Greater Greater Washington

"Drive 'til you qualify" takes on an urban flair

There's far more demand for housing in the DC area than supply, especially in urban, walkable neighborhoods. When enough new homes aren't being built close in, the region sprawls farther out. In response, new developments on the fringes are adopting urban qualities.


All photos by the author.

In the Before & After Cafe on Apricot Street one recent Saturday, craft beer was on the menu and the sound­track included Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. Outside, light snow fell on a deck with brightly colored Adirondack chairs and an edible garden. Across the street were smart-looking rowhouses and craftsman-style houses with ample porches.

This could be a scene in a trendy inside-the-Beltway neighborhood like Brookland or Del Ray. Except the cafe's empty, the street dead-ends a few blocks away, and the blue water tower overlooking it all says "Stafford, Virginia." This is Embrey Mill, a new planned community being built 60 miles south of DC that promises "a comfortable place at the end of your commute focused on creating a simpler, better way to live."


Location of Embrey Mill. Image from Google Maps.

Like many older neighborhoods, Embrey Mill's master plan envisions a mixed-use retail district, a county recreation center, and public schools within walking distance. The homes take off of traditional styles like you'd see in older neighborhoods; the garages are all in back on alleys, leaving room in front for sidewalks, porches, and a few pocket parks and greens. The streets are arranged in a grid, making it easy to walk around.

Studies show that homebuyers increasingly prefer walkable, urban places. So developers are trying to deliver some form of it wherever they can, whether at Embrey Mill or Brambleton in Loudoun County, the Villages of Urbana in Frederick County, and even Ladysmith Village in Caroline County, 75 miles from DC and 35 miles from Richmond.

The District has grown by 80,000 in the last decade, and the bulk of the region's new residents live there or in close-in areas like Arlington and Montgomery County. But the outer suburbs are still growing quickly as well. Fredericksburg is the DC area's fastest-growing community, while Stafford itself isn't far behind.


Left: Embrey House, the neighborhood's welcome center.
Right: Inside the Before and After Cafe.

For many homebuyers, living in places like Embrey Mill seems like an affordable alternative to closer-in neighborhoods. Prices for a three-story townhouse with a two-car garage start at just $289,000, half as much as a similar home at Crown, a New Urbanist community under construction in Gaithersburg.

While some Stafford County residents work in Stafford or Fredericksburg, thousands still commute to DC or Northern Virginia job centers like Arlington, Alexandria, and Tysons Corner. And the transportation costs of living so far from work often cancel out any savings on the house itself. And there are more affordably-priced neighborhoods inside the Beltway.

A similar townhouse at Arts District Hyattsville in Prince George's County sells for about $30,000 more than the homes at Embrey Mill, is much closer to DC and even Tysons, and is already a walkable, urban place with all of the amenities Embrey Mill promises to have in the future.


Brightly-colored chairs in a park at Embrey Mill.

Despite its revival in recent years, Hyattsville still struggles with a negative reputation, low-ranked public schools and issues, real or perceived, with crime. Embrey Mill can't beat Hyattsville on convenience, but it can promise new schools and at least the image of a safer neighborhood. So families are faced with a tradeoff.

There are neighborhoods with great schools, easy access to jobs and shopping, and low crime, but they're often prohibitively expensive, and neighbors work very hard to ensure nothing gets built there. Other neighborhoods might have one or two of those things, but require a compromise for the others. And this is just if you're middle class. If you're working class, you have even fewer options.

Our region faces a serious housing crunch in the coming years. According to researchers at George Mason University, the DC area will need 548,000 new homes between 2012 and 2032, or about 27,000 new homes each year. If we can't provide people the housing choices they need, they'll go somewhere else, even beyond the region's current fringe. And that means more traffic, more pollution, more destruction of natural and agricultural land, and more disinvestment in closer-in areas.

We need to create more opportunities for affordable housing in sought-after areas that already have jobs and quality amenities. And in areas that are already affordable, we need to make sure they have the amenities people want so they can draw new residents and investment.

