Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Dan Reed

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

The neighborhood where everybody "jaywalks"

When I moved to East-West Highway in South Silver Spring last fall, I quickly noticed one thing: people cross the street without using crosswalks all the time. Even as the surrounding area becomes more urban and walkable, this street remains a relic of its industrial, car-oriented past.


Drivers stop to let a man and his dog cross East-West Highway. All photos by the author.

East-West Highway was built in the 1920s to connect Bethesda and Silver Spring and provide an alternative to Military Road in the District. (An extension to Prince George's County came later.) Industrial uses like bottling plants, commercial bakeries, and repair shops sprouted up along the road in Silver Spring. When the Blairs complex was built in the 1950s, the developers purposefully faced it away from East-West Highway because it was so unattractive.

When the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring took off about 10 years ago, those buildings gave way to apartments and condominiums. More recently, businesses including Denizens Brewing Company, Bump 'N Grind, a coffeeshop/record store, and Scion, a restaurant based in Dupont Circle, have flocked to the area.

South Silver Spring is now one of the region's youngest neighborhoods, with a large number of transit commuters. Even the owner of the Blairs is embarking on a redevelopment plan to face the street again.


Parents run across East-West Highway with their kid.

As Silver Spring redeveloped, it became more walkable. But East-West Highway never caught up.

Even though it's fairly narrow, it's still designed like a high-speed commuter route, even as more and more people are walking and bicycling in the area. In some places there are no sidewalks, and the two crosswalks between Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road are each a quarter-mile apart, at least a five-minute walk. Even when you get to a crosswalk, the signals are timed to move cars through, making pedestrians wait for up to two minutes to cross.


People line up to cross East-West Highway at one of the few stoplights.

So people choose to cross where it feels convenient, or safer. In four months of non-scientific observations, I noticed that everyone seemed to cross in a few specific places. I started crossing there as well, and realized that most drivers will stop for you. And when I drove out of my building's garage, I always waited before turning, knowing that someone might be crossing.


Where to cross East-West Highway. Stoplights are in red, popular informal crossings are in blue. Click for an interactive map.

But this isn't ideal. A century of training people not to walk in the middle of the street means that nobody, including drivers, expects this to happen. Thus, informal crossing points aren't as safe as formal, designated places to cross that pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers can all recognize. And the unpleasant experience of walking in South Silver Spring depresses foot traffic, which hurts both existing businesses and prevents new ones from opening.

Even if it wasn't built for walking, East-West Highway became a place with lots of walkers. It's time for this street to adapt. More crosswalks would be a good start, as would filling in the missing gaps of sidewalk. More stoplights, or pedestrian-only signals called HAWKs, would be even better, as would a median where people could wait while crossing.

Yes, these things might cause additional delays for drivers. But as one of those drivers, I'd rather have a slower, safer street with more places to shop and hang out. As its surroundings become more urban, East-West Highway is a highway in name only.

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Where Maryland's big three transit projects stand in Hogan's budget

Maryland governor Larry Hogan's proposed budget includes funding for the state's big three transit projects: the Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway. But none of the projects appear to be out of the woods yet.


Image from the Maryland Transit Administration.

Hogan's 2016 budget includes $312.8 million for the Purple Line, "pending review and reevaluation." Baltimore's Red Line is slated to receive $106.2 million, also pending review and reevaluation.

That's the full amount that MDOT needs for both rail projects in the upcoming fiscal year. The pending review is potentially troublesome, but this budget is adequate to keep these projects alive through at least the next step.

For the Purple Line, that will be assessing private sector bids to help with construction costs.

For the $2.4 billion Purple Line, the Maryland Transit Administration had requested between $350 and $750 million from the state, spread out over several years. The rest of the funding for the project will come from $220 million from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, a $900 million contribution from the federal government, and several hundred million dollars from the private sector.

The Red Line has an estimated cost of $2.9 billion. In addition to the proposed state money, there are also funding commitments from local governments, and $900 million from the federal government. It's not clear yet where the rest of the funding will come from.

