Missing Link in Pedestrian Deaths

Today’s Washington Post has a very good article by Ashley Halsey III on “Few Common Themes in Pedestrian Deaths.” The article reports on similarities between recent fatal pedestrian accidents throughout the D.C. area.

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(Near the site of Sunday’s fatal accident on Rockville Pike)

Although overall highway fatalities are substantially down over the last 50 years, the result of better automobile engineering, the levels of pedestrian deaths from car impacts “has inched down stubbornly.” You just can’t engineer stronger people. “There is no mystery about the cause of pedestrian fatalities: speeding cars, distracted drivers and pedestrians, and alcohol are common factors.”

Halsey is right to focus on speed:

The difference that speed makes was demonstrated Tuesday at an event in Southeast Washington hosted by Klein and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The event was held near the scene of recent pedestrian accidents, including one in which a U.S. Department of Transportation employee died.

A test driver was able to brake successfully from 20 mph to stop short of a crash-test dummy dressed as a small boy in a Washington Nationals cap. When the driver tried to brake in the same distance from 35 mph, the car shattered the dummy.

“When someone is hit at 20 miles an hour, he has an 80 percent chance of surviving,” said George Brayan of DDOT. “When it’s 40 mph, there’s a 20 percent chance.”

Now where did we see those same statistics recently?

But there’s a missing link in the speed analysis. It’s not just that cars go fast. It’s WHY they go fast.

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Drivers go fast because they think they can, and because they think it’s ok to do so. It’s a big road, made to go fast, so why not?

So what can we do about that? We can give those drivers a different message. Won’t work for everybody, but it would be better than what we do now.

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As we discussed at length in the 2010 White Flint Town Hall meetings, street design affects speed. Modern traffic calming doesn’t rely on physical barriers, which simply shift traffic to someone else’s street. New designs “talk” to drivers, communicating the message that this is a special place where speed is not appropriate. Some designs force drivers to concentrate (road narrowing and mini-circles, for example). Others simply demonstrate that a neighborhood street is not a highway.

Maybe we can’t engineer stronger people. But we can engineer a safer place.

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Which is Rockville Pike? A hint: Halsey’s article describes it as a “six-lane highway.” But that’s our Main Street.

Halsey notes that “cities with relatively compact core areas fared better than more sprawling, less walkable places.” Under the White Flint Plan, Rockville Pike will become more walkable, and White Flint less sprawling. That’s the whole idea of the Plan.

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The Plan isn’t just to make $7 billion in new tax revenue for the County, have fancy new developments and new office buildings, or offer more late-night dining options. It’s also to save energy, protect the environment, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and . . . not least, save lives.

Barnaby Zall

(Pictures courtesy Ian Lockwood, www.glatting.com)

[Update: Halsey wrote a nice note to me, agreeing that there was much more to be said, including about ways to moderate speed, but that in most of these cases, alcohol was a contributing factor.]

White Flint Rising – – Finally

One of the most frequent questions we got in our hundreds of residents’ meetings over the last four years was “When will we see something built?” In fact, in some of our residential communities with a more mature demographic, the question was “will we live to see it?”

We always had to say, “at least a few years.” Well, a few years have passed, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, www.smartergrowth.net, held a very successful walking tour yesterday to view what’s going on. And there was lots going on.

Montgomery County President Nancy Floreen and Councilmember Roger Berliner joined the tour. Floreen announced that the Council would introduce a White Flint infrastructure financing bill on Tuesday, and said that residents should not be disturbed by the County Executive’s incomplete financing proposal from last week. Floreen declared: “It’s our Plan. We’re going to take apart the financing proposal and put it back together so we get this done.” Berliner said: “This is where the future of Montgomery County is going to be taking shape over the next few years.”

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More than sixty people participated in the walking tour, which began at the White Flint Metro station, circled the North Bethesda Center (LCOR – Harris Teeter) block, discussed the differences between the 1960’s-era Mid-Pike Plaza (Federal Realty – Toys R Us, Silver Diner) and the modern urbanism of the sold-out Sterling condominums across the street, looked at the Conference Center block, the Metro Pike Plaza (Holladay Corp. – McDonalds and Stella’s Bakery), and ended with a harrowing walk along Rockville Pike to see the North Bethesda Market (JBG – Whole Foods and residential tower). 