If we push the demand for housing all the way to Stafford County and Fredericksburg, places like Embrey Mill are certainly an improvement over the status quo, since they at least try to offer some basic needs within an easy walk. But if there were more and more diverse housing options closer in, we wouldn't necessarily need Embrey Mill, because people could find the kind of housing and neighborhoods they want closer in.

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. 

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1. Not everyone works in DC. I bet some of the folks who live in Embry Mill work in Ft Belvoir (still a long commute, and they are doing drive till you qualify vs more expensive Occuquan - PWC is IIUC trying to build a new WUP nearby, and hopefully the next phase at Lorton will be much better designed than the previous ones) And of course most of the folks in Brambleton work in Tysons (saving money vs living in Reston, or Vienna) or even further out.

2. Agree very strongly on the Hyattsville potential. Have we ever had a post going into detail on Hyattsvilles potential and constraints (which I think include the need for better transit as well as issues of schools and public safety perceptions)?

3. The big problem with these scattered WUPs is that unlike genuine urban neighborhoods, they don't really support each other. In the inner suburbs, even if they are too far to be easily walkable to each other, its often possible to bike from one to the other, and there is the possibility of transit connections (like the Silver Line connection from RTC to Tysons to North Arlington and of course the Purple Line) a possibility that really doesn't exist in places like Stafford, Caroline, and Frederick (and only just barely exists for Brambleton, I think)

4. It does reiterate the total demand for WUP living, and is a rebuke to those who try to minimize such demand by focusing on political boundaries and assuming everyone living in a suburb wants a full autocentric lifestyle.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Mar 12, 2014 10:22 am • linkreport

I really wonder how much of "urban living" really means I want to live near some take-out and grocery store.

@ AWalkerIntheCity; you make the excellent point that these areas don't support each other, and that also means the transit potentials are very limited.

The straight assumptions of growth are ridiculous.

by charlie on Mar 12, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

My aunt lives adjacent to this development on Austin Ridge Drive. She works in Fredricksburg, which is a 12 mile and 14 minute commute in the morning and night. Her 5 closest neighbors work in Stafford or points south as well.

Not everyone who happens to live within a 75 mile radius of the District, commutes to downtown for work

by Richmond on Mar 12, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

I agree with your basic premis, but it seems that you didn't put enough emphasis on expanding the transit network that would enable us to create dense town centers in the poche space of many suburban developments. But like you said, even way out there, it eats chewing up twice the open space for large acerage developments, and at least the folks who buy there can walk to some ammenities.

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

4. It does reiterate the total demand for WUP living, and is a rebuke to those who try to minimize such demand by focusing on political boundaries and assuming everyone living in a suburb wants a full autocentric lifestyle.

Yes, and it highlights how the built form of our towns matter. Something that has gotten confused in recent debates over smart growth is that it's all about density. That's the case in many places in and close to DC but here we can step back and point out how works at all levels.

Its shame that there isn't much we can do about knitting these developments together at the moment but its a start.

by drumz on Mar 12, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

"Not everyone who happens to live within a 75 mile radius of the District, commutes to downtown for work"

OTOH Embrey Mill to Ft Belvoir is 27 miles, and IIUC I95 gets VERY congested at rush hour on that stretch. There aren't that many jobs south of Ft Belvoir, and most of those are probably in closer in parts of PWC.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Mar 12, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

*though density does matter here as well because you're fitting a similar amount of homes on a footprint that's half the size of the subdivision next to it. But things like yard space and what not are mostly the same.

by drumz on Mar 12, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Good post. I agree with AWITC on Hyattsville's potential. I went to high school there and it really is a great place. I don't get why someone would want to live in an "urban" community in Stafford if they could live in a similar community Hyattsville for just a little more money, and save big on transportation costs. It of course depends on where they work, but I know that (perceived) crime and demographics are often larger reasons than some would like to admit when it comes to picking a place to live.

by Sean on Mar 12, 2014 10:39 am • linkreport

"Its shame that there isn't much we can do about knitting these developments together at the moment but its a start."