Hogan's budget also includes $18.2 million for engineering work on the Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit line in upper Montgomery County. That's less than the total of $100 million needed from the state, but it's possible that it may cover the most immediate costs.

The Corridor Cities Transitway hasn't been as much of a lightning rod as the two rail lines, so it would be more of a surprise if Hogan targeted it for cuts.

What happens next?

Hogan campaigned on a platform of reducing government spending and building roads instead of transit, so this news is a blessing for transit supporters. But the Purple and Red lines aren't done deals yet.

For the Purple Line, it's likely that Hogan is waiting to see the bids for a public-private partnership to build and run the project. Maryland wants the private partner to provide between $500 and $900 million, but if the bid is too low and the state has to provide more money than Hogan's budgeted, then the Purple Line may be in trouble. The bids are due March 12.

If Hogan does decide to pull the plug on the Purple Line (or the Red Line) before those projects get underway, the amount he's budgeted in FY 2016 would go unspent, and the MTA budget would likely be lower in future fiscal years as a result.

Hogan's actions could prompt the state legislature to allow Montgomery and Prince George's counties to tax themselves to help pay for the Purple Line. However, Montgomery County had already envisioned taxing districts as a way to pay for its proposed bus rapid transit network, and voters may be unwilling to accept a tax increase large enough to pay for two big transit projects at the same time.

The governor's budget also includes money for maintaining existing transit systems. WMATA would get $238.2 million for its capital improvements program, while the Maryland Transit Administration would receive $101 million for upgrades to Baltimore's transit system, including refurbished light rail cars, new buses, and a new bus facility.

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BREAKING: Hogan gives the Purple and Baltimore Red lines a momentary reprieve

New Maryland governor Larry Hogan will include some funding for the Purple Line and Baltimore's Red Line in the state's budget, though the fate of both projects remains unclear.

Both the $2.4 billion Purple Line, a proposed light rail line between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George's County, and the $2.6 billion Red Line light rail, which would connect Woodlawn in Baltimore County and Bayview in Baltimore City, are ready to start construction this year.

The state would only have to provide a small portion of the total cost, roughly between $300 and $700 million for each line. Each project already has funding commitments from local jurisdictions and the federal government, while the Purple Line would also receive funding from a public-private partnership.

Until the formal budget release tomorrow, we won't know how much funding Hogan has set aside for either project. He could provide enough money for each project to move ahead as they are, or request additional study or cost-cutting. That could imperil the federal government's $1.8 billion commitment for both projects, which would be distributed to other projects in other states if Maryland doesn't take the money, as well as the private funding.

Hogan, a Republican who beat Democrat and former lieutenant governor Anthony Brown in an upset election last fall, vowed in his campaign to reduce government spending to close the state's budget shortfall. While he said he would not make a decision on either the Purple or Red lines before taking office, he previously expressed a preference for building roads over transit and focusing on the state's rural areas.

Also included in the governor's budget is $30 million for a new regional medical center in Prince George's County, at Largo Town Center Metro. Hogan also proposed cutting in half a formula that provides additional funding to school systems with a high cost of education, called GCEI, which would specifically affect Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

We'll provide more details as they come.

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Watch the region get older as young people cluster around stuff to do

New maps from the Census Bureau show where young adults lived between 1980 and 2013. While the DC area as a whole is aging, urban neighborhoods both in the District and throughout the region are getting younger.


Darker areas have a higher concentration of young people. Map from the Census Bureau, animated by the author.

The District rebounds after decades of losing young people

The Census Bureau released the full set of maps, along with data a set of maps and data that looks at the habits of Millennials, or young adults roughly between 18 and 34. Overall, Greater Washington, which includes DC and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is getting older.

In 1980, young adults made up 32.2% of the DC area's population. By 2013, that share had fallen to 24.6%. Even though Millennials are flocking to the DC area, the population of older adults appears to be growing faster. That's probably because Baby Boomers, who make up the largest portion of the population after Millennials, are aging.

