Archives August 2013

Another Step Forward for the Western Workaround

In addition to new buildings and developments, the White Flint Sector Plan also lays out a new road pattern for parts of our area.  This is important for several reasons – it will break up the existing superblocks and give us more options for traveling without using Rockville Pike and, also, it creates new possibilities for properties like Wall Park.  The latter is specifically related to the road network we call the western workaround.  Part of what’s contemplated in that project is shifting Executive Boulevard so it crosses Old Georgetown Road farther east and then stretches north into Pike & Rose.  By straightening Executive, a rectangular parcel of property is created at the southwest intersection with Old Georgetown Road.  This is where Gables Residential will construct their project, which includes a parking garage they will share with Wall Park & the Shriver Aquatic Center, which will allow the county to replace the existing surface parking at Wall Park with the green space we’re so excited about.  See how they’re all linked?

SCAN0046

 

As you can see in the image above, the plan involves “abandoning” the stretch of Executive Boulevard highlighted in orange while replacing it with the stretch in gray so the road is straighter.  In anticipation of this first step of the process, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation is hosting a public hearing at 7:30pm on Wednesday, September 18th in the Executive Office Building Lobby Auditorium, 101 Monroe Street, 1st Floor, in Rockville.  The meeting notice states that “the subject portion of Executive Boulevard will not be needed for public use when road improvements and realignments associated with the White Flint West Project are completed.  The road [will] remain open to public traffic until the new alignment is ready for use.”

Comments are being accepted by letter, fax and email – so, please take a moment to show your support for this important first step.  Many projects — Wall Park, Shriver Aquatic Center, the Gables, the Civic Green — hinge on this.  It’s time to get it moving!

Send your support to Michael Cassedy at the Department of Transportation by email at michael.cassedy@montgomerycountymd.gov, by fax at 240-777-7254 or by mail at 100 Edison Park Drive, 4th Floor, Gaithersburg MD 20878.

And – stay tuned!  Next week, we’ll tell you about a public meeting coming in September where you can tell the Parks Department what you’d like to see at the new Wall Park!

Australian government says bike riders save $21 on every commute

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

The economy benefits by more than $21 [about $19 USD] every time a person cycles 20 minutes to work and back and $8.50 [about $7.50 USD] each time a person walks 20 minutes to and from work, according to a policy statement released by Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.”

Why is Australia focused on the cost of commuting? The State of Australian Cities 2013 report notes that higher-skill and consequently higher-paid jobs are increasingly located in the central areas of cities, while job growth is lowest in the outer suburbs. Therefore, many people are facing longer commutes, which have an array of economic and health consequences. The report states, “Connections between the places that people live and where they work in major cities are important to their productivity and also to equality of opportunities.”

In a speech, Albanese said that “For shorter trips we need to get more people choosing alternatives to the car…People will walk or cycle if it’s safe and convenient to do so.”

Read the Sydney Morning Herald article and Streetsblog Capitol Hill post to learn more.

Woodglen Drive Bikeway Improvements Coming

“The Woodglen Drive Bikeway Improvements Project once completed will be an example of a complete street designed for users of all ages, modes and mobilities.”  — from MCDOT’s newsletter, and music to our ears.

 

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has released its latest plan affecting White Flint:  the bikeway improvements coming to Woodglen Drive.  An 8-foot, off-road, asphalt, shared-use path will connect the entrance of the Bethesda Trolley Trail with Nicholson Drive, along the western edge of Woodglen.  Bikers will share this route with pedestrians.  “Safety features, including the construction of curb extenders, at the intersection of Executive Boulevard and Woodglen Drive, will be incorporated into the roadway design to discourage speeding and alert motorists to the pedestrian/cycle-friendly environment of Woodglen Drive,” says MCDOT’s newsletter, released today.  Read the full newsletter, and see images, by clicking here

 

In addition to the off-road shared-use path, bike lanes will also be installed on the road itself.  In the northbound direction, travelers will find a new 6-foot wide bike lane.  Installation of this will require the removal of six metered parking spaces on the east side of Woodglen.  In the southbound direction, bikes and cars will share the road, as indicated by the addition of “sharrows,” the shared lane pavement marking symbol (see below).  Construction of the full project is slated for this fall.