I think we just have to accept that they won't likely ever be knit together - at least folks can go to a coffee shop without getting in their car, and because they are accepting smaller units (and connected units) than in a suburban SFH, their community will be less energy intensive (thats also true of a conventional TH development, but these are likely to hold their value better)

by AWalkerIntheCity on Mar 12, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

Agreed that many of the people who live in these communities work in one of the nodes outside DC proper. But to get to those nodes, they have to drive along the same limited access highways that link the nodes largely axially from DC. And so the growth of sub-nodes still poses a big traffic problem. More vehicles crowing onto already congested roads.

by Crickey7 on Mar 12, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

I really wonder how much of "urban living" really means I want to live near some take-out and grocery store.

Why the scare quotes, Charlie? I get the sense from your tone that this somehow isn't worthy of the term, but that's a qualitative distinction, not a functional one.

You can load up the term 'urban' all you like, but at the end of the day, the broad definition of urban is still what matters. A city is basically a group of people that live clustered together because it is beneficial to do so. And one of those benefits is proximity to goods and services, like (say) take-out and grocery stores.

So, yes - living near stuff that is useful is a key part of urbanism.

Thayer,

it seems that you didn't put enough emphasis on expanding the transit network that would enable us to create dense town centers in the poche space of many suburban developments.

This cuts both ways - extending transit is good, but it won't be economical to extend transit if the growth isn't clustered in places that are easy to serve efficiently.

Location still matters. To borrow Jarrett Walker's phrase, you must be on the way if you want to have good transit:

http://www.humantransit.org/2009/04/be-on-the-way.html

Consider the cautionary tale of the Corridor Cities Transitway - Kentlands is a great example of walkable development, but the location is not easily served by transit because it's not on the way:

http://www.humantransit.org/2009/11/integrating-transit-and-land-use-a-cautionary-tale.html

by Alex B. on Mar 12, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

Yeah, but there is a lot of room around the development on the map (caveat for how old that image is and who owns the land surrounding it.).

This is pretty close to the Stafford Courthouse which has a mini grid and maybe some opportunity.

But yes, I'm happy with what we have at the moment and view it as a positive step forward.

by drumz on Mar 12, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

I really wonder how much of "urban living" really means I want to live near some take-out and grocery store

It does mean more than that -- sidewalks, streetgrid, front porches, the look/feel of a village, etc. -- but sometimes it doesn't even mean that. Does this community even have a grocery store within walking distance?

What's nice about these new developments is that they're not just for the locals but are destinations in and of themselves (unlike traditional developments). I've actually been to a similar development in Howard Co. (Maple Lawn) a number of times because it's the most convenient place to watch a game at a bar when friends from both DC and Baltimore want to get together.

by Falls Church on Mar 12, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

@Walker, Richmond

So I've added a chart from the Census of where Stafford residents work. Many do work in Fredericksburg or Stafford, but DC, Arlington, Alexandria, and Tysons are major commuting destinations as well.

by dan reed! on Mar 12, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

These far-flung New Urbanist-style developments are certainly an improvement over the status quo. If nothing else, they introduce residents (who may be otherwise unable to afford something in a walkable urban place) to the concept of walkable neighborhoods. In the case of Embrey Mill, at least there's a VRE station within 5 miles.

Re: Hyattsville

My husband and I seriously considered purchasing a townhome in the Arts District Hyattsville development. It's an attractive and (relatively) affordable option for people who like walkable neighborhoods. However, we ultimately decided against it for two primary reasons - one, it isn't within a walkable distance to a Metro station (yes, there's a shuttle, but who knows how long that will last), and two, the nearby schools are allegedly terrible. We don't have kids (yet) but school quality (whether actual or perceived) is an important factor in the resale value of your home. We ended up buying a townhouse in Wheaton, less than half a mile from the Metro.

by Rebecca on Mar 12, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

Hyattsville has a ton of potential, but it has a long way to go to realize that potential. I work only a few miles from Hyattsville, so moving there would give me a shorter commute (as well as being far less expensive than where I live now). In many ways, it'd be a great place to live.

