Posts in category Smart Growth
How can we show cyclists, drivers, and everyone else on the street how to share? The city of Edmonton, Alberta produced these
five six excellent videos using LEGO figures teaching the new rules of the road.
Interactions between cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers can often be contentious. Lighthearted videos like this can help everyone understand their rights and responsibilities in the urban realm.
Thanks to WABA for the heads-up.
Alexandria hopes to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yard, but wetlands near the route and negotiations with the owner of adjacent rail tracks have stalled the planning process. Can this project get back on track?
The city has selected Potomac Yard as the location for the new infill station, to be located on the Blue and Yellow lines between National Airport and Braddock Road, and is evaluating four specific alternative sites. In May, the project hit its first delay when the environmental impact statement (EIS) team revealed that one of the alternative sites under consideration would impact land owned by the National Park Service. But the alternative has its own complications.
At that point, the Federal Transit Administration asked the EIS team to study ways to address the issues. They found that the best option would be to move a series of CSX rail tracks so that the station could be built farther west of the sensitive area, in between the relocated CSX tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
Moving the tracks could potentially kill two birds with one stone by giving station designers flexibility to avoid encroaching on a scenic easement established in 1999 while addressing problems with adjacent wetlands. If the tracks stay where they are, the city will need to negotiate an agreement to build on the legally protected easement.
But while CSX has met with the city to explore the possibility of moving the tracks, negotiations won't be quick or easy. After waiting four months, WMATA and the City of Alexandria only recently had the chance to meet with CSX for the first time. The EIS team can't wrap up the study and move forward with the project until negotiations are completed.
The EIS team is studying three options and a no-build alternative for the Metro station site. Alternative A would cost approximately $200 million and place a station at ground level between the existing tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, but would be located farther away from the Potomac Yard Shopping Center.
Alternative B, estimated to cost $250 million, would be closer to the shopping center, and have foot paths to it and the adjacent Potomac Greens neighborhood. Alternative D is an aerial station, which would cost almost twice as much.
While city staff emphasize that no decisions will be made until after the EIS is complete, the city and the business community have expressed interest in Alternative B because it is one of the less expensive options and would provide the best access to
existing planned development. CPYR, the owner of the nearby Potomac Yard Shopping Center, has agreed to contribute approximately $50 million toward the project if the city chooses Alternative B.
Because there are still so many uncertainties about if and when the city and CSX will reach an agreement, the original timeline for the project is slipping. The city initially hoped to start construction on the station in 2014 and open it by mid-2017, but now there is no longer an estimated start date for the project.
Editors' note: The original version of this post inaccurately suggested that Alexandria has selected a preferred site for the station. This is incorrect, and the text has been updated to reflect this and other minor corrections.
Arlington is Virginia's smallest and densest county, meaning space is at a premium, especially public space. Nonprofit organizations have recently asked Arlington to build on county-owned properties. But will their proposals benefit the public?
Phoenix Bikes, a nonprofit youth program and community bike shop, want permission to build a new headquarters on county land adjacent to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail in South Arlington. The building would include space for their programs in addition to community rooms and public facilities, including bathrooms, air pumps, and water fountains.
Phoenix Bikes currently operates out of a small shed in Barcroft Park, about a half-mile from where it would like to move. The organization has committed to raising one million dollars to build a new headquarters. By having the county provide land for free, the group would only need to pay for the building's construction, saving money.
The proposed site is wooded, though it's not parkland. But at least one neighbor opposes the project, distributing flyers claiming that the building's visitors will park on local streets since it would only have three parking spaces, and that its public bathrooms will attract "drunks."
County officials don't know how many trees would have to be cut down, but Arlington does require a tree replacement plan for any construction on public land. The Arlington Parks Department will hold a third community meeting about the proposal in January.
While Phoenix Bikes is asking for free land, Arlington would gain benefits as well. It would get a new community space that doesn't require county funds for construction, while supporting an organization whose focus on bicycling fits in with the county's broader goal of promoting sustainable transportation. And people using the W&OD Trail would gain access to public facilities.
Since county funds would support Phoenix Bikes' proposal, officials need to ensure that it's compatible with their goals for that site. Another concern is how much access the community will have to the building's "community rooms." There's also the question of what to do with the building if Phoenix Bikes decides to leave or is no longer able to maintain the building.
Other groups are seeking new uses for public land as well. Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), a coalition of civic and interfaith groups, presented a petition last Saturday asking Arlington to build affordable housing at various publicly-owned sites throughout the county, including the East Falls Church Metro station, the Lubber Run Community Center near Ballston, and the Arlington Central Library near Virginia Square. This is something the county has done before, at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike, which was recently rebuilt to include affordable apartments.