Where young adults choose to live within the region has shifted over time. The District's population of young adults fell from 34% in 1980 to 30% in 2000, before rebounding to 35% in 2013. While Millennials flock to Arlington, the share of young adults there actually fell from 38% to 36% during the same time period. Meanwhile, the percentage of young adults in the region's other jurisdictions has fallen even more.

Young people want stuff to do, whether or not it's in DC

This might prove the conventional wisdom is that Millennials are abandoning the suburbs for the city. But when you look at individual census tracts, it's clear that young adults are clustering around the region's activity centers: places with shopping, jobs, transit, and stuff to do, both inside and outside of the District.


Where young people live across the region. Map from the Census Bureau, animated by the author.

Not surprisingly, there's a huge concentration of young people in the core of DC, from Tenleytown and Columbia Heights south to Capitol Hill, and in Arlington along the Orange Line and around Crystal City and Pentagon City. And naturally, there are lots of young people around the region's universities, like Georgetown, and military bases like Bolling Air Force Base.

From there, "fingers" of youth reach out along I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia, I-270 in Montgomery County, and Route 1 in Prince George's County. These areas include both walkable downtowns like Silver Spring, as well as sprawling, car-oriented "edge cities" like Tysons Corner. What they have in common are lots of jobs and places to shop and hang out. These areas also track Metro's Silver, Orange, Red, and Green lines.

No matter where they are, activity centers have seen their young adult populations explode. Census Tract 35 in the District, which covers part of Columbia Heights, grew from 26% in 1980 to 65% in 2013. As Fairfax County seeks to make Tysons a more urban place, the percentage of young adults in one of its census tracts tripled from 17.6% in 1980 to 50.7% in 2013. Alexandria's Carlyle/Eisenhower area grew from 31% to 71% during the same time period, making it one of the region's youngest neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, suburban neighborhoods get older

As activity centers get younger, bedroom communities are getting older. Even as Millennials flock to central DC, the percentage of young adults in far northeast DC and east of the Anacostia is falling.

Meanwhile, the string of affluent communities along the Potomac River, from Upper Northwest DC to Great Falls in Virginia and Potomac in Maryland, have aged dramatically. But so have further-out suburban neighborhoods that once drew young families seeking affordable starter homes. In 1980, young adults made up over 48% of Census Tract 7014.04 in northeastern Montgomery County, which includes Burtonsville. Today, they're less than one-fourth of the population.

Jurisdictions compete for a smaller share of young adults

One of the reasons why DC and Arlington began chasing young adults, and why Montgomery and Fairfax are following suit, is because they pay more taxes than they require in services. With young people making up a smaller share of the region's population, the fight to attract them (and their tax revenue) will grow more intense.

Urban places contain a major share of the region's economic power. As long as young adults want urbanism, local jurisdictions will try to provide it.

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Springfield Town Center might save enclosed malls

Shopping malls are having a rough time as consumers increasingly shop elsewhere. While it's too early to say they're done for, successful malls have to take big steps to stay current. Springfield Town Center is experimenting with ways to do just that, including unique international stores and a central court laid out like an urban plaza.


Inside the new Springfield Town Center. Photo by Ser Amantio di Nicolao.

Last weekend, my boyfriend and I visited Springfield Town Center, a few minutes from his house in Annandale. Before it reopened in October, it was Springfield Mall, a 1970's-era regional shopping center that once hosted Prince Charles and Princess Diana but had fallen so far that owner Vornado felt the only solution was to tear the entire thing down and start from scratch.

This isn't the only mall in the region that's being replaced with something else. Laurel Mall is now Towne Centre at Laurel, an outdoor shopping center. Landmark Mall in Alexandria and White Flint Mall in North Bethesda will soon become mixed-use districts. And the former Landover Mall is a candidate for the FBI's new headquarters.

