Greater Greater Washington

TOD in Prince George's can reduce pressure on Metro

Development around Metro is putting pressure on the transit system, especially on the region's west side. Building around Prince George's County's 15 underused Metro stations could help bring Metro into balance, but only if county leaders are willing to do it.


Photo by Maryland GovPics on Flickr.

In a recent Washington Post article, Jonathan O'Connell details how a flurry of new office and apartment development is causing congestion on the Red and Orange Lines and in the Rosslyn tunnel. While Metro is planning $6 billion worth of system upgrades, that won't completely solve the problem.

What needs to happen, says Ron Kirby, director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, is that Prince George's needs to step up to the plate and start developing its 15 Metro stations. Today, Metro has to "run largely empty trains to those stations in the mornings and back from them in the evenings." By attracting large employers like the FBI to the county's Metro stations, Metro can fill those seats, increasing fare revenue and easing congestion.

O'Connell notes that there is exceedingly low demand in the DC area for office and multifamily residential development in locations far from Metro. There are at least 25 "major apartment projects" being built near Metro stations right now, and approximately 84% of the 5.5 million square feet of office development currently under construction in the region is within a five-minute walk of Metro. Nearly all of that TOD is occurring outside of Prince George's County.

By focusing major office and residential development at its Metro stations, Prince George's County has a huge opportunity to help restore balance to the regional transportation network, dramatically increase its tax base, and improve the overall quality of life for its residents. But to realize this opportunity, the county must put the kibosh on sprawling edge city developments like the proposed Westphalia Town Center. How can we make this happen?

The county is currently updating its comprehensive General Plan, which defines its long-range policies for guiding future growth and development. The preliminary draft of that plan recommends a divided growth strategy that relies both on transit-oriented development at Metro, MARC, and future Purple Line stations, and automobile-oriented development inside and outside of the Beltway.

Of particular concern is that the draft plan contemplates additional automobile-oriented mixed-use development at existing outer-Beltway locations like Bowie and Brandywine, as well as at new suburban greenflied sites like Konterra and Westphalia. None of these locations is connected to transit. As Jonathan O'Connell explains, such a drivable suburban growth strategy doesn't make sense for Prince George's County or for Metro.

By adding mixed-use neighborhoods to inside-the-Beltway stations in Prince George's, Kirby says Metro can "sell the same seat twice." For example, let's assume that the new regional medical center comes to Largo Town Center, as expected.

Now-empty trains headed to Largo could instead fill with hospital workers; when they get off, commuters heading into DC could take their place. And if Prince George's were to build another mixed-use center at a closer-in Blue Line station, such as Capitol Heights or Addison Road, Metro could earn revenue from a commuter coming from Potomac Avenue or Benning Road, and also from a different commuter going out to the medical center in Largo.

Such a coordinated growth strategy is far cheaper, more sustainable, and frankly more realistic, than building new Metro stations to reach the new sprawl. Yet, Prince George's County stubbornly clings to its sprawl past. I continue to believe that the county's leaders can change their ways if they pay attention to and learn lessons from other jurisdictions that have successfully implemented TOD. But the county's actions over the past few weeks suggest that they simply lack the political will or courage to change.

Short of "voting the bums out" of office, what strategies would you use to get Prince George's current leadership to make the dramatic shift from sprawl to TOD?

Crossposted on Prince George's Urbanist.

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Bradley Heard is an attorney and citizen activist who resides in the Capitol Heights area of Prince George's County. A native of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Brad spent most of his adult life in Atlanta, Georgia before moving to Prince George's County in 2007. Brad hopes to encourage high-quality, walkable and bikeable development in the inner Beltway region of Prince George's County. 

