Archives December 2013

White Flint Mall’s Last Christmas?

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Style section featured a look at White Flint Mall during what appears to be its last holiday season.  Complete with memories from those who remember the early days (thanks to the Friends of White Flinters who contributed!), it’s a lovely look at where we’ve been right as we prepare to move on.

Read the piece here and Happy Holidays from your Friends!

Most Walkable Cities

Walkability is one of the driving forces for the changes coming to White Flint. Areas throughout the United States are already considering the need for a walkable design. In an article from Governing, Mike Maciag discusses the most walkable cities in the US and elements of these cities that make them so successful. Maciag takes his data from the most recent Census counts in the American Communities Survey (ACS) from 2012.

The figures show that cities across the US have varying commuting habits. Maciag cites that college towns and cities with high populations of residents younger than 25 “boast far greater numbers of walk commuters than other cities.” Our neighboring city, Washington D.C., is ranked number 7 with 11.9% of the population considered walk commuters. There is evidence that the millennial population in D.C. has risen in the past years. As we have mentioned before, Montgomery County is working to attract more millennials to the area. The amenities and the new transportation options coming to the White Flint area hope to capitalize on the needs and wants of the millennial generation.

Why are these cities are so walkable? Many of these cities are “reinventing their town centers and adding high-density housing developments,” allowing more residents to both live and work in close proximity to each other. Many of these cities have begun redevelopment projects that push for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly roads and sidewalks, which are evidence for the changes coming to White Flint. White Flint seeks to bring these elements to the area, and perhaps become a model walkable area one day.

Read Maciag’s full article here and the map of the most walkable cities to learn more.

Is Walking the “New Wonder Drug”?

The design of our cities and towns may have a major impact on our health and well-being. As diseases such as obesity and diabetes rise to epidemic levels in the United States, what strategies are both health professionals and community development practitioners using to combat these health concerns? How does urban design impact the levels of these diseases in the US?

Jay Walljasper, a guest writer for Project for Public Spaces, recently uncovered a “new drug” doctors are prescribing to treat or even prevent these health concerns, an activity community development practitioners should focus their attention on.

Walking

 

Walljasper interviewed Bob Sallis, a leader from the National Walking Summit which took place in D.C. a few months ago, to discover why walking is the “new wonder drug.” Sallis discussed three factors that make walking the best treatment: “1) Low or no cost; 2) Simple to do for people of all ages, incomes, and fitness levels, and 3) Walking is Americans’ favorite physical activity.” Sallis’ reasoning seems straightforward but why are doctors prescribing walking now? Walking may be one of the oldest activities known to human-kind, so I should be able to walk to work or walk to my favorite shop.

Well, a problem is that many regions across the U.S. are not designed to promote physical activity like walking. If we want to use walking as a treatment or prevention for epidemics such as obesity and physical inactivity, then the places we live in must make walking easier. As we know, the built environment of an area influences the way people live. We believe that cities should be built to encourage walking, which will ultimately make us happier and healthier.

White Flint’s current design is focused on the car, preventing pedestrians from having a safe and secure space to walk. The White Flint Sector Plan is designed to encourage healthier living by promoting walkable spaces. Walking may be the best “new” treatment but our towns and cities must foster the ability to walk for this treatment to be successful.

Read Walljasper’s full article here.

Details are in the Crosswalks

Like we have mentioned before, the little things or the details in urban design should not be overlooked. These details are was to, first, attract residents and tourists and, second, persuade those visitors to visit the other amenities the area offers. For Baltimore, that is exactly what focusing on crosswalks has done. Recently, Baltimore’s Office of Promotion and the Arts implemented the crosswalk “hacks” to draw in visitors to check out the crosswalks and ultimately explore the new arts district that has developed recently. In addition, the crosswalks are also designed by a local artist.  There are several designs. One looks like a hopscotch court; another resembles a zipper!

For White Flint, incorporating local artists’ work into public spaces is an important strategy to add value to the development. Should we focus more attention on art in our public spaces? Please share your ideas.

Check out The Atlantic Cities’ article and pictures of the crosswalks here.  (Photo from the artist, Graham Coreil-Allen’s, Flickr page)

Apply for the National Transportation Planning Board’s 2014 Citizens Advisory Committee!

Are you a leader in your community or an interested citizen?

Are you interested in regional transportation issues?

Are environmental, business, or civic interests in transportation important to you?

Then apply for membership on the 2014 Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) to the National Transportation Planning Board (TPB) under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).

The CAC is:

“a group of 15 people who represent diverse viewpoints on regional transportation issues. The TPB is the body that coordinates transportation planning for the metropolitan Washington region, and includes elected local officials, representatives from transportation agencies, and other key officials.”

“The mission of the CAC is to promote public involvement in transportation planning for the region, and provide independent, region-oriented citizen advice to the TPB.”

To apply, complete their online application by noon on December 23rd.

For more information, check out CAC’s website or contact:
John Swanson, Department of Transportation Planning
Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
777 N. Capitol St., NE
Washington, DC 20002
(202) 962-3295
jswanson@mwcog.org

Could BRT connect White Flint to Northern Virginia?

For years, there’s been talk of improving transit connections across the Potomac River between Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There might be a solution in Montgomery County’s newly-approved rapid transit plan, and it could be a big deal for White Flint.

How the North Bethesda Transitway could be White Flint’s connection to Northern Virginia. Click to see an interactive map.