What sets Springfield Town Center apart is that it's still an enclosed mall. Vornado kept the three anchor stores, Macy's, JCPenney, and Target, but demolished the old mall and built a new, reconfigured one in its place. Still, the new mall feels very different than enclosed malls you've seen before.


The old Springfield Mall. Photo by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos... on Flickr.

Malls still have a place

The assumption among real estate folks is that shoppers would rather spend their money at big-box stores that offer one-stop shopping, or head to historic main streets or lifestyle centers where they can get out and walk around outside.

But the mall isn't over yet, as some hope. Real estate analysts CoStar estimate that about 80% of the nation's existing malls are still healthy, though it's not clear what "healthy" means.

Malls must adapt to survive

As going to the mall becomes a once-in-a-while occasion, the malls that are thriving are super-regional malls like Tysons Corner Center, a 15-minute drive from Springfield. While it's smaller than Tysons, Springfield Town Center's bet is that shoppers will go to the mall if it offers something you can't find anywhere else.

Vornado brought in several "fast-fashion" retailers who are both new to the DC area and generally not found in malls: Uniqlo from Japan, Spain's Suiteblanco, and Topshop and F&F, both from the UK. Inside, there are deliberate design choices that make the mall feel like a place to linger: high-quality materials, bright lighting, and a large room with tables, chairs, and a grand central staircase that calls to mind an old train station waiting room.

It seems to be working, if only because of the curiosity factor surrounding a new mall. Two weeks after the holiday shopping season, Springfield Town Center was packed. The parking lots were full and the corridors were bustling with shoppers, especially teenagers, who are turning away from shopping malls. The mall's two sit-down restaurants, Maggiano's and Yard House, both had an hour-long wait.

I'm curious to see if shoppers will choose Springfield Town Center over big-box stores and downtowns, or even bigger malls like Tysons. There are plans to eventually surround the mall with offices and apartments, similar to what's happening at Tysons Corner Center and the Mall in Columbia in Maryland. Ultimately, that might create the kind of environment, and support the diversity of retail, that will draw shoppers in the long run.

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How can we reach out to more communities and people around the region?

Greater Greater Washington is a blog about places, but what makes it great are its people. I'm proud of the community of contributors we've built over the past seven years, but there are still many places and people we haven't reached yet. We need your help to do that.


Photo by Tom Raftery on Flickr.

Over 30 active contributors have become a part of Greater Greater Washington because they care about creating better communities. With their help, and with your contributions, we've become a regional resource for planning and transportation coverage.

Meanwhile, there are still many parts of the region we don't talk about very much, from East of the River to Fairfax County. Those communities' voices are an important part of the conversation we're having. Over the next year, we'd like to find new ways to incorporate them, whether through a speaker series, recruiting new contributors, or simply spending more time writing about those areas.

With your help, we were able to hire Jonathan Neeley as our new associate editor earlier this year. He hasn't been here for very long, but he's already become an invaluable part of our team. We'd love to keep him on board and make him full-time, giving us the capacity to reach out to new communities and recruit and train new contributors.

But we can't do it alone. With your support, we can preserve the high quality of GGW's writing and coverage, while bringing it to new parts of our region.

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Maryland's rural economy depends on its urban and suburban areas

Maryland's incoming Republican governor, Larry Hogan, says he wants to boost the state's economy by building roads instead of transit and focusing on the state's rural areas over urban ones. But starving urban areas of their needs will only bring the entire state down.


Rural Maryland depends on this, too. Photo by the author.

Ever since his election last month, Hogan has been noncommittal about the state's two biggest transit projects, the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Red Line in Baltimore. Maryland's transportation priorities are "out of whack," he told Post columnist Robert McCartney, adding, "Less than 10 percent of the people use mass transit. Most people in the state want the roads to be fixed."