 

sharrow

 

While this is only a three block-long improvement, it’s a start toward making our roads more friendly to all users.  After all, as MCDOT acknowledges in their announcement, “in Maryland, bicycles are classified as vehicles and are permitted on any road where the speed limit is posted 50 mph or lower.”  Ultimately, as redevelopment occurs on the blocks north of Nicholson Drive, the shared-use path will continue, connecting to the White Flint metro station and beyond.

The Trolley Trail is a fantastic resource, connecting White Flint with Bethesda while avoiding roads and traffic.  It’s great for commuters, recreational bicyclists and walkers alike – as long as you’re traveling in daylight.  At the moment, the Trolley Trail isn’t lit.

These improvements and the lighting of the Trolley Trail will likely be on the agenda at Friends of White Flint’s next meeting in just a few weeks.  Learn more by clicking here and let us know if you can come.  See MCDOT’s flyer in full by clicking here.

 

 

Taking away lanes for bikes is not bad for business

Even if you agree that bike lanes make everyone feel safer and that businesses benefit by being near them, you still may have concerns when installing bike lanes means taking lanes away from parking or travel lanes for cars (otherwise known as a “road diet”). However, University of Washington student Kyle Rowe decided to examine what happened to retail sales in two different neighborhoods in Seattle when bike lanes were installed at the expense of travel lanes for cars or parking. In one neighborhood lanes were simply taken away from cars and bicycle lanes were installed in their place. In another neighborhood, a “climbing lane” was installed (a bike lane on the uphill side of the road, with a shared lane marking or “sharrow” on the downhill side) and 12 parking spots were removed. To determine the impact of these changes on retail sales, Rowe examined taxable retail sales data from the Washington State Department of Revenue.

seattle bike sales index 1

Source: Kyle Rowe

Despite numerous businesses opposition to the changes, Rowe found that neither project had a negative impact on retail sales in the neighborhood business district. In fact, businesses in the neighborhood that installed the climbing lane showed a 350% increase in sales index two quarters after the project was finished, and a 400% increase in the quarter after that (though Rowe is careful to point out that the increase in sales cannot necessarily be attributed to any changes in transportation).

seattle bike sales index 2

Source: Kyle Rowe

 

While this research doesn’t scientifically prove that bike infrastructure improves sales, it shows that we shouldn’t be afraid to have more room for bikes in areas that have typically been designed only for cars.

Read Rowe’s full report here, and check out what other blogs have to say about this research at StreetsBlog, Transportation Issues Daily, and Climate Progress.

Councilmember Berliner on Rapid Transit

Roger Berliner is the County Councilmember for District 1, which includes all of White Flint.  He has spoken out before in support of Rapid Transit, and his latest piece includes a great amount of detailed information on the plan.  As often happens with innovative and wide-reaching plan, rumors are rampant. So, Berliner’s piece in the Potomac Almanac bullets out a variety of points worth considering.

For example, Berliner highlights that the key to alleviating our historic and growing traffic problem is to change our thinking.  No longer can a successful road be one that moves the most cars the fastest – it must be a road the moves the most people the fastest.  That’s who these roads and communities are built for anyway – people!  In his full piece, Councilmember Berliner also addresses the concept of lane repurposing, which we believe to be key to the success of rapid transit.  Without dedicated lanes, these transit vehicles are sitting in traffic with the rest of us and not providing the reliable option needed to make an impact.