But there's no way I'd move there now. Transit availability isn't very good (you can't live there without a car). And the high crime and bad schools aren't just a reputation: the schools genuinely are terrible, and the crime genuinely is high (perhaps not as high as people think, but still quite high). And the county government doesn't seem to care about fixing any of those things.

by Rob on Mar 12, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

I really wonder how much of "urban living" really means I want to live near some take-out and grocery store.

Yes. When I lived in the suburbs I hated the fact that I pretty much had to drive to go places that were barely over a mile away. I want to be near to stuff AND have the means to walk/bike there (which requires things like sidewalks, gridded streets, etc.).

Crickey,

True but Stafford is likely to grow no matter what (especially if other jurisdictions decide they don't want to grow anymore) and with this type of development you begin making it easier to offer alternatives to driving. It's easier to start a shuttle to VRE or just up 95 here than you would in your normal cul de sacs. It's better than what we used to have.

by drumz on Mar 12, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

more appropriate for a post on Hyattsville but -

Hyattsville in some ways is particularly attractive to a bike commuter, who doesnt have to rely on transit.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Mar 12, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

One thing I think matters is whether older residents can get to not just a grocery but a public library, community events, and a doctor without driving. My mom retired to a small town with a strong grid because it had all those features. (She also wanted a house with stairs — for the cardio!)

by Sally M on Mar 12, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

And the county government doesn't seem to care about fixing any of those things.

Actually, improving the schools is a top priority of PG's Co. Exec. He's hired a top-notch new superintendent and changed the governance structure of the school board. The MD General Assembly also passed a law facilitating the overhaul of PG's school system.

I don't think crime is really the problem because the rate has plummeted (although still high). Inside the beltway PG has to offer schools that are at least as good as the better parts of DC. But, better than Hyattsville is PG Plaza which has lots within walking distance plus metro.

by Falls Church on Mar 12, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

@AWalker:+1

the bulk of the region's new residents live there or in close-in areas like Arlington and Montgomery County. But the outer suburbs are still growing quickly as well. Fredericksburg is the DC area's fastest-growing community, while Stafford itself isn't far behind.

The point that is glossed over here, is that apparently, living in the far suburbs is also very popular. It is nice an self-confirming that many people want to live in urban areas. But the growth far out clearly shows that people are willing to stomach a pretty bad commute in exchange for a nice large lawn. Plus, many of the people far out work on the edge of DC. In Ft Belvoir, Tysons Corner, Ft Meade, Andrew's, Manassas.

What is important is that the places far out that try to be a bit urban get excellent connections to transit.

by Jasper on Mar 12, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

I'd guess many of the Arlington workers are at the Pentagon. A VRE train can get from Brooke Station to Crystal City in just over an hour, so probably a 1.5 hour door-to-door commute. Not horrible.

by jh on Mar 12, 2014 11:13 am • linkreport

The issue with getting these developments stitched up is where government needs to take a stronger hand. It's anathema in today's political climate to talk about government investing in transit with coordination of surrounding municipalities and creating no growth zones, but that's what it would take to solve this disconet problem. The hodge podge method of regional planning, if it can be called that is a sad excuse for long term planning. This is what frustrates me about the republicans the most. They live in this alternate world where government is always viewed as an impediment yet its the only vehicle to coordinate the public good. Of course the public good isn't necessarily the best for well connected business interests, so we are treated to endless propaganda about the free market and not picking winners when the real looser is the public good.

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

thayer

If Dems (mainstream Dems) got their own way, they would do what - double spending on transit? Triple it? if you did that, you would STILL have lots of projects that would be more justifiable than connecting relatively small, modest density WUPS that are seperated by many miles from other pockets of density. BTW, AFAICT dems involved in transport infra issues are NOT mostly interested in supporting transit regardless of Benefit-cost or ridership potential.