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The tour was led by Nkosi Yearwood, from the Montgomery Planning Board, Evan Goldman from Federal Realty, Dan Hoffman from Randolph Civic Association and the Citizens League of Montgomery County, and me, from Friends of White Flint.

 Nkosi Yearwood   evan-goldman.jpg   dan-hoffman.jpg

(Yearwood (L), Goldman, and Hoffman on tour)

Some projects are already underway, including the new third tower for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, right next to the Metro station, where a construction shovel was hard at work as the tour began. NRC (a Friends of White Flint member) has just been voted the best federal workplace (for the third year in a row), and this site next to the Metro station should help it maintain its stellar record of half its employees taking transit to work.

New NRC Building

 At Mid-Pike Plaza, Federal Realty has offered the first “sketch plans” for a massive renovation of the aging center. Construction on the first phase may begin (assuming a reasonable White Flint infrastructure financing plan is adopted) with the building along Old Georgetown Road (labeled “12” on the sketch below) as soon as permits are issued, in perhaps 2012.

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Finally, in the southern end of the White Flint Sector, North Bethesda Market’s Phase One is nearing completion. The extension of Executive Boulevard across Woodglen to Rockville Pike is “awaiting review” by the County before opening. This is one of the new roads, one of several funded and built by the private developers, making up the “smart grid” of streets intended to both increase walkability and decrease congestion on Rockville Pike.  

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Some tenants are already slated. The 26-story residential tower began leasing last week, and retail tenants are beginning construction. Apparently, the modern practice is to finish the outside of the building first, and then the tenants do their own construction, which is why there are temporary coverings on the first- and second-floor retail spaces. Tenants include L.A. Fitness, and a new Seasons 52 restaurant concept, based on locavore and healthful food.

Whole Foods Market, whose regional headquarters is in White Flint, will open a huge store, stretching from Woodglen almost to Rockville Pike, with parking above the store inside the building. Opening is likely to be next summer.

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So, the answer to “when will we see something?” is going to be 2011. With lots more to come.

Barnaby Zall

White Flint Sector Plan on the correct road to pedestrian safety

NEW URBAN NEWS  Volume 15, Number 5 – July/August 2010

To save lives, shift from arterial roads

Arterial roads – especially those with heavy traffic volumes, high speeds, and strip commercial developments such as big-box stores – are undermining Americans’ safety. The extent of the danger was investigated recently by Eric Dumbaugh and Wenhao Li of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M.

The researchers’ findings bolster the argument that more of America’s transportation system ought to take the form of relatively narrow roadways linked by sidewalks – the kind of network that enhances public safety. The findings – which are based on a study of traffic accidents in metropolitan San Antonio from 2003 through 2007 – were presented by Dumbaugh during CNU-18 in Atlanta.

Arterial roads – wide roadways designed to carry large volumes of vehicular traffic, faster than on neighborhood streets – are associated with a 14 percent increase in collisions involving two or more vehicles, a 10 percent increase in vehicles running into pedestrians, and 8.4 percent more vehicle-bicyclist crashes, according to Dumbaugh.

The heightened danger, he explained, results from three factors: First, arterial roads encourage faster speeds, partly because they’re so wide. Second, they attract more vehicular traffic. Third, the many driveways along the arterials, which provide direct connections to businesses and parking lots, multiply opportunities for accidents.

Dumbaugh and Li correlated crash statistics from metro San Antonio with the size and configuration of land uses along the region’s roads. Among their findings:

  •          For every additional strip commercial use, there was a 2.4 percent rise in multiple-vehicle collisions. The speed of the vehicles entering and leaving the parking lots presumably accounted for many of the accidents.
  •          For each additional big-box store (a single-story building of at least 50,000 sq. ft., accompanied by a parking area at least that size) there was an 8.7 percent jump in multiple-vehicle collisions. There were also increases of 8.9 percent in vehicle-pedestrian crashes and 4.6 percent in vehicle-bicyclist accidents. The greater risk associated with big-box stores probably stemmed from the stores’ heavy traffic volume and from the extra-large parking lots the motorists has to navigate.
  •          When retail was scaled to pedestrians, the environment became safer. For each pedestrian-scaled retail use – occupying a building of no more than 20,000 sq. ft. that fronted the street or had little surface space devoted to parking – there was a 3.4 percent decrease in multiple-vehicle crashes and a 1.6 percent decrease in accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians.
  •          Denser development in beneficial from a safety perspective. Higher densities cut the number of vehicle miles traveled, which reduces the frequency of crashes. Higher densities also encourage urban development configurations, which also make crashes less numerous.
  •          Crashes of vehicles into fixed objects account for nearly a third of the nation’s traffic deaths, and these single-vehicle accidents are exacerbated by arterial roadways. A chief cause is high speeds; when the vehicle turns from the road onto a driveway or side street, the driver loses control and hits a utility pole or some other stationary object.
  •          “Traffic conflicts” (where one’s stream of auto traffic intersects with other traffic movements) also are common in traditional urban designs. But they are much less dangerous there because vehicles move more slowly on narrower urban streets.

Dumbaugh also examined how crash rates differ between arterial roadways and “livable streets” (historic main streets generally accompanied by street trees, street lighting, and pedestrian appurtenances. Per mile traveled, livable streets have 40 percent fewer midblock crashes and 67 percent fewer crashes overall.  DANGERS TO TEENS

            Teen-agers in particular are placed in greater jeopardy by a sprawling form of development, says Dr. Michael Trowbridge of the University of Virginia. Trowbridge says teen-agers are much more likely to drive 20 miles a day if they’re in the midst of a sprawl. In all, 46.8 of teens drive 20 miles per day in sprawl, while only 21.7 percent of teens in compact urban settings drive that distance.

            With more miles on the road comes a greater risk of injury or death. Approximately 43,000 Americans per year are killed in auto accidents. For every teen-ager who dies as the result of an auto accident, 400 others sustain serious injuries, and 18 are hospitalized.

            “For every age group from 3 to 33 in Atlanta, the leading cause of death is traffic crashes,” says Dr. Richard Jackson of the UCLA School of Public Health. Jackson says some cities offer lessons in how to save lives. If the US had the same traffic fatality rate as Portland, Oregon, the number of deaths nationwide would be reduced by 15,000, he says. “If the whole country had the New York City rate, there would be 24,000 fewer deaths per year.” 

[Posted by Greg Trimmer]

A Window Into White Flint

Say what you want about the demise of “old media,” but once in a while newspapers remind us of their former glory as treasure troves spilling forth wisdom and piquing interest. Today’s Washington Post has a column by architecture critic Philip Kennicott that prompts some reflection into a pillar of New Urbanism philosophy. New Urbanism has, at its core, the idea of compact growth — the concept that if you put work, fun, food and the other parts of life nearby, there will be no need for cars; the romantic view is of the old town, where you wallked everywhere because you wanted to. (For more on New Urbanism: http://www.friendsofwhiteflint.org/shop/page/6?shop_param=)

Part of that longing for the old form of human organization was the idea that people would saunter, “window-shopping” as they went. It’s part of the urban model, as in Macy’s windows in New York City in the holiday season, and as in the plan for activating the streets of the new White Flint. “Build to the street,” “make the streets lively,” and “give people a reason to walk,” are parts of the philosophy behind Montgomery County’s acceptance of the New Urbanism philosophy as a way to simultaneously increase sustainability, quality of life, and economic value, all by increasing walkability.

Now here comes Kennicott, challenging a fundamental, if unspoken, assumption behind the attractiveness of walkability: “It’s plain to see that storefront windows are a smudge of what they used to be.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/21/AR2010052101652.html. Kennicott, quite rightly, points out that economics, security fears, and retail design have all conspired to defeat the “window-shopping” premise of New Urbanism:

All over the city, where development is going forward, buildings are constructed with the old promise of Dickens’s poultry shop in the architect’s mind — empty space meant to be filled with the visible bustle of people and shopping. And yet, these windows have been summarily defeated, reduced to meaningless panels of glass with nothing behind them. Look at a CVS or a chain grocery store, and you’ll find these dead orifices, stopped up and neutered by panels of wall board or cloth that hide the view into the store. Even as architects struggle to give a feeling of depth and substantiality to our ephemeral commercial architecture, store owners board up these windows from the inside, and thus reveal how thin and generic the space really is.