Read the whole thing here and let us know what you think.  Having trouble envisioning what Rapid Transit will look like?  The Coalition for Smarter Growth has produced a 4-minute video that will help – find it here: http://www.nextgentransit.org/materials/a-rapid-transit-solution/

The Decline of the Indoor Mall

Particularly for long-time residents of Montgomery County, the changes at White Flint Mall have been striking.  Dark storefronts and demolition have taken the place of a once-vibrant shopping center.  But, as we’ve discussed before, the decline of the indoor mall is a trend sweeping the country.  This week, WTOP published another article focusing on this trend.

In the face of busy local malls like Westfield Montgomery or Tysons, it’s clear that this is not a universal truth.  But, “the overall decline of malls can be attributed to many factors, including the economy, access and evolving consumer interest,” says David Versel, senior research associate at the Center for Regional Analysis at the George Mason School for Public Policy.  The recession also hit malls hard from both ends.  Not only were consumers pulling back on their spending, but large nationwide chains regretted their heady expansions and began consolidating stores to rein in costs.  The closing of Bloomingdale’s, which declined to renew its White Flint Mall lease in the face of declining sales, is an example of that.  Stock and staff were consolidated into their Chevy Chase store for the immediate future.

The up-side is that these indoor mall sites provide excellent potential for redevelopment.  The land under White Flint Mall measures in the billions of square footage – that’s a lot of room for opportunity.  “I think the most exciting possibility is that as these older, commercial properties — whether they’re big boxes or malls or strip malls — reach the end of their functional lives, they then provide an opportunity for redevelopment. And then that redevelopment can be made with shopping and housing, together, so that it’s more walkable, along with restaurants and entertainment,” says Kaid Benfield, director of sustainable communities at the Natural Resources Defense Council and author of “Even teenagers don’t want to go to the mall anymore,” published in The Atlantic Cities.  These comprehensive, neighborhood-based experiences are what will draw today’s consumers.

Walkable?  Accessible? Mixed-Use?  I think we’re heading in the right direction!  Read the entire article on WTOP’s website by clicking here.

Video shows what BRT means for Montgomery County

What would Bus Rapid Transit mean for Montgomery County? Friends of White Flint executive director Lindsay Hoffman and I talk about the benefits of BRT alongside residents and community leaders in a new video produced by the Coalition for Smarter Growth.


A Rapid Transit Solution to Traffic from Coalition for Smarter Growth on Vimeo.

The video also features interviews with a variety of local residents and community leaders, including Planning Board member Casey Anderson, college student Jonathan Jayes-Green, local Sierra Club chair David Hauck, and activist Elaine Binder. Transportation planner Larry Cole, who led the BRT planning process, also talks about how traffic continues to increase in Montgomery County.

For almost 5 years, Montgomery County has been working on a plan for a countywide BRT network, including routes on major corridors like Rockville Pike, Route 29, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road. The plan, which the Planning Board approved last month, has significant issues, but it’s still a huge step forward for the county as it seeks to accommodate new residents and workers while helping everyone get around more quickly and affordably.

We don’t have room on our streets today to accommodate everyone in a car today, let alone in the future. If done properly, and if given its own dedicated lanes, BRT can give people a new transportation choice that’s faster than driving will ever be in many of the county’s congested corridors. We simply cannot afford not to make a significant investment in new transit that can support future growth, economic development, and environmental stewardship.

The plan goes before the County Council this fall, but first, they will hold two public hearings on September 24 and 26 to hear from the community. If you’d like to show your support for BRT, you can visit CSG’s Next Generation of Transit website to learn more or visit the council’s website to sign up to testify or send written comments.

Can White Flint retain its Baby Boomers?

They moved to White Flint years ago, but will Boomers stick around? Photo by velvettangerine on Flickr.

With the kids gone, many Baby Boomers face one of two choices: age in place, or move downtown. Real estate analysts say which one they pick will have a big impact on the local housing market, but communities that can accommodate both choices can benefit either way.