That's an appeal to rural voters who elected Hogan based on a claim from him and his supporters that there's a "war on rural Maryland." But with the majority of Maryland's population and jobs, urban areas drive the state's economy, and public money spent there goes a lot farther than it does elsewhere.

The "war on rural Maryland"

Hogan's comments reflect the conflicting views rural Marylanders have of the state's urban and suburban areas, especially Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore City, the three jurisdictions that voted for his opponent, Democrat Anthony Brown. On the one hand, rural counties depend on them. They go shopping at malls in Montgomery, send their kids to big state schools like College Park, or attend athletic events in Baltimore.

And it shows. Montgomery County alone had one out of every five jobs in Maryland in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Add Prince George's and Baltimore City and you have 45% of the state's jobs. Add Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard counties, which voted for Hogan but are also urbanizing, and together they hold three-fourths of the state's jobs.

These areas are also leading the state's job growth. Of the 213,000 jobs added in Maryland between 2002 and 2011, 60% went to one of those six jurisdictions, and 28% went to Montgomery County. Montgomery County sends more in tax revenue to the state than it gets back because it's distributed to rural counties.

Yet rural lawmakers claim they're under attack from urban and suburban counties, with their liberal politics and diverse populations. Five counties in Western Maryland even tried to secede last year. Meanwhile, Carroll County won't allow its transit service to leave the county to keep out "criminals" from Montgomery.

Urban areas drive Maryland's economy

Larry Hogan is right about Maryland's transit use: statewide, just 8.8% of commuters use public transit, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. But that's because the state has built so many roads and so little rail transit. Just as you can't judge the demand for a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river, you can't say we don't need transit because few people are using it.

Besides, 80% of Maryland's transit riders, or over 200,000 people, live in just three jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. That's where most of the state's transit is, but they're also three of the state's biggest job centers.

There's a strong link between investing in transit and economic development. A study of over 300 metropolitan areas in the US found that expanding transit resulted in more employment and higher wages. It saves businesses and households money due to lower transportation costs, time savings, and increased access to jobs and employees. Overall, transit generates about $4 in economic returns for every $1 invested.


Low-density development costs more in taxes than it makes in revenue. Image from the Hogan Companies.

Meanwhile, low-density development, like the strip malls and subdivisions Larry Hogan's development firm builds, requires lots of new roads and utility lines that serve a relatively small number of people. The taxes it generates can't even cover the cost of building the infrastructure, let alone maintaining it. A Florida study found that even small buildings in urban neighborhoods can generate 10 times as much tax revenue per acre as a typical Walmart.

More importantly, there's a demonstrated demand for transit and urban places. That's why most office space in the DC area is going in next to Metro stations and rents are at a premium. It's why areas around Montgomery County's Metro stations are growing faster than the rest of the county. And it's why Virginia Republicans fought to build the Silver Line through Tysons Corner, which is attracting a ton of private investment.

It's not about urban vs. rural, but what's best for our economy

Improving Maryland's economic competitiveness is something everyone can agree on, regardless of political party or location. But if Larry Hogan says we need to spend public money more wisely, shouldn't our limited resources go to the places where we can get the most in return?

Over breakfast last week, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett reminded Hogan that the county was the state's economic engine and that he should respect their priorities, including transit. That's a message rural Maryland should hear. As long as it depends on urban and suburban counties for its economy, the only "war on rural Maryland" is when Republican lawmakers shoot the entire statewide economy in the foot by starving metropolitan areas.

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We're heading to U Street for our next happy hour

Ring in the holidays with your favorite GGW contributors, commenters, and fellow readers at our next happy hour! Join us at JoJo on U Street next Tuesday, December 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.


Photo by Robb Hohmann on Flickr.

This month, we're heading up the Green Line to JoJo, a bar that blends a "hip 1920s vibe with a contemporary flair," for drinks, food, and conversation. You'll find it at 1518 U Street NW, near the corner of 16th and U. They've got an extensive food and drink menu, and happy hour specials until 7 pm.

