Catalyzing strip-mall sprawl into a mixed-use boulevard
How do you transform a low-density corridor of strip malls into a walkable, mixed-use community? That's the question facing Rockville, whose Pike runs alongside the Red Line but is filled with one-story big-box retail and choked with traffic. It could be so much more, and Rockville agrees. Over the past few months, they've held community meetings (one of which I attended) and conducted a charrette on what to do along the segment around, and north of, Twinbrook Metro.
Their conclusions are not that dissimilar from DC's plan for Georgia Avenue: encourage a series of "catalyst sites", higher-density mixed-use developments with parking underground or on the inside of the block. Each site will provide the residential density that will make the more walkable businesses possible, while also still accommodating traditional suburban drivers to get there to eat and shop.
For the roadway itself, they propose turning it into a boulevard, with local lanes for people turning in and out of the various developments, through lanes, landscaped medians, and greater pedestrian and bicycle accommodations.
This looks great, but turning strip malls into Smart Growth requires more than just good planning. The political angle may prove a lot more complicated. At the community meeting I attended, many residents supported the boulevard idea, while others did not; as this process continues, we'll discover how the politically active citizens and elected officials of Rockville feel.
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