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by Richard on Oct 17, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

This is a very interesting perspective on not only PG Co's need to develop around the Metro stations for the betterment of the county residents but also its responsibility for the greater good of the entire National Capital Region. I like how it broadens the message and make it more appealing for those outside the county to strongly support TOD within the county. There is a much larger picture here and I think that gets lost when we make it a very local issue.

by ArchStanton on Oct 17, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

Agreed. Over a 12 years ago, I was on the Greenbelt Advisory Planning Board and we were talking about developing the Metro Station. Still, nothing has happened. While we can levy much blame on the County, the cities of Prince George's aren't complaining or pushing for more urban land use options, especially within the beltway. The only station that even comes close to density is Prince George's Plaza, and that's basically surrounded by parking lots.

by Randall M. on Oct 17, 2013 6:03 pm • linkreport

"By focusing major office and residential development at its Metro stations, Prince George's County has a huge opportunity to help restore balance to the regional transportation network, dramatically increase its tax base, and improve the overall quality of life for its residents."

I hope the state of Maryland and PG county are reading this.
Which, for the record, is not sprawl.

by Thayer-D on Oct 17, 2013 7:41 pm • linkreport

I would caution that folks consider the housing and commercial market in Prince George's, as well. There's a huge market for TOD at many of the stops on the west side of the region - but at many of the sites in Prince George's the cost of new condo construction and the price you would need to charge is prohibitive based on the going market rate for rental units or buying a place. Part of the challenge, beside some governance issues, is that the market isn't quite there in many parts of the county.

by AA on Oct 17, 2013 11:34 pm • linkreport

AA,
Isn't a chicken and egg argument though? Was there a market for town living in the suburbs outside of Gaithersburg before Kentland? Real estate agents would have said no way, and many banks did say no way until they saw what was developed. At some point PG needs to get behind a large TOD plan and see it through to create something that the whole regional market place is demanding more of. Walkable urbanism.

by Thayer-D on Oct 18, 2013 7:00 am • linkreport

Thayer,

It's not so much about the market for the kind of development product (e.g. walkable urbanism) as it is about the area's marketability for development, period.

Prince George's is not the hot part of the DC market. In any sub-market, there's the challenge of absorbtion, but it is doubly challenging when you have structural impediments against TOD sites while other greenfield developments are absorbing all of the market-rate demand in the area. That's the challenge.

by Alex B. on Oct 18, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

Alex,
Everyone knows PG isn't the hot part of the market, but either was Shaw in the 90's when development was taking off in Adam's Morgan etc. My point about emphasizing the state and local government's role in promoting TOD was to make greenfield developers pay the full fare when it comes to building all the utilities and roads out to whatever farm they bought. Make greenfields bare the true cost of developing far afield and the market would self correct to some extent.

As for what came first, the TOD or the market, that's trickier, but what's hot now in our market is TOD's, and the hardest part of that equation is the T. PG already has the T part. It seems if the government implimented the right policies, it would go a long way to making those locations viable. Afterall, look at how many areas in our hot market where not only 15 years ago. Planning shouldn't be only about servicing the current situation but also about where it makes the most sense for the region to grow in the future.

by Thayer-D on Oct 18, 2013 9:02 am • linkreport

My point about emphasizing the state and local government's role in promoting TOD was to make greenfield developers pay the full fare when it comes to building all the utilities and roads out to whatever farm they bought.

Sorry, I read your post as about the product itself.

Was there a market for the Kentlands, specifically, before it was built? Maybe not. But there certainly was a market for suburban development in that part of the region; and the demand was strong enough to take the risk.

I fully agree about making the sprawling greenfield developers pay full freight; however, I do want to push back on some of Bradley's insistance (in this post and previous ones) that nothing should happen at other close-in, infill sites (like Cafritz) until Prince George's does something with these Metro sites.

The reality is that the Metro sites, while long on potential, have a lot of leg work that needs to be done. Likewise, not all development that's not directly atop a station is bad - there's a world of difference between the Cafritz site and Westphalia, for example.

by Alex B. on Oct 18, 2013 9:13 am • linkreport

I tend to blame the state of MD as much as the local officials for PG's suburban car-only focus. The state controls most of our main roads, and builds them like highways, and doesn't do and beautification or much maintenance. Thus car sewers, which defeat walkability and community building from the start. The state's mentality is that the important people live in Howard or AA counties, and Prince Georges is for drive through.

by Greenbelt on Oct 18, 2013 9:42 am • linkreport

The Route 1 corridor in Prince George's County is a pretty hot part of the market. I'm on the Ward 5 border in Mount Rainier and we've seen a huge influx of young families attracted by historic homes available for a fraction of the price they would go for in DC. We've got the Green Line on the north side of town and frequent bus service on Route 1 that emulates the old streetcar lines.