As the sole connection between Montgomery and Fairfax, not to mention a key link on the Capital Beltway, the American Legion Bridge is often very congested, carrying over 230,000 vehicles each day. 30% of those vehicles come from outside the DC area, but commuters still make about 32,000 trips between Montgomery and Fairfax counties during morning rush hour, and 25,000 trips in the evening. Up to 92% of those trips are drivers alone in their cars.

Officials on both sides of the river have explored transit as a way to reduce commuter traffic, which could improve travel conditions for everyone. In 1998, WMATA introduced a “Smartmover” Metrobus express route over the bridge, but discontinued it five years later due to low ridership. But as places on either side of the bridge grow, like White Flint and Tysons Corner, there might be a new market for transit. That is, if it’s fast, frequent, and most importantly, reliable.

Read More

“Hard Truths About Transit”

 

Eric Jaffe, writer for The Atlantic Cities, in his article 4 Hard Truths About Transit examined a panel report created by The Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel of the Government of Ontario. The panel report provides six hard truths about transit that are designed to spur informed debate on the subject.  As Jaffe mentions, two of the hard truths are focused on issues local to Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) of Ontario, while the other four describe common traits of transit systems globally, which apply to White Flint’s discussion on transit, especially the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).

The first hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “subways are not the only good form of transit.” Fixed-rail systems, like Metro, are able to transport thousands of people a day, allowing them to get to various locations throughout the Washington-area. Fixed-rail systems, however, are expensive to build and can be subject to reliability problems. Jaffe notes that in order to have a successful transit system, the system must match its services and programming with “circumstances” and the area’s environment e.g. residential and employment densities, ridership level, and the road systems. Taking the advice of the Ontario panel and Jaffe, it seems that BRT’s cost and flexibility make it an effective tool to address the transportation needs of the White Flint area. BRT would allow residents to move around Montgomery County for work, errands, and any other activity they want to pursue.

On the other hand, the next hard truth is that “the cost of transit is more than construction.” There are costs beyond the construction of the transit line, such as operating costs, that must be considered.

One more hard truth is that “transit does not automatically drive development.” Transit is often seen as a way to increase local economy by attracting development to areas accessible by the transit systems. One cannot build a transit system anywhere and assume that development will follow suit. That is why decisions surrounding transit must include “land use planning, local job growth potential and other business plans” states Jaffe.  That’s what we’re building in White Flint. The BRT can be successful in bringing economic growth to the region when elements such as the BRT station locations (land use planning) and businesses (job growth potential), elements the panel report focuses, are considered.  He also says, “Perhaps even more cost-efficient is bus rapid-transit, which can rival light rail when done right and has proven equally (if not more) attractive in terms of economic development.”

The final hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “transit users aren’t the only ones who benefit from transit.” Some believe that only those actually using transit benefit from the systems, so why should they have to pay for something they do not use?  But, transit systems like BRT or fixed-rail encourage local economic growth that will benefit everyone. Jaffe states “transit brings workers closer to jobs…and attract[s] retail and business revenue that can be reinvested into the city,” while calming traffic problems. These mirror the benefits the White Flint region hopes to have in the future.

Read Jaffe’s full piece here.

Meet Rebecca Hertz!

For the past year, if you’ve attended a White Flint-related event, you may have seen Amy Donin representing Friends of White Flint.  She has been an integral part of our team and, as she moves on to a role with even deeper involvement in planning and land use, we’ll miss her.

We are, though, very excited to welcome a new member to our Friends of White Flint team!  Rebecca Hertz received her Bachelor’s Degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University, Worcester Massachusetts in 2012. She completed her Master’s Degree from Clark University, as well, in Community Development and Planning in 2013. Becca is interested in how built environments impact the health and growth of communities. Prior to joining FoWF, she worked as a youth worker and mentor for several non-profit organizations in Maryland and Massachusetts. She grew up in Rockville, MD and has recently moved back to the region.  She’s a great fit for both of our missions at FoWF: education and community engagement, as well as advocacy.

 

Becca-site

 

You can reach Becca directly at Rebecca.Hertz@whiteflint.org and give her a hearty welcome when she introduces herself at your next community meeting!

Where Should the White Flint Post Office Go?

As we’ve reported before, the US Postal Service is planning to leave White Flint Mall before it redevelops and they’re looking for a new site for our local post office.  Options are limited, though, because many of the prime possibilities are also slated for redevelopment and, therefore, not ideal for the 5-year lease the USPS seeks.  Prioritizing parking and access, the USPS is looking at the following locations:

  • 5420 Edson Lane
  • 5000-5060 Nicholson Lane – Nicholson Plaza
  • 11760 Parklawn Drive – Parklawn Commerce Center
  • 11601-11631 Nebel Street – Flint Hill Building

 

Here’s what the USPS says about the locations have have already been rejected:

  • White Flint Mall: The Mall redevelopment will not be completed for 2-3 years.  It is not an operationally feasible or economically viable alternative to operate a Postal facility in a construction redevelopment site.
  • 11520-11560 Rockville Pike – Metro-Pike Center: Building to be redeveloped.  Landlord will only lease space for 2 years or until redevelopment begins.

 

I’m most excited about the Nicholson Lane location – I think it offers the best parking and access of the options identified.  But, let us know what you think!  The USPS will be open to comments for the next 30 days.  Either leave your comment here to be included in our letter or email them yourself at richard_a_hancock@usps.gov.  Read their full letter on the subject by clicking here.