 In addition to those concerns, however, Kennicott identifies another culprit, more familiar in the debates over New Urbanism, sustainability and modern urban design:

The other powerful force is inertia. With the rush to the suburbs, and with urban mobility happening at the car’s pace, not the flaneur’s, street window displays became essentially obsolete. They have survived mainly in the shopping mall, a highly controlled environment, where metal grates can be pulled down and the whole edifice emptied of people when day is done.

The urban streetscape is ideally a round-the-clock locus of desire, fantasy and curiosity where you can carry on a secret romance with the doggie in the window at 3 a.m., alone and a little alienated from the drunks, club kids and stray taxis still trolling for fares.

 I don’t recall hearing stories of “secret romances” with doggies, in windows or otherwise, during the hundreds of White Flint meetings, except in the context of dog parks. But Kennicott’s analysis proceeds from his own vision of what the “urban streetscape” is (or perhaps ought to be):

What a sad and strange reversal. In the 19th century, artists struggled to compete with and capture the vitality of the commercial streetscape, whether in novels by Balzac that dealt with the sorrows and grandeur of the new industrial economy, or a streetscape by Van Gogh showing a cafe in Arles drenched in artificial light, opposite storefronts that still beckon in the thickening twilight. Into the 20th century, storefront windows provided inspiration to museum designers, who sought to frame cultural objects with the same care as designers who worked for major department stores.

Today, the reflexive thinking says: Got a hole in your streetscape? Stuff in some watercolors. The art is usually lousy, and it almost always looks silly stuffed into little glass coffins.

CVS and Harris Teeter are all about moving vast quantities of goods, objects that for the most part are necessities, not luxuries, objects that have no fantasy attached to them. Today, we covet and, increasingly, purchase through the Internet. Stores that sell luxury goods still try to create a tangible connection between the passerby and the physical object. But this is a rear-guard action: “browsing” into cyberspace.

For Kennicott, this urban scene is part of the “voyeurism” which is “essential to city life.” And so it is. When we talk about “night life,” we often mean human interaction, with the form depending on individual proclivities. You might like dancing, I might like food (my scale tells me so), and my wife may care about just “being” with the kids.  And some people, perhaps most, might like people-watching.

When I was a kid, I never understood how or why my dad used to like just sitting on a bench at an amusement park while us kids raced from attraction to attraction. Then I had kids, grew older, and do the same thing. And enjoy it. People-watching is not an empty solitary or abstract sport; it involves the senses intimately as evolution programmed us to do for thousands of years. So it has intrinsic value in urban design.

But it is not the end-all of design, and therein lies my suggestion that Kennicott missed both the idea and the realization of the window-shopping question. He is absolutely right that if you let distant chain-store designers plan window displays they will fill the “empty” spaces with saleable goods. And that expanses of glass are security nightmares. And that drivers in otherwise empty cars won’t really care about gorgeous and intriguing window displays.

But that confuses the symptoms with the problem. Look at revitalized Bethesda: kids play in the fountain. Local stores are cheek-by-jowl with chain stores. Crowds pack the sidewalks. You don’t see Kennicott’s “empty” windows in that environment.

Why not? Because those are complete streets, part of communities, rather than just pipelines for fast cars. It is not enough to have work, homes and schools in close proximity. Those are the essentials of modern life, but they aren’t what make a community lively. Or safe. Or what the urban dream is all about. You must “activate” the streets, and to do that, you must add something more.

For four lonely years I have been crying about “fun, families and fitness” as the critical elements in any New Urbanism plan. My answer to Kennicott? Four years ago, I produced my first major work for the White Flint Advisory Group: a video asking the exact same questions, even talking about “window-shopping.” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9130436078951858281&hl=en#

I suggested a mix of big and small stores, easy parking, entertainment, places for families and kids, in a big enough environment to draw a critical mass of people. I’ve learned a lot since I made that video, particularly about street and traffic design, but my answer to Kennicott’s store window dilemma is still the same.