But accepting that not every place serviced by the Orange and Blue Lines in the county is hot, I tend toward the proactive side of the chicken and the egg problem. Upwards of a quarter of a million people wake up in Prince George's and go to work somewhere else, taking tax dollars and incidental spending with them. The county badly needs TOD job centers to balance out our local economy. Office space, particularly in green buildings, is in high demand in DC and other parts of the region. If Prince George's built a cutting edge green office park at one of its Metro stations I predict we'd have no shortage of possible tenants. We may even be able turn a negative (market isn't there) into a positive (cheaper rents for a high quality building).

Developers keep getting rich on sprawl projects (that suck up tax dollars in services) while our established communities inside the Beltway continue to be neglected in terms of investment.

by Brent Bolin on Oct 18, 2013 10:36 am • linkreport

@ Alex B:

I wouldn't say that nothing should happen at close-in infill sites that aren't connected to Metrorail, and I agree that something like Cafritz is way different than Westphalia. My point is that the county's development emphasis should be on (in roughly this order): (1) Metro and MARC rail stations and the half-mile area around them; (2) revitalization of existing developed areas inside the Beltway, such as aging shopping centers, distressed neighborhoods, etc.; (3) brownfield revitalization inside the Beltway; (4) greenfield revitalization inside the Beltway, such as Cafritz; and (5) revitalization/retrofitting of existing developed outer-Beltway suburban areas, like Bowie Town Center and Brandywine.

My point about Cafritz (not to get too deeply back into that one again) was that the Whole Foods and other multifamily development proposed there would've been better placed at University Town Center, Largo Town Center, or another available Metro site. I said at the time that Cafritz could've been developed with residential infill.

And I agree with you that it's going to take a lot of "leg work" to make most of our Metro sites marketable. I just believe we need to get started on that legwork pronto! That needs to be our priority. As Brent just said, by focusing on doing quality TOD at a Metro station, the county would likely be overrun with willing tenants. The market for Metro-oriented sites is already there; we're just not taking advantage of it.

by Bradley Heard on Oct 18, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

Any discussion about this is terribly incomplete without talking about WHY this tendency is in place.

Focusing development into any compact area, whether or not Metro-adjacent, inherently prevents a spreading-the-love to a lot of landowners. Landowners with "chosen" properties would get "permission" for added density, while other properties are denied it.

Obviously the non-focused landowners are going to lobby hard to get the ability to develop at higher densities -- they're rational actors.

In short, there are major externalities at play, with landowners strongly incented to promote their own interest at the expense of the County and region.

Not sure what the solution is, especially in a jurisdiction prone to corruption. The county board is always going to be subject to intense pressure from moneyed interests.

Maybe the answer would be a steadfast refusal, by policy, to ever widen roads with public funds or accept new roads into the public network, outside the focus areas. Then, developers would be on the hook for the costs of their project and plan accordingly, lessening the externality problem.

by Joey on Oct 18, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

How could something be built around most Metro stations when the land is already taken unless they plan on kicking people out of their homes or businesses?

The only stations that have a lot of empty land around them are Southern Ave, New Carrolton, Landover, Cheverly, West Hyattsville, Morgan Blvd, Naylor Road and maybe Capitol Heights. Other stations could fit perhaps fit one or two small buildings on the land if the parking lot was turn into a garage or garage was torn down and replaced with underground parking. Southern Ave has plenty of nearby land but it would require lots of new infrastructure such as bridges over the rails to connect the new streets with anything.

The following do not have any land to really develop Addison Road, PG Plaza, College Park, Suitland, Largo and to an extent Branch Ave

The biggest waste of land at many stations is the actual entire site that is not the station; for example many of the bus bays are spread-out at the stations taking up more space than they need to and green areas which no one uses and is really useless. Many of the bus bays are shaped like a giant U with the middle nothing but wasted space but if instead they were shaped like a b the excess space could be used for development.

