The Wheaton library should be in downtown Wheaton
The draft for the new Wheaton Sector Plan currently includes provisions to build a new library in downtown Wheaton. The new library would replace the current Wheaton library which, oddly, is not in downtown Wheaton.
Rather, it is north of downtown Wheaton, on the corner of Arcola Avenue and Georgia Avenue. Though the current library is a fifteen minute walk north of the Wheaton Metro, its pedestrian-hostile configuration and pedestrian-hostile place discourage walking.
Moving the library to a more transit-rich, centrally located site in downtown Wheaton would both improve the accessibility of the library and the social and economic vitality of the existing walkable urban downtown. The other walkable urban downtowns in Montgomery County such as Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Takoma Park have libraries at their walkable centers.
Nevertheless, a number of "don't move the library" signs have started appearing in Wheaton. Why would they want to save it?
The current Wheaton library is very suburban and hostile to pedestrians. It's not in downtown Wheaton. It's past where the walkable urban town ends and becomes car-dependent suburbia. The cars travel faster on Georgia Avenue there than in Wheaton proper. It's really hard to cross Georgia Avenue at Arcola Avenue.
The main entrance opens up to the parking lot, which is behind the building, away from the sidewalk. The secondary entrance does not open up to the narrow sidewalk on Georgia Avenue. Rather, it is behind some bushes and a drop-off and pick-up driveway for cars. It was constructed in 1962, remodeled in 1985, and designed to be by the car, of the car, and for the car, like most buildings built during those time periods.
The "Save Wheaton Library" website says:
The Library as currently situated is easily, safely, and pleasantly accessible by foot and public transportation to thousands of residents in its surrounding neighborhoods.However, before making this assertion, it points out another feature of the current library:
Parking at the Wheaton Library's present site is ample, free, and there are no complications about misuse (as is the case in other CBDs).This argument reveals why the authors of this website like the current library. It has ample, free parking. Lots of it. Too much of it. So much that it makes it hostile to pedestrians, like many other car-dependent places. (Plus, the current library is not actually in the CBD.)
Just like most other anti-campaigns, this one is merely about preserving the status quo. Somehow, I doubt that the small handful of my neighbors with signs on their front lawns have ever walked to the library. I live on the northern side of downtown Wheaton, really close to the library. I don't ever use it because I hate walking there. In fact, I've only used it in the past six months to pick up tax forms. That's because it's so much safer and more interesting to walk in a town environment with where I can run multiple errands, the blocks are short, and the cars drive at 25 miles per hour.
In order for Wheaton to live up to its potential as a vibrant economic and cultural center, it needs a mix of uses. Its current zoning allows single story, single-use retail, without parking minimums. Earlier this decade, new townhouses were built on the periphery of the downtown. More recently, new apartments opened up on top of the Metro. But downtown Wheaton still lacks a center of public life. A library would create that activity center, increasing foot traffic, the customer base for the small businesses in the downtown, and safety by putting more eyes on the street.
The opponents also list safety as one of their reasons to oppose a downtown library:
Security [would be a perceived] big issue. Many felt they would not feel comfortable leaving their children at the downtown location. Many feel the open parking lot at the present library is safer than a covered structure that would be downtown (especially for women). Also, school buses use the present library to drop children off from school. Many parents expressed concern about dropping their children off at a downtown library.A downtown library would improve safety in its area, not reduce it. Yet this argument seems to stem from a classic suburban perception of safety: walkable is unsafe while car-dependent is safe. The truth is, of course, far more nuanced. In our region, there are a whole range of crime rates in both walkable urban and car-dependent places. You can't simply tie a land-use arrangement to a 50-year-old perception of safety.
Wheaton is very fortunate to have a Metro station directly underneath it. With great privilege comes great responsibility. An important civic place like a library should be situated in a place where the community can use and celebrate it as much as possible. When the very location of the public structure will also breathe more vitality into an already functioning walkable urban place, it is the responsibility of the community to embrace change for the common good. It is silly that the current Wheaton library serves a certain constituency, motorists, at the expense of everyone else. A library located in downtown Wheaton, rather than in its car-dependent fringes, would better serve all constituencies, including motorists.
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