20.5 million TIGER grant. The rest came from individual donations, ranging from thousands of dollars to much smaller gifts. It’s an illustration of just how much people in the community cared about this project.

Trail supporters emphasize its multiple benefits to the community. Not only does it encourages people to get more exercise, but it introduces them to new ways of getting around, and even supports the local economy. Local businesses say the trail has resulted in higher sales, while developers are building new residential and commercial buildings along the route.

“We didn’t talk about this as an infrastructure project,” says Payne. “We talked about it as a quality of life and economic development [project].”

A map of White Flint's future Recreation Loop.

A map of White Flint’s future Recreation Loop.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail sounds a lot like the White Flint Recreation Loop, a 1-mile trail network connecting several local destinations, including Wall Park, the Bethesda North Conference Center, the future Civic Green, and future housing and commercial developments. Like in Indianapolis, streets in the loop will have both sidewalks and curb-level bike lanes, though in White Flint they’ll actually be “shared use paths” for bicyclists and pedestrians.

But unlike Indianapolis, which has created a 75-mile bike network entirely from scratch in 7 years, it’s unclear how much additional bike infrastructure we’ll get in White Flint. County transportation officials have been reluctant to even provide sidewalks and bike paths on Old Georgetown Road, which is an important part of the Recreation Loop.

That said, it took 12 years for Indianapolis to build the Cultural Trail, and they couldn’t do it without extensive community support, pressure from local leaders, and creative funding sources. Hopefully, the White Flint Recreation Loop won’t take that long, but it suggests that we still have a lot of work to do.