It's a coincidence that both Phoenix Bikes and VOICE made their appeals so close together. But it highlights many of the pressures from the high demand and diminishing supply that exists today in Arlington's real estate market.
Arlington only has 27 square miles of land to work with and is in the middle of one of the most robust real estate markets in the country. As pressure rises for more space we may see more and more proposals to have the county sell or lease its land for a variety of uses. The key is ensuring that public land gets reused for public good.
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 the redevelopment of White Flint and Tysons Corner.
How the North Bethesda Transitway could help connect Montgomery and Fairfax counties. 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.
Low ridership, high costs killed Smartmover
The Smartmover struggled to attract riders for a few reasons. Buses ran infrequently and mainly during rush hour, so they could only serve commuters who worked regular, 9-to-5-type jobs. Buses didn't get their own lane on local streets or the Beltway, so they often got stuck in traffic, removing one incentive for drivers to switch over.
Except for downtown Bethesda, the Smartmover's stops at Lakeforest Mall, Montgomery Mall, and Tysons Corner were all really spread-out, auto-oriented shopping malls or office parks. This meant riders had to switch to a shuttle or take a long walk to their final destination, giving them another reason to drive instead. And shopping malls aren't where office workers are headed during rush hour.
The service was also very expensive to run. Its destinations are far apart, and in between are low-density, very affluent places like McLean and Potomac that don't produce a lot of transit riders. Though transit relies on public subsidies, Metro still needs some paying customers from other parts of the route to justify running a bus between them.
White Flint and Tysons Corner plans key to making transit work
Since then, a few things have changed that could make transit between Montgomery and Fairfax more successful. One is that both counties are planning to transform the office parks and shopping malls of White Flint and Tysons Corner into denser, more walkable places, allowing more people to live and work within easy reach of transit, thereby encouraging its use.
Together, the two communities might be able to support transit service over the American Legion Bridge. And transit might also justify denser development around Montgomery Mall, creating a third destination that can generate ridership.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County and the state of Virginia are doing things that could give transit its own lane, at least for part of the route. For 20 years, Montgomery County has set aside right-of-way for the North Bethesda Transitway, which would connect Montgomery Mall to the Grosvenor Metro station via Fernwood Road, Rock Spring Drive, Old Georgetown Road and Tuckerman Lane.
While working on the now-approved Bus Rapid Transit plan, county planners suggested changing the route to follow Old Georgetown Road all the way to White Flint, which is a bigger office and shopping destination than Grosvenor. Planners have also proposed extending the North Bethesda Transitway to Northern Virginia via the Beltway. The transitway "could become part of a significant transit link between Tysons Corner and White Flint," they note. At Montgomery Mall, buses could follow a yet-unbuilt ramp from Fernwood Road to the I-270 Spur and continue onto the Beltway to Tysons Corner, where they could connect to the Silver Line, which will open next year.
It's unclear what would happen after that. Earlier this year, elected officials in Montgomery and Fairfax had a rare meeting to discuss ways to improve connections between the two counties. One possibility could be extending Virginia's 495 Express toll lanes from Tysons Corner north to I-270, which like in Fairfax would be open to buses.
Of course, that would be extremely expensive, politically fraught, and environmentally destructive. Like most of the plan, it has no funding, and Montgomery County will have to do more detailed studies and design work before anything happens.
Could buses run on the Beltway's shoulders?
A faster, cheaper alternative may be to simply run buses on the shoulder. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has studied whether buses could run on the shoulders of the Beltway, which already happens on Columbia Pike near Burtonsville and the Dulles Toll Road near Falls Church. On some roads, the shoulders will need reinforcing to carry the weight of buses, but it's something that could happen relatively soon.
Across the Potomac, Virginia is already preparing to open the Beltway shoulders to all traffic for about 2 miles south of the American Legion Bridge. The state will rebuild and reinforce the shoulders, meaning it may be able to run transit there one day. But once drivers get used to having the extra lane, it'll be a challenge to convince them it should be used for buses instead.
Successful transit needs more than commuters
Traffic on the American Legion Bridge is bad, but only so much of it is commuter traffic. Most of the people who work in Montgomery and Fairfax counties commute from Maryland and Virginia, respectively, meaning they don't use the bridge. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, 47% of the people who worked in Montgomery County lived there too, compared to 40.6% in Fairfax. Less than 4% of Montgomery and Fairfax workers came from the other county.
Some people on the American Legion Bridge are headed to places far outside the DC area, and transit can't serve them. But there are others who might be headed to shop at Tysons Corner or dinner on Rockville Pike. Transit might serve a purpose for them, but only if it's available.