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are the largest generation in American history after their kids, the Millennials. More older adults are moving to urban neighborhoods, trading the large houses they raised families in for smaller, more manageable homes in places where they don’t have to drive.

Meanwhile, other retirees are staying put to be closer to friends and family, but modifying their homes so they can live there as their mobility and health decline. But is there a middle ground? By creating a new urban center within an established suburban community, places like White Flint offer Boomers the lifestyle they want while remaining close to friends and family.

While Montgomery County talks a lot about attracting younger residents, White Flint is a naturally desirable place for older residents as well.

Boomers might be drawn to urban-style amenities in White Flint, like this farmers’ market. Photo by the author.

For starters, their ranks are growing. There are almost 225,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 70 living in Montgomery County, making up 23.4% of its population, compared to 18.8% in 2000. In North Bethesda (which the Census defines as the area roughly bounded by I-270, the Beltway, Rock Creek Park, Montrose Road and Twinbrook Parkway), there are 9,753 Boomers living here today, making up 23.8% of the population, compared to 20.1% in 2000.

The county’s vision for a new downtown along Rockville Pike resembles many of the urban places that retirees are currently moving to, like Arlington or Bethesda: a mix of homes, offices and shops, walkable streets, new transit options and a variety of public spaces. Being able to meet all of your daily needs within a short walk is a compelling alternative to big retirement communities that may have a lot of amenities on-site, but are practically impossible to leave without a car.

In a few years, White Flint will have many of the cultural amenities Boomers want, like a growing variety of restaurants, high-end movie theatres, and Strathmore’s live music venue at Pike + Rose. And, of course, it’s next to the Red Line and a future BRT line along Rockville Pike, allowing Boomers to travel to Rockville, Bethesda or DC for activities there.

With some exceptions, most of the new apartments and condominiums that will be built in White Flint will be expensive, placing them out of reach for cash-strapped Millennials. But Boomers often have the savings and the income to actually afford them.

New towers rise behind 1950’s-era homes in White Flint, allowing some residents to “age in place.” Photo by the author.

Many Boomers won’t have to move anywhere to enjoy the new White Flint, because they already moved to one of the area’s surrounding suburban neighborhoods decades ago to raise a family. If they choose to “age in place,” they’ll find that their neighborhood has also evolved to meet their needs.

Much as older residents might add a first-floor bedroom for when they can’t climb the stairs, White Flint will become a place where they can walk to the store when they can’t drive anymore. Meanwhile, they’ll still be close to familiar faces: friends, family, clubs or groups, medical practitioners, or faith communities.

As Baby Boomers enter the next phase of their lives, they’ll have to make decisions about how and where they’d like to live. Some communities with the right amenities may see an influx of Boomers, while others may be stuck with a glut of houses that neither Boomers nor younger generations want.

The challenge for many communities is whether they can provide the right mix of new experiences and familiar faces to attract all types of Boomers. So far, it looks like White Flint is up to the task.

Crossposted on Greater Greater Washington.

Pike and Rose Announces Six New Restaurants for Phase One

Today, Pike and Rose released the following about six new restaurants that have signed leases in the first phase of development, scheduled to open in Fall 2014:

PIKE & ROSE SIGNS SIX RESTAURANT TENANT LEASES

Federal Realty Investment Trust (NYSE:FRT) today announced the execution of six new tenant leases that will bring upscale and fast-casual dining options to Pike & Rose, the first major project to break ground in the designated White Flint District since the approval of the White Flint Sector Plan. The restaurants will feature American, European and Asian fare, and will open within Phase One of Pike and Rose in Fall 2014.

“Phase one will represent the premiere dining and entertaining collection in the White Flint District,” said Evan Goldman, Vice President of Development for Federal Realty Investment Trust. In addition to the six new restaurants, the collection includes the first iPic Theater in the region, along with its signature restaurant, Tanzy, and signature bar, Salt Bar. There is also a 250-seat music venue being developed in partnership with Strathmore Hall Foundation.