Have you ever done a BCA of a transit project, or a ridership study? Just as someone who has never designed a building will say silly things about architecture, I would suggest to you that unless youve dealt with the nitty grid of Origin-Destination pairs, of commuter cost/time/reliability tradeoffs, of transit station walk sheds, etc, you will end up saying silly things about transit. One such silly thing is that the only thing making it difficult to serve small scattered WUPs with transit is the GOP, or free market ideology. If we had 100% socialism, we would still have constrained resources, tradeoffs, and a need to perform Benefit Cost analysis.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Mar 12, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

Falls Church wrote "Actually, improving the schools is a top priority of PG's Co. Exec. He's hired a top-notch new superintendent and changed the governance structure of the school board. The MD General Assembly also passed a law facilitating the overhaul of PG's school system."

Those changes strike me much more as window dressing than as any genuine attempt to improve the schools. But we'll see. I'd love to be wrong.

by Rob on Mar 12, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

AWITC,
My point isn't so much spending as much as coordination between municipalities and enacting a long term sustainable vision for our region centered on a regional transit system. And this isn't about socialism vs. capitalism. I don't think anyone doubts the efficiency of capitalism, but much like Teddy Roosevelt understood, there needs to be a balance between the vigor of the market and societie's best interests, which individual actors don't always have in mind.

As for how silly you think my statements are simply because I haven't dealt with "the nitty grid of Oricin-Destinations pairs etc.", it's that kind of arbitrary legitimizing that keeps wholistic thinking at bay. The traffic engineer says this, the planner says that, the business folks say another thing. That's my whole point, that government needs to coordinate all the actors in this play becasue ultimatly their actions affect us all. And for what it's worth, I'm the last person who would say "someone who has never designed a building will say silly things about". I've argued the opposite, that specialists tend to think myopically and not consider the wider life their working in.

As for democrats or republicans, I could care less what political stripe runs the place. To me it's always been the lesser of two evils and right now the ones with the constant bashing of the very institurion they would like to run are the republicans, since they seemed to have chased out the moderates.

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

I'm a fan of this kind of development everywhere. I believe in options for everyone everywhere. That said, DC proper and the inner ring are clearly dealing with a major housing crunch. I personally still think expanding Mero and zoning for selecting high density is one of the best ways to do this.

by BTA on Mar 12, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

Also specifically for this example expanding commuter rail hours and frequency.

by BTA on Mar 12, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

Very attractive development, per the photos at least.

by h st ll on Mar 12, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

While it's great that PG county seems to be taking the schools issue seriously, the fact remains that the schools are objectively quite bad right now. And yes, crime is down quite a bit, but that's not particularly relevant either.

The problem is that most potential residents are comparing the state of schools and crime right now to those characteristics in other jurisdictions. And given that one can go a few miles west of Hyattsville to MoCo--where schools are rather uniformly decent-to-great and crime rates are significantly lower--schools and crime remain barriers to more Hyattsville residents.

And of course there's the problem that PG isn't planning for significant growth in metro-accessible locations, unlike other jurisdictions with metro stations. That was enough to make my wife and I not consider Hyattsville over places like Brookland or Eckington, which have similar schools and crime issues but much better transit access. Meanwhile, places like PG Plaza could be walkable and have great transit access, but have their metro stations surrounded by seas of parking and low-density development.

by Gray on Mar 12, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

we have loose coordination between jurisdictions via the MWCOG. if what you mean is a region wide zoning entity, that would tell Stafford to keep a rural zone, and where it should be, I can assure you the Virginia Democratic party is not particularly interested in that. The dedication to local control of zoning is much deeper than recent political trends. And I would also suggest that much stronger limits on exurban autocentric development (note well, we already have scattered limits - Loudoun has its western rural zone which covers about half the county, Fauquier has much land thats covered by conservation easements, etc - not quite an oregon style growth boundary, but still) would elicit a backlash from people fearing having a lifestyle change forced on them. I think we do much better to advocate for urbanism and multimodalism as a choice, than to appear to be trying to make it more difficult to live a non-urbanist lifestyle (and an urban growth boundary WOULD increase the prices of low density SFH residences)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Are schools in Wheaton and other affordable, close-in area of Montgomery County significantly better than, say, Hyattsville Elementary or Mount Rainier Elementary?