To not repeat the Smartmover's mistakes, area officials will have to make future transit service competitive with driving. Speed is one factor, and the dedicated lanes will help that. But the length and frequency of service is another. That means buses throughout the day and night, not just at rush hour. And it means service frequent enough that people won't have to rely on a timetable. Only then will people feel like they can use transit not just for work, but for all of their daily trips.
That could be the hardest part of making transit over the American Legion Bridge work. It will be expensive to run, which requires higher ridership, which in turn requires more service that's expensive to run. White Flint and Tysons Corner may become dense, transit-friendly places, but it's unclear for now where there will be enough demand to justify transit between them.
Crossposted on Friends of White Flint.
It's not surprising that corporate offices and sprawling suburbs are consuming the green fields between DC's and Baltimore's beltways. What is surprising is there's no real alternative: no urban places are being built at all of the MARC stations in the same corridor.
My wife and I live in Baltimore. Each morning, we splash cold water on our faces before heading to Penn Station in the dark. There, I drop my wife to catch the 5:50 MARC train to Union Station, where she will then transfer to the Metro and arrive at work by 7:30. This is a better choice than driving through morning and evening rush hour in two cities, which she has tried before.
I work in Baltimore, but have meetings in the suburbs between there and DC. By being in the middle, families and businesses can access the employment, cultural, airport and other benefits of both regions. But the traffic is terrible, and there is pressure to use taxpayer dollars to widen roads or create new ones, like the Intercounty Connector.
The status quo development between Baltimore and DC is comprised of both commercial and residential sprawl, some of which is very close to MARC stations. But the way it's designed and sited makes it inaccessible to train passengers.
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED rating system need to play a role. USGBC should not be giving isolated, land-gobbling sprawl producers green credentials for energy efficiency when these same buildings require inefficient commuting.
By contrast, all seven Penn Line stations, and most of the Camden Line stations between Baltimore and DC lie in a desert of surface parking lots (there's actually a garage at BWI Airport station). It's difficult to even get a cup of coffee at most of these outposts. But the train service offered there can deliver a passenger to the center of Washington or Baltimore roughly as fast and as comfortably as the Metro or a car.
Can we encourage transit-oriented development around MARC stations, the way we have around places like Arlington, Rockville, Bethesda, and Silver Spring, which have grown up around Metro stations? Kaid Benfield has covered Arlington's success in revitalizing neighborhoods without increasing traffic. And Chris Leinberger has described the growth of what he calls "WalkUP" development that is becoming so prevalent in the DC area.
While I advocate for infill development inside the beltways, there's still demand for development in between. It is time to start urban, mixed-use development along the MARC Penn and Camden lines.
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) proclaims they are open for business partnerships at MARC stations, and have a transit-oriented development (TOD) underway at Odenton. Private sector developers have made lots of money building urban neighborhoods at Metro stations, particularly in Montgomery and Fairfax counties. There is potential for similar opportunity adjacent to MARC stations.
So why has scattered growth continued between Baltimore and DC while MARC stations remain constellations of barren surface parking? I speculate the issue is the cost of structured parking, which frees up room for urban development. With cheap available greenfields to build lots on, why spend the money?
The frequency of MARC service also affects the prospects for development around stations. Headways on the Penn Line are close to an hour outside of rush hour, while the Camden Line is even less frequent, and offers no trains in the middle of the day or on weekends.
More frequent MARC trains help overcome one advantage the Metro has over Maryland's commuter lines. Increased service, like weekend service on the Penn Line that started this December, makes TOD more viable because the people who live and work there can rely on it.
There are an increasingly large number of people who travel between Baltimore and Washington that may prefer a hassle-free train ride to a drive in traffic. Especially if there's a cosmopolitan urban environment where they get on and off the train. There is a premium for this in Bethesda and Arlington, and there could be at MARC stations as well.
To get on a roll at MARC stations, the public sector may have to help build and finance structured parking to open up land adjacent to stations for development. Stu Sirota, principal of TND Planning Group, says there needs to be an overarching vision coupled with marketing. "A real regional planning effort or charrette will show how all these station areas could become cool transit villages (or bigger)," he says, "and what an incredible impact that could have on the Baltimore-Washington corridor."
Once there are a few hot spots along the Penn and Camden lines, the areas around MARC stations will become coveted real estate. It is time to get started.
I-95 in Northern Virginia is already one of the nation's most congested corridors, and forecasts predict it will only get worse. A new study by the GMU Center for Regional Analysis lays out the difficult decisions area leaders face regarding the corridor's future land use, economy, and transportation network.