Some bus bays are up to a 2 blocks in terms of distance from the entrance of the station Greenbelt, Shady Grove, West Falls Church, Franconia, Cheverly, Largo, Ft Totten, Minnesota Ave, Grovesnor, Rockville, White Flint (when it used to have bus bays), Twinbrook, & Glenmont. Each of these stations has extra-long bus bays for no reason when they could be closer in proximity to each other and the stations entrance. Many the bus bays are giant circles leading from an entrance road to the station besides parking lots or behind them.

The worst I can think of its West Falls Church south entrance and Greenbelt the bus bays are extremely far for no purpose. Each bus stop could be moved down 10-40 feet closer to the entrance and provide and new large area that could be used for development or even WMATA's own use.

by kk on Oct 18, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

TOD only in PG County does not benefit the future of a healthy Business, Economic, and Population Growth.... Especially when TOD is not strictly being forced upon in Northern Virginia....

by Rick on Oct 18, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

@ kk:

You're right that redeveloping around some Metro stations will require some homes and businesses to be relocated. The picture of the area across from Addison Road Station that I got so much flak for describing as "blighted conditions" in a prior post is a good example of this. Similarly, with Largo Town Center, the new master plan recommends demolishing a good portion of the Boulevard and redeveloping it into a Main Street-style commercial area with more dense development around it.

(Incidentally, there is a good deal vacant land within a 1/2 mile of Addison Road that is ripe for redevelopment. This wouldn't require displacing anything.)

I also agree with you that there's a lot of wasted space at the Metro stations that were originally designed as commuter-only stations.

by Bradley Heard on Oct 19, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

@ Bradley Heard

Its not just the outer stations that were designed as commuter only its all of them.

The suburban ones and the ones that have bus bays its the outside that is the biggest issue but all of them have problems.

There are problems with the stations that do not look at the

1 flow of people walking

2 the placement of escalators and elevators (this one might not actually be by accident as they have a record of forgetting elevators Gallery Place)

3 ADA violations all over the place (where is the braille in the stations, some entrances do not have attendants what if a person needs help).

Announcements are not displayed on the pids and over the intercoms so that becomes a discrimination and separate but equal which is not equal. You may hear any announcement over the intercom but it is not displayed on the PIDS so a deaf person would never know it and the same in reverse for a blind person.

4 Long mezzanines before getting to escalators, steps or elevators could support multiple of each.

by kk on Oct 21, 2013 12:04 am • linkreport

Will somebody please explain why Southern Prince George's County has no metro rail service? we have commuters driving on top of each other coming up Route 210 from places like La Plata, White Plains, Waldorf (and perhaps Virginia),etc. When will Metro stop disqiminating (purposely misspelled)against this part of the Region?

by DantethePrince on Oct 22, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

Dan,

When Metro was planned those areas had very little population density - if you look at a map in the 1960s or 1970s, there was very little development at all in the Southern part of the county. A lot of the stations that are in northern Prince George's County parallel development that has been there the late 1850s-1930s as the result of the railroad or streetcar (see Hyattsville, Lanham, Cheverly, etc)

by AA on Oct 23, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

PG has no choice but to follow the money. If a mid-rise condo was built right next to Naylor Road Metro would they be able to get $300,000 for a 1-bedroom unit when there are no amenities in that area?

But build a 4,000 sq. ft home on 1/2 acre somewhere outside the Beltway in PG and they'll get people willing to spend $450,000+.

For goodness sake look at Alexandria's Braddock Road Metro, Van Dorn Metro, Eisenhower Ave. Metro and the north-west side of King Street Metro. Infill TOD development in Alexandria is still rather slow and they have amenities and prices to support TOD growth.

The problem in PG is you can't infill an area void of amenities. Higher density redevelopment has to push from DC to the PG Metro stations which won't happen for a long time for stations like West Hyattsville and Naylor Road. Or upper class development has to push in from outside the Beltway which happened somewhat at Branch Avenue Metro with condos and townhouses (but still no corporations and businesses).

The best bet for TOD is the Green line (except West Hyattsville) which will be helped greatly by an amenity like Whole Foods. But overall TOD in PG will be slow as long as the test scores lag near the bottom of the state along with Baltimore City.

by Kevin on Nov 5, 2013 7:00 pm • linkreport

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