by 20712 on Mar 12, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

"I'm the last person who would say "someone who has never designed a building will say silly things about". I've argued the opposite, that specialists tend to think myopically and not consider the wider life their working in."

of course non-architects should speak up on what makes a building work for them, or what they find attractive - and non-transport specialists should speak up about the impact on them of frequency, ride quality, etc, etc.

What I think leads to silly statements is non-architects (other than I suppose structural engineers) commenting on what is possible, what is costly or not, etc. "I want EVERY unit to have MORE windows on more sides" from someone who has never tried to design something and face the physical constraints on where windows should go (perhaps there are better examples) Similarly, to speak seriously about where its economically feasible (politics aside) to build transit - what levels of density are needed to justify what kind of transit service for example - requires some knowledge of the nitty gritty. Does that mean being a paid or credentialed professional - not necessarily - Im sure there are amateurs who have struggled with the nitty gritty of transit projects in their own jurisdictions, who understand the financial constraints, the costs per mile or per station, the drivers of mode choice, etc. They would not be likely to say, as I have heard people say, "we have a town center with a coffee shop, restaurant, and art gallery, with 50 condos and 100 townhouses, why can't it be connected by light rail to the next town center 15 miles away?"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 12:06 pm • linkreport

BTA +1. In order to achieve that we need a stronger regional planning. For my money I'm getting closer to thinking about how arbitrary DC's boarder is, despite my love of history and the picturesque diamond shape.

"The dedication to local control of zoning is much deeper than recent political trends"

It's all a matter of scale. When they rammed highways through cities, local control of zoning didn't seem to run deep as the pockets of businesses that stood to benefit, regardless of the costs which we are still paying for.

"I think we do much better to advocate for urbanism and multimodalism as a choice, than to appear to be trying to make it more difficult to live a non-urbanist lifestyle"

*We* would only appear to be making it more difficult to live a non-urbanist lifestyle if *we* where actually advocating that. This isn't an us vs. them discussion regardless of how much it might be framed that way. It's in everyones interest that we maintain our open spaces, suburbs, and cities well since they all depend on eachother and might do more so in the future.

AWITC, I remember you trying to make a "deal" with me that you would conceed architectural points to me if I conceeded economic points to you. Do you remember what I said to your "deal"?

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

@20712 I'm not a parent, so I haven't done much research yet into Wheaton's schools. From what I've heard from my neighbors, they are decent (particulary if your child is in a gifted program) but not as good as, say, Bethesda-area schools. However, it does seem that the overall reputation of Montgomery County schools is much higher than that of PG County. I'm sure you could pick out individual PG schools that are better than certain MoCo ones, but overall I'd say MoCo is better. If not at the elementary level, than definitely at the middle- and high-school levels.

by Rebecca on Mar 12, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

"It's all a matter of scale. When they rammed highways through cities, local control of zoning didn't seem to run deep as the pockets of businesses that stood to benefit, regardless of the costs which we are still paying for."

Condemnation for highways is legally distinct from zoning. Even that would be controversial today, even in Va. taking away county control of zoning would be extremely controversial, if not impossible. Im sorry again if Im not a dreamer.

"*We* would only appear to be making it more difficult to live a non-urbanist lifestyle if *we* where actually advocating that. This isn't an us vs. them discussion regardless of how much it might be framed that way. It's in everyones interest that we maintain our open spaces, suburbs, and cities well since they all depend on eachother and might do more so in the future."

An urban growth boundary will raise costs of low density SFH's, in a region that continues to grow, and where a large number of people (70%? 50%?) prefer that lifestyle.