JoJo is three blocks from the U Street Metro station (Green and Yellow lines). If you're coming by bus, Metrobus routes 90/92/93/96/97 stop outside the bar, the S2/S4/S9 stop is around the corner at 16th and U, and the 52/53/54 stops two blocks away at 14th and U. There are Capital Bikeshare stations at New Hampshire Avenue and T Street, and outside the Reeves Center at 14th and U, both two blocks away.

This year, we've held events at Metro-accessible bars in Alexandria, Bethesda, Tenleytown, Tysons Corner, Silver Spring, and Eastern Market. Next month, we'll be returning to Northern Virginia. Where would you like us to go next? Let us know in the comments.

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Montgomery gets its first cycletrack, and lots of sharrows

Montgomery County took a big step towards better bicycling this fall with several new bike facilities, including a new cycletrack in White Flint and sharrows on several neighborhood streets in Silver Spring. The Woodglen Drive cycletrack won't open until next week, but cyclists are already taking notice.


The new Woodglen Drive cycletrack. All photos by the author unless noted.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation began planning for the Woodglen cycletrack last summer. By narrowing the three vehicle lanes and removing parking on one side, engineers were able to add the two-way bike lane with a generous buffer from traffic.


Left: What Woodglen Drive looked like just last month. Photo from Google Street View.
Right: Woodglen today. Photo by the author.

It's only one-third of a mile long, connecting the end of the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Nicholson Lane, though it may get longer when Woodglen is extended to the White Flint Metro station. Even though it's short, the Woodglen cycletrack has really changed the feel of this street.

Until recently, Woodglen was still a big, wide suburban road despite being next to Montgomery County's tallest building, the 289-foot-tall North Bethesda Market, which has a Whole Foods and several outdoor cafes at the bottom. The cycletrack narrows the street, which not only slows drivers down, but also gives pedestrians a shorter distance to cross. It feels much more like the urban place Montgomery County envisions for White Flint.

Lots of sharrows in Silver Spring

Meanwhile, sharrows recently appeared on several streets in and around downtown Silver Spring, including Bonifant Street, Second Avenue, and 13th Street. Fred Lees, chief of traffic engineering studies at MCDOT, says that they're intended to connect the county's Capital Bikeshare stations to one another.

"It was siting the stations, looking at the routes between them, and looking at what we could do to enhance the routes between them," says Lees.

MCDOT has also placed sharrows around Bikeshare stations in Shady Grove, and is planning to install more in Bethesda and Friendship Heights next spring. Transportation planners are also studying whether they can extend the Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring, which is currently one block long, along Cedar and Spring streets as far as 16th Street.


Sharrows on Newell and Kennett streets in South Silver Spring.

Places like Silver Spring and Bethesda have the county's highest rates of walking and biking to work, and bike commuting in Silver Spring increased by one-third last year. These sharrows help form a bike network by taking advantage of streets that may be too narrow for bike lane, but are generally slow and quiet enough that potential bicyclists should feel comfortable using them.

That's a contrast with the new sharrows on Georgia Avenue, a Maryland State Highway Administration project. While the sharrows send a message to drivers that they should expect to see bicyclists, Georgia is still a wide, fast road that many bicyclists are reluctant to use.


The intersection of Silver Spring Avenue and Grove Street, both of which have sharrows now.

In Montgomery County, getting good sidewalks and bike lanes can sometimes be a struggle. While these additions to the bike network are small, they're a promising sign that things are changing.

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Making room for transit can make better streets for everyone

Many proposed transit projects in our region, from streetcars to bus rapid transit and the Purple Line, involve vehicles running in the street. Giving transit a place on our busy streets can be a hard sell, especially when it means displacing cars. But a recent trip to Minneapolis shows how it can create better places for everyone, including drivers.


The new Green Line runs through the University of Minnesota. Photo by Michael Hicks on Flickr.