At present, the I-95 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William counties is mainly a low-density suburban area. Most residents work in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria, and existing transit such as the Blue Line and VRE only serve inside-the-Beltway locations. The area's lone major employment center is Fort Belvoir, which is spread out and has limited bus service.
Traffic volume and congestion along I-95 are already very high, and major road investments are not expected to reduce congestion. Furthermore, job growth in the region has been occurring in areas like Tysons Corner and the Dulles Corridor, which are hard to reach from the I-95 corridor, especially by transit.
Development plans along the corridor envision a series of dense urban nodes around transit in places like Springfield, Huntington, and Woodbridge. But the success of those areas depends on carefully planned, and expensive, transportation investments both within the corridor and to other areas.
The situation is already problematic
The 21-mile stretch of Interstate 95 that connects the Capital Beltway and Quantico is one of the busiest highways in the eastern United States. The most heavily traveled segment of the corridor, located just south of Old Keene Mill Road, carries an average of 231,000 vehicles per day. This count includes about 30,000 vehicles per day in the corridor's reversible express lanes and about 14,000 tractor-trailers.
Traffic volumes along the corridor tripled between 1975 and 2000, but have flattened out since then. That's due to the expansion of transit and, more recently, the rerouting of through traffic around the "Mixing Bowl" interchange in Springfield.
Transit ridership in the corridor has increased dramatically over the past 15 years, with the average number of daily boardings on the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) tripling and the number of boardings at the Franconia-Springfield Metro station increasing by 48 percent. The corridor also contains more than 15 express commuter bus routes that connect it to the Pentagon, downtown Washington, and Tysons Corner. In total, about 27,000 transit riders per day make use of these rail or bus options to travel to work each day.
Surveys by transit operators show that the majority of these riders work for the federal government and routinely commute by transit four or five days every week. These transit options are becoming increasingly congested: VRE reports that its trains operate at as much as 20 percent over capacity during peak times.
Increased traffic in the corridor has been a function of commuting patterns. Since 1990, the number of people who live in Fairfax or Prince William and work in DC, Arlington, or Alexandria has remained flat, while the number who work in other locations increased by more than 100,000 people.
Nearly all existing transit in the I-95 corridor serves employment hubs located inside the Beltway, so few options exist for these commuters. Traffic has also increased due to additional commuting activity from Stafford, Fredericksburg, and points south.
Lots of growth, little land
The areas of Fairfax and Prince William around I-95 are primarily residential: the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) reports that the corridor contained 566,000 residents and 187,000 jobs in 2010. Most corridor residents live in low-density, single-family areas, and there is little undeveloped land remaining in the area. MWCOG forecasts that the corridor will add another 126,000 residents and 85,000 jobs by 2030. Where will they go?
A look at the Comprehensive Plans for the two counties provides some clarity. Each county has designated a small number of areas located directly along I-95 and/or around transit stations for mixed-use development.
Fairfax anticipates high-intensity residential and commercial development around the Huntington and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. Meanwhile, Prince William is planning intensive growth around the Woodbridge VRE station and a potential future VRE station at Potomac Shores, north of Quantico.
But the county also wants growth at the more auto-dependent Parkway Employment Center, north of Potomac Mills, and Neabsco Mills, south of Woodbridge along Route 1. Since VRE has no immediate plans to expand service on the Fredericksburg Line, additional growth in these areas would further strain the already-crowded system.
Investment in roads and highways isn't enough
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is in the midst of completing a slate of "megaprojects" in the corridor. Two of these are already in place: the widening of I-95 between Route 123 and the Fairfax County Parkway, and the completion of the last segment of the Fairfax County Parkway, encompassing a network of new roads, interchanges, and trails around the Fort Belvoir North Area.
VDOT reports that these new facilities have slightly reduced congestion in this segment of the corridor. But these investments have not reduced congestion in adjacent areas and may have even worsened it by allowing more vehicles to enter and exit the highway.
VDOT's most ambitious project in the corridor is a $1 billion expansion of the I-95 express lanes. This project will extend the express lanes nine miles into Stafford County, add a third lane north of Prince William Parkway, and connect the express lanes with the I-495 express lanes. It will also convert the express lanes from HOV to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes from Stafford County to Edsall Road, just inside the Beltway. The express lanes will remain as HOV-3 lanes along I-395 north of Edsall Road.
The express lanes project will unquestionably add highway capacity, but will it actually reduce congestion? A serious concern is that converting the existing HOV lanes to HOT lanes will very likely reduce carpooling activity, as people driving alone will be able to pay to use the express lanes. A reduction in carpooling translates to needing more vehicles to move the same number of people, contributing to additional congestion.