The six new tenants include:

Del Frisco’s Grille: Del Frisco’s Grille is a modern bar & grill dishing up creative twists on American comfort classics.  In 2012, Del Frisco’s Grille was honored by Nation’s Restaurant News as the winner of the 18th annual Hot Concepts Award and Del Frisco’s Grille in Rockefeller Center was distinguished by the New York City Association of Hotel Concierges as the winner of the 2012 Concierge Choice Award for Casual Dining, an honor given to those who create exceptional experiences for New York City visitors. This will be the second DC-area location for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, whose 8,500 square foot Pennsylvania Avenue location opened to acclaim in July of 2012.

“We are excited to welcome our new friends and neighbors at Pike & Rose to Del Frisco’s Grille with our warm, genuine hospitality,” said Mark S. Mednansky, CEO of Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group.  “We are thrilled to have such wonderful real estate partners and have strategically chosen the most dynamic locations in cities with exciting growth and vibrant dining scenes.”

Protein Bar: Chicago favorite Protein Bar – known for serving healthy food, only healthier – offers flavorful food in a hip, trendy environment. Protein Bar’s menu, service style, and stores are set up for quality, style, and speed. Protein Bar’s Pike & Rose location will be along Old Georgetown Road and will be the restaurant’s fourth Washington, D.C. location, having opened its first D.C. location in late 2012.

Roti: Offering fast-casual Mediterranean cuisine, Chicago-based Roti has focused its second phase of growth in the Washington, D.C. area, quickly growing its footprint to 11 regional locations. Roti’s Pike & Rose location will be its second in Montgomery County and will be on Old Georgetown Road.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen: ShopHouse, the new Southeast Asian concept by Chipotle, will open its fourth D.C.-area location at Pike & Rose on Old Georgetown Road. Inspired by the flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, the restaurant model takes a cue from Chipotle with its focus on sustainably sourced ingredients, and its model of serving customers in an interactive format that allows individuals to create their order to their exact specifications.

Lettuce Entertain You: The Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group will be opening two restaurants at Pike & Rose, both of which are new concepts to the East Coast. Lettuce Entertain You has a history of success locating restaurants within mixed-use environments, including Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda Row and Reston Town Center, Wildfire in Tysons Galleria, and Big Bowl and Community Canteen in Reston Town Center.

“I am very excited to be working with Federal Reality given their history for creating and building amazing spaces,” said Chef/Partner Jeff Mahin of Stella Barra Pizzeria, M Street Kitchen, and Do-Rite Donuts. “We will be introducing two concepts to the East Coast at Pike & Rose.  One will be artisan pizza and the other will focus on new American cuisine with California influences. Both will highlight our deep appreciation for seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, and our commitment to delivering quality and craftsmanship.  My partner, Chris Meers, is a hometown local, and we can’t wait to be part of this vibrant community.”

The “hidden economic value” of transit could be worth millions

The economic benefits of agglomeration (i.e. more people clustered together in one place) can be huge. Essentially, as more people cluster together, more jobs do too, and both wages and economic productivity increase. A recently released paper for Urban Studies reveals that transit may be the key to producing agglomeration, which can in turn yield an impressive economic benefit to the tune of $1.5 million to $1.8 billion a year per city.

The Atlantic Cities does a great job of explaining how agglomeration works in urban areas:

“One of the potential benefits of having more people in an area is that you have a wider labor force. That, in turn, means a better chance of matching the needs of a job with the skills of a worker — and, of course, making this match more quickly. Another benefit could be information exchange. As casual encounters among skilled laborers increase, say in the shops and on the sidewalks that crop up near transit hubs, so too does innovation.”

At the moment, we have few transit options within Montgomery County but that can change with the proposed Rapid Transit plan.  Let the County Council know that you think these are worthy investments by emailing them at County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

You can ready the full study “Transit Service, Physical Agglomeration and Productivity in US Metropolitan Areas” here.