Something to draw people into an area. Then there will be a reason for windows to be filled. Windows, used as Kennicott (and I) would like, are just advertising. But why waste advertising if there’s no one to see it? Bad design kills windows, like it kills the environment and pedestrians.

If your streets are designed just for cars and travel, you won’t have lively window displays. Drivers don’t have the time to see windows; they’re looking down the street. And pedestrians won’t walk on busy, fast streets. Who wants to bring their toddler to play among the cars?

Even the security concerns, one of the biggest concerns Kennicott identified, are answered on lively, complete streets. One of the essential elements in urban security is “eyes on the street.” You can do that electronically, as in New York’s Times Square. But it’s much more important to have actual people on the streets, as the recent failed Times Square bombing showed; it was returned veterans, working as street vendors, who quickly identified something anomalous in the smoking SUV.

So Kennicott is on to something. He has identified a particular problem with urban design. But he stopped too soon. Rather than simply explaining the problem, he might have gone the next step to identify the solution: a complete revitalization does not stop with adding a CVS store. You have to draw people into an area if you want your vision of sustainability and vitality to follow walkability. That requires the 3-Fs: “fun, family and fitness.” Or just entertainment. And, just as importantly, you must deal with street design, not just the buildings on the sidewalks.

Windows, like so much of our urban design dreams, cannot co-exist with fast cars. You must have good design that permits mobility of cars, bikes and people. Like roundabouts and promenades. With all the amenities of fun, families and fitness.

f you have that, merchants, at least the local ones, will want to have lively window displays. And, as we are increasingly learning with traffic calming, getting people out of their cars, and encouraging the use of transit, the answers to many of our questions are in incentives, not proscriptions.

Create a reason for merchants to want lively windows. Something to make their advertising dollars seem worthwhile. Then the economics of windows will be different, and the streetscape will shift to be more like all of our dreams.

Barnaby Zall

The Tao of Traffic — Lessons from the 2010 White Flint

“Traffic calming” sometimes seems like a misnomer; it just makes people mad, like drivers who honk when they go over speed bumps. But I just spent two days sitting at the feet of a traffic calming master, Ian Lockwood of Glatting Jackson, and learned that I was wrong. Or at least sadly out-of-date (which doesn’t surprise my kids).

The OLD method – traffic calming through physical barriers – IS maddening and counter-productive. It doesn’t “calm,” it doesn’t reduce traffic, it doesn’t protect neighborhoods; it just pits neighbor against neighbor and moves the traffic to annoy someone else. I spoke to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett about this yesterday and he pointed out that traffic calming proposals always generate huge battles, which he didn’t like. I told him we had discovered a better way: don’t focus on physical barriers, but on drivers’ psychology. He wanted to hear more about it.

So, here’s what I learned about traffic calming at the 2010 White Flint Town Hall (www.TownHall.WhiteFlint.org):

Modern traffic calming uses design to communicate with drivers so they will take responsibility for their own behavior. The “built environment” tells them what to do, gets drivers to focus on the near and middle distance, and emphasizes people and not motorists. It puts a “there” in neighborhoods.

Just as New Urbanism shifts the debate from how fast cars move through intersections to how to get people out of cars, the new traffic calming shifts the debate from how to block cars from a particular street to how to get drivers to WANT to slow down. It’s about enhancing the neighborhood enough to make drivers focus on the near and middle distance, rather than far, far down the road.

Driver’s vision at various speeds

(How much drivers see at various speeds, faster – upper left) 

Today, traffic “calming” is more than that; it’s neighborhood enhancement, which has the EFFECT of protecting pedestrians, the same way that enticing drivers out of their cars altogether does. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The new method is mental, not physical. You have to design streets to meet the psychology of drivers. If drivers expect to go fast on a street (something conveyed by the streetscape and design “vocabulary”), they will want to go fast, no matter what you do. If you do something which is inappropriate to the messages the environment sends, drivers will get mad. For example, if you put speed bumps on a long, straight, wide street where drivers expect to look far ahead, drivers will get mad enough to honk as they go over the bumps.