VDOT's own Environmental Assessment of the I-95 express lanes concluded that, while the project would improve the overall situation, several currently failing road segments would remain at failing levels. It further concluded that, after completion, the merge areas at the northern and southern ends of the HOT lanes would still operate at failing levels.
Clearly, even this billion-dollar project will not solve the traffic woes faced by I-95 corridor commuters. Additionally, this project is primarily aimed at moving commuters through the corridor, and does not address the need to better connect the emerging urban nodes in the two counties to each other or to the surrounding region.
So what can be done?
To their credit, both Fairfax and Prince William counties have committed to focusing future development around existing infrastructure. However, successfully clustering new development in this manner will create a complex set of challenges.
Improving transit connections to far-flung employment centers can reduce traffic. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
The counties will need to provide transit that serves private-sector workers, particularly those with irregular hours and/or in dispersed locations. They will also have to improve access to existing and planned transit hubs from nearby neighborhoods and employment centers.
It's also necessary to attract the high-paying office jobs that planned suburban employment nodes will need, and to provide housing that matches up with those jobs' earning potential to allow for shorter commutes.
Once those jobs are in place, Fairfax and Prince William need to create new incentives to encourage carpooling, and to add capacity to the I-95 corridor's already strained and crowded transit systems. The counties will also have to work regionally to help address transportation problems that originate elsewhere but affect the corridor.
Continued congestion of highways, roads, and transit in the I-95 corridor threatens its prosperity. Public and private sector leaders at both local and regional levels will need to understand and address the above issues in order to achieve their bold visions for future development.
On Monday, DC Mayor Vincent Gray said he will seek a second term. He joins an already crowded field, which will make for a very interesting race. But there's also the question of how Gray has done as mayor.
What are his biggest accomplishments? What are his biggest disappointments? And does he deserve a second term? Our contributors weigh in:
On transportation, Gray has been OK but not perfect. He's done a good job moving the streetcar program forward, but progress on bike infrastructure has moved much more slowly than it did under Fenty. He'd be a low risk/moderate reward choice for a second term. We'd know that we'd be getting someone who basically advances our goals, but maybe not as quickly as a more progressive candidate might. On land use planning, he's worth voting for just to keep Harriet Tregoning on the job.
One Gray accomplishment that I'm fond of is the Vision for a Sustainable DC, which cuts across departments and agencies and sets aggressive goals for emissions reduction and restoration of clean waters and healthy ecosystems. It remains to be seen how aggressively Gray will implement the plan and whether each department will receive adequate funding for their share of the work, but the plan is a significant step in the right direction.
I also applaud Gray for sticking with the streetcar plan despite opposition from many corners, including many voters who supported him.
However, I am unhappy with Gray's positions on minimum wage and labor standards issues. The majority of the Council is ahead of him there. I supported the Large Retailer Accountability Act and am dismayed that Gray vetoed it.
I think Gray and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services BB Otero have made great headway in planning, laying out a vision and foundation that moves DC in the right direction (Sustainable DC and Age Friendly DC are my two big ones).
We will have to wait and see, though, how implementation plays out (as Malcolm mentioned) either through Gray in a second term or through a newly elected administration that could turn all of that good work on its head. I'm inclined to say he deserves a second term because it's a better bet for successful implementation. But maybe I would also support a candidate that recognizes those accomplishments and is highly committed to being an implementer.
Although "One City" sometimes gets short shrift, Mayor Gray has done much to fill the slogan with meaning. The One City Summit, held in early 2012, brought 1800 residents to the Washington Convention Center.
It was actually successful at getting the participants to work together in diverse groups to identify the priorities for government services and the future of the city. Participants became engaged while educating themselves about the trade-offs of various policies, such as how new business attraction may drive out existing small businesses.
Increasing sustainability and diversifying DC's economy while improving access to it were the big policy winners at the Summit. And Gray's administration has followed up, continuing its support for the Sustainable DC plan, promoting development at the St. Elizabeth's site, and enabling continued growth city-wide through the MoveDC plan and relaxation of the Height Act.
Bringing Walmart to the District is a negative for sustainability and diversifying the economy. While improving the connections between education and jobs will take much more time, it is clear that Mayor Gray is not just continuing past policies on autopilot, but is asking hard questions about how the city and the region can succeed in the years ahead.
- Brookland neighbors ask Metro for development with a side of green
- Topic of the week: You don't have to put on the red light (cameras)
- Could transit over the American Legion Bridge work?
- How would Metro's loop work with an Arlington express line?
- Potomac Yard Metro station hits a snag
- Streetcar arrives on H Street
- DDOT removes traffic calming on Wisconsin Avenue