Minneapolis finds a compromise on the Green Line

While presenting at Rail~Volution last month in Minneapolis, I had a chance to ride the Green Line, a new light-rail between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. The 11-mile line bears a striking similarity to the proposed Purple Line here in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Like the Purple Line, the Green Line faced resistance from a Republican governor and concerns about gentrification and neighborhood disruption from nearby large immigrant communities.

But it's how the Green Line interacts with the University of Minnesota, and how community leaders came together to make it a success, that might be the biggest lesson for our area. Like the Purple Line, which would pass through the University of Maryland, the Green Line travels on Washington Avenue, the main street at the University of Minnesota.


Washington Avenue before and after. Photos from Google Street View.

The University of Minnesota, also known as the U, opposed banning cars from Washington Avenue, a busy commuter route into downtown Minneapolis, and turning it into a transit mall. Scientists in the over 80 labs along the street worried that vibrations from light rail trains would disturb their research.

Officials preferred a more circuitous route that went north of the campus, which would inconvenience fewer drivers but also reduce transit access to campus. The U sued to block the project, but after negotiating with the regional Metropolitan Council, officials eventually came to an agreement. The council would pay to reduce vibrations and electromagnetic interference, while the U would move some labs away from the line.

A busy road becomes a place

Since then, the U has worked to make the Green Line as successful as possible. It distributed over 6,700 special passes to students, faculty, and staff that allow them to ride between the three on-campus stations for free, and rerouted campus buses to divert more traffic away from Washington Avenue.


A plaza runs down the middle of Washington Avenue, with light rail and bus/bike lanes on the sides. Photo by the author.

The U's cooperation with the Metropolitan Council meant that the Green Line could transform Washington Avenue from a traffic sewer to a gathering place. Today, the street feels like a natural extension of the campus. Trains run down the middle of the street, and there are shared bus and bike lanes on either side. The sidewalks are wider, and the crosswalks have special paving materials to make them more visible.

There's also more green space than there was before. Since the Green Line stations are in the center of the street, there's a space between the tracks. It would have been easy to just make it a grassy median, or find a way to squeeze in a car lane. Instead, it's a plaza with tables, chairs, and lush landscaping.


Bikes, buses, and transit share the reconfigured Washington Avenue at the University of Minnesota. Photo by the author.

A significant amount of development is happening around the Green Line as a result. Over 2,500 apartments have been built around the U's three Green Line stations, with another 2,000 in the pipeline. New shops and restaurants have opened along the tracks to cater to the influx of students.

When I visited, Washington Avenue was bustling with students walking to class, cyclists headed downtown, and light rail trains gliding down the street. It was a nice place to be, but it was still a transportation corridor. In fact, the transition was so seamless that it wasn't until I flew home and I looked at a map that I even realized cars were banned from part of the street.

Better streets make better transit

The development around the Green Line, coupled with the dramatically improved walking and bicycling environment, supports and reinforces the use of transit, making the Green Line more successful. Even before the line opened, 20% of faculty and staff and 40% of students used transit. But since the Green Line opened, it already has over 40,000 riders each day, higher than the projected ridership in 2030. The three University of Minnesota stations are the line's busiest.


Passengers wait for a train on Washington Avenue. Photo by Michael Hicks on Flickr.

And diverting drivers away from campus hasn't created the traffic congestion that some people feared. In 2011, there was an average of 18,800 cars on Washington Avenue through campus each day. According to the state's traffic counts, some of those cars have shifted over to nearby University Avenue, which had an increase over 8,000 cars since then.

But on other nearby streets, traffic increased by a very small amount, or even decreased. It's likely because some drivers chose to take the Green Line instead, opening up street space for others.

The Green Line required leaders to accept that, in order for transit to be successful on Washington Avenue, it had to be seen as a place for people, not just for cars. This is standard operating procedure in other countries, where transit usually gets top priority, but here it requires some persuasion. Hopefully, the success of projects like the Green Line can be a guide for leaders in the DC area as they try to build transit that not only moves people, but creates stronger places.

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