Stop signs are another common old traffic calming device, but they only work in the right environment. If you just plunk down stop signs in the middle of long, straight streets where drivers EXPECT to drive fast, they’ll want to keep driving fast, resulting in screeching halts and jackrabbit starts from each sign. Not the smooth, lower speeds overall of traffic calming.

Effect of Stop Signs on Traffic

If, on the other hand, you do something in the environment to get drivers to focus on the near and middle distance (like landscaping, or just making the entrance to a community distinctive enough from the outside road to convey that the driver is entering a special place), drivers will slow down, protecting pedestrians and neighborhoods.

In other words, as White Flint Realtor Emily Mintz put it Thursday night, the answer is to “get inside their heads.”

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(Ian Lockwood and Emily Mintz)

Streets are the biggest public realm in neighborhoods, more than schools or parks. People identify with them, and identify your neighborhood by the streets. They should be carefully designed for multiple purposes to help define and develop the neighborhood, not just move cars. For example, use “rain gardens” designed to accept water in a natural setting, rather than iron storm grates.

Use of “Rain Gardens” on streets instead of grates

(Use of “rain gardens” to calm streets, beautify neighborhood and handle storm water) 

One of the more popular forms of modern traffic calming is “roundabouts,” circular areas which collect and distribute traffic without the need for signals. (These are not the larger traffic “circles” which tend to have higher speeds.) Several places in White Flint neighborhoods are good candidates for roundabouts, including Old Georgetown at Tuckerman and at Tilden/Nicholson. You can walk easily across them, and they are hugely safer for pedestrians. At a signal, traffic is coming at pedestrians from all angles, but in a roundabout, traffic approaches only from one direction. Maintaining a roundabout is much cheaper than a signalized intersection. Huge reduction on how much fuel is used as well, so some federal funds are available for roundabouts from energy reduction and air quality programs.

Roundabouts can handle a lot of traffic, reducing asphalt and increasing green space. This roundabout, in Florida, handles up to 50,000 cars a day, yet it’s easily walkable and safe for pedestrians and bicycles:

Busy Roundabout

Route 50 near Centreville, Virginia, now has four roundabouts. The congestion is gone and accident rates are way down. In California, Ian narrowed a five-lane signalized road to a two-lane road with a roundabout and not only cleared congestion, but enlivened the community. A new restaurant opened nearby named the Roundabout.

Design in the neighborhood’s context. Emphasize place, not throughput or speed. Build something beautiful, so drivers will have something to see when they slow down. Studies show that drivers will slow in well-designed spaces, even on wide roads. Emphasizing speed and reducing travel time actually increases sprawl and energy use. If you reward the unsustainable trip, the land use changes to respond, exacerbating your problems. Instead reward the sustainable trip, the short trip, the biking trip. The person cutting through the city is not as important as the city itself; they can still go through, but on the city’s terms, not the highway’s. 

Roundabout

Think about all the quality of life issues in the area. It’s not just traffic calming; it’s context-sensitive design. Complete streets. Smart transportation. Safe routes to schools. Just competent street design. Vibrant uses made possible by good street design.

You still have to accomodate the motorist, but let’s level the playing field for the pedestrian, the bicyclist, the kids. You get a better community over time. You can replace many traffic lanes with good design, with many benefits for the surrounding neighborhood.

Neighborhood

Summarizing some of the calming methods most likely to prove useful in White Flint neighborhoods, Ian saw many similarities through several neighborhoods, including limited access. Those tend to have “cut-through traffic” issues, although studies show that most such traffic is from neighborhood residents and visitors. “I would highly discourage closing off your streets, because you’ll just re-route the traffic to your neighbors’ streets.” Deal with the busiest streets first. Improve entrances so drivers know they’re entering a special place. Remove double yellow lines on neighborhood streets.

Barnaby Zall

From the People Who Brought You More Surface Parking in White Flint

Fresh from yesterday’s interesting Montgomery County Council discussion of the failed car speed tests, I received a leaked copy of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s proposed replacement. McDoT will announce the new policy this afternoon. The explanatory memo can be found here:

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dot/dir/cefinaltparapril222010.pdf

The new Transportation Policy Area Review will replace the existing Policy Area Mobility Review (PAMR) and Local Area Transportation Review (LATR) tests. These tests, which have been widely criticized, focus on how fast cars move through intersections, blocking development and imposing new infrastructure requirements whenever cars slow down.

These tests may have their places, but not in modern pedestrian-friendly Plans. The reason is simple, as discussed in several posts in the last month: you can’t have a pedestrian-friendly community if cars move fast. The Council wrestled for months to reconcile a pedestrian-friendly White Flint with its existing car speed tests, a struggle which was resolved only when the Council realized that the answer to congestion was not to move cars faster but to get people out of cars. That works in Arlington County, and it should work even in Montgomery County. That, at least, is the premise of the White Flint Plan.

But there’s an aphorism that, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. That’s the problem with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, which is tasked with the huge job of handling the County’s traffic problems. McDoT sees everything in automobile terms: Rockville Pike, for example, is a big pipe from NIH and Navy Med in Bethesda to Rockville (oh, by the way, White Flint in between isn’t anything at all to worry about, except if it slows cars).

That’s why, when faced with a nice opportunity for a park or community facility on the unused SHA land at the northern intersection of Montrose Parkway and Rockville Pike, McDoT gave us a . . . surface parking lot. In White Flint. Where we’re trying to replace those. To protect the environment. And make a pedestrian-friendly community. I’m sure they had a good reason.

And just so with the new TPAR. The product of a high-powered consultant’s report, the proposal to be issued today is fascinating more for what it does NOT do than what it does. There are some good parts of the proposal, mostly dealing with the techniques for measuring and analyzing traffic.

But you hit the real problem on the very first page of the Introduction: transit and travel demand management (getting people out of their cars) are to be considered “separately” (emphasis in original) from arterial roadways and bicycle and pedestrian improvements. See, P. 3. Um, . . . why?

Maybe that comes from treating roads out of context. That’s reinforced by the wide and differing areas which are treated as if they were the same. Downtown Bethesda, with its urban character, access to Metro, and full streets, is in the same transit access zone with Cabin John, with its more suburban or rural vocabulary and NO transit access. Really, only roads matter to McDoT, not transit access, and not transit-orientation. (And, a wiser analyst than I pointed out, the new TPAR means that McDoT can build what it wants, when it wants, without a lot of outside control, as long as a road is in a master plan.)

So, there’s a lot of good in the new proposal, but at bottom, this is a continuation of the “car is king” philosophy. Understandable in a department of Transportation, but not really where the County is going. This is more rearranging the deck chairs, rather than a holistic approach to solving a variety of mobility issues.

And it totally ignores the big gorilla coming down on us all: carbon limitation laws that will begin strangling road construction in just a few years. Sustainability (read demand management) will become the main driver in the future, not congestion. Soon what comes out of the tailpipe will become more important than how fast we can move that pipe.

Perhaps this is the wrong place to do that type of overall “quality of life” analysis, but if this TPAR is intended to replace PAMR and LATR, then TPAR will determine our government priorities and spending. Road construction is, and will be important, but the County shouldn’t lock into a system which expressly intends to separate transit and demand management from road needs.

This is, again, the same problem the County faced with the White Flint Plan: how do you use these car-oriented tools in a transit-oriented space? The answer is: not very easily.

Wouldn’t we be better served, as a County, if we did what the Planning Board tried to do in White Flint: measure a variety of elements which make up “quality of life,” rather than just how fast cars move through intersections? Spend as much time on getting drivers out of cars as on moving them through intersections as fast as possible.

Barnaby Zall

More Data Demonstrating Value of Walkable Communities

Has Sprawl Recovered Enough for the National Economy?

·Christopher LeinbergerVisiting Fellow, Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program·     
January 27, 2010 | 12:09 pm·   

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama and University of Florida, sponsored by the Natural Resource Defense Council , shows that car-dependent communities have statistically higher rates of mortgage foreclosure than communities with multiple transportation options, such as transit, biking and walking. This also explains to some extent why across the country that “walkable urban” home values over the past two years have been flat or slightly down while fringe “drivable sub-urban” communities have suffered the worst price declines. The average American household spends 17 percent of their pre-tax income on transportation, 94 percent of this amount is for ownership and maintenance of cars. However when the data are disaggregated, drivable sub-urban households spend about 25 percent on transportation while walkable urban households only spend about 9 percent. This 16 percent difference represents well over a trillion dollars in households spending each year. If this spending was redeployed from cars to housing, education, and savings, it would be a major economic driver (excuse the pun). 

The major implication of this study is on the largest peace-time intervention in the American economy by the federal government, and, no, it’s not the bank bailouts. As reported on the front page of the Washington Post earlier this week, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have spent well over $1 trillion over the past year in propping up the securitized mortgage market and assuming untold risk of further mortgage defaults in the future. This is more than the bailout of the banks, AIG, and the car companies combined.

This mortgage bailout and the assumption of huge future risks were made in the hope that troubled housing, much of it on the fringe, will stabilize and regain its value. To some extent, it is a bet that sprawling development will recover its previously inflated value, a wager I’d decline. The Post story also mentioned that these federal props are being dismantled and will be gone by the end of the first quarter of this year. Two months later, the federal tax credit for the purchase of new homes will end as well. The obvious question is whether the housing market can stand on its own or will it push the economy back into recession; the feared “W” scenario experienced in the 1930s and in the early 1980s. The worst outcome of all would be if the bailout of housing, and particularly sprawl, left us without the resources to invest, especially on infrastructure and transportation choices, in the future. 

Greg Trimmer

Walkability Raises Home Values

One of the criticisms raised about the new White Flint Sector Plan is that the Plan is designed to help people who aren’t even there yet, at the expense of people who already live there. Leaving aside the question of whether that’s true, a new article is being circulated in e-mails about how New Urbanism walkable communities actually help those already nearby.

The report, by Joe Cortwright, CEO of Impreza, Inc., was commissioned by the organization CEOs for Cities. CEOs for Cities describes itself as “a national network of urban leaders dedicated to building and sustaining the next generation of great American cities.” www.ceosforcities.org. Impreza is a Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm that describes itself as “specializing in metropolitan economies and knowledge-based industries. We work with business and civic leaders to understand what it takes for organizations and places to be successful in the global knowledge economy.” www.imprezaconsulting.com
 
The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities”, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets. In 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values. The “levels of walkability” were measured by “Walkscore,” www.walkscore.com.

Walkscore calculates the distance to amenities such as schools, libraries, restaurants, parks, stores, and so on, and publishes a “Walk Score” from 0-100. Communities with a Walkscore of 70 or above are considered to be walkable, without a regular need for a car. CEOs for Cities reports that “The study found that in the typical metropolitan area, a one-point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000 depending on the market.  The gains were larger in denser, urban areas like Chicago and San Francisco and smaller in less dense markets like Tucson and Fresno.”

The “metropolitan area” listed first on the walkable list was Arlington, Virginia. Friends of White Flint consciously models its plans for White Flint on the successful transformation of Arlington from car-centric suburb to a transit-oriented, walkable community. In the first presentation of Friends of White Flint’s Speakers’ Series in May, Chris Zimmerman, of the Arlington County Board, pointed out that Arlington has increased its population substantially in the last twenty years, but traffic congestion has actually gone down.

So we’ll have to revise our estimates of the value gain expected from the transformation of White Flint into a walkable community. We have been using the Montgomery County Planning Board’s estimate of $2.1 billion in additional property and income tax revenues, but that only counted new construction and new residents. See our discussion of the economics of the White Flint Sector Plan here.

What the Cortwright study shows is that there will also be some increase in property values in the existing housing values in the area. The amount of the increase will depend on how walkable the community actually becomes, but for each point in White Flint’s new “Walk Score”, existing property values can also be expected to rise between $700 to $3,000.

So the new White Flint should be good for existing residents, as well as newcomers. The benefits should be in reduced traffic, greater amenities and opportunities, and in actual dollar value of homes and properties.

You can find the Cortwright study at:

http://www.ceosforcities.org/files/WalkingTheWalk_CEOsforCities.pdf

Barnaby Zall