"AWITC, I remember you trying to make a "deal" with me that you would conceed architectural points to me if I conceeded economic points to you. Do you remember what I said to your "deal"?"

No I forgot. It remains true, that lay people make mistakes in specialized fields. In transit, for example, people tend to assume that high transit share is possible without taking into account speed or frequency or the costs of auto usage - so they expect a light rail or bus line running every 20 mins to a place where parking is free, to have the same transit share as a heavy rail line running every 6 minutes to a place where parking costs $20 for the day. Then they use that to argue for the potential success of transit in a place with a relatively low residential density.

Or they expect to achieve the same transit or bike shares as in countries where both gasoline and motor vehicle purchases are much more heavily taxed, and attribute lower auto mode shares in those countries to infrastructure differences alone.

Or they suggest BRT that is successful in a low wage developing country will have the same success in a rich country, ignoring the impact of differences in wage levels on operating costs and commuter mode tradeoffs.

Or they ignore the empirically observed limits on transit walksheds, and wonder why density a full mile from a transit station does not generate higher ridership. Or they minimize the constraints on ridership created by a surface parking lot adjacent to the station.

by TheSilentFactor on Mar 12, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

When factoring schools into the equation if whether to move to Hyattsville, the number of children is a big issue.

The private schools in PG are as good as anywhere, e.g. Friends Community School, and probably better than the public schools anywhere. So with one child the cost of tuition is offset by lower transportation costs and you get a better school. With two kids, by contrast, this logic only works if you were going to pay for a private education anyway.

by JimT on Mar 12, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

TheSilentFactor...why are you answering questions for AWITC?

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 12:44 pm • linkreport

AWITC sometimes wants to make comments on DC politics without his being a resident of Va detracting from his point. He is entering a 12 step program to get over his temptation to discuss DC politics, which discussion is clearly as fruitless an endeavour as attempting to get Va to eliminate county control of zoning ;)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

I here absolve you of the need to be expert on those subjects you don't feel mastery in or...of the requirement to be resident in said jurisdiction over which you would like to comment about. Deal?

by Thayer-D on Mar 12, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

I know what kinds a buildings I like. I have no idea how to fit more 3 BR units, AND an elevator, and a fitness room, into a building with a given footprint and height. And I am not going to embarass myself by pretending I do. Thats why we pay architects the big bucks.

People DO dismiss political comments from people who don't live in a given jurisdiction. I OTOH, will only dismiss comments about Va politics, or Fairfax politics, if they actually are unrealistic about said politics. Many folks from outside Va are quite realistic about Va politics.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

Hyattsville's reputation for high crime is now undeserved, and the media's tendency to erroneously report crimes elsewhere in PG County as having occurred in "Hyattsville" probably contributes to it.

Take a look at this homicide map for 2013: http://www.burgersub.org/murders2013.htm . There were no homicides anywhere near Hyattsville, while numerous homicides occurred in various areas of NE and NW DC.

by jms on Mar 12, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

Well, I do agree with some in the thread that a place like Stafford isn't likely developing as a "drive til you qualify" vis a vis Downtown DC, but provides the kind of housing people an increasing number of people want to live in, but they happen to work outside of DC. It's a reflection in changes in market preferences and perhaps it needs to be evaluated on its own terms rather than in comparison to Washington proper.

That being said, most of the outlying developments are too small to be able to support much in the way of amenities like coffee shops and cool retail, because there isn't enough of a customer base in the development or locally.

WRT people out that way still working in DC, or close in, I have suggested that on a long term basis, as VA expands its support of the railroad system (like the Amtrak line that serves places like Culpeper) + the VRE that you could develop a railroad commuting culture like that north of NYC. HOWEVER, with the core hollowing out somewhat as an employment center, that model doesn't have legs.

As far as places like Hyattsville are concerned, they need to do more to strengthen their urbanity. But the points people make about crime and even the schools aren't so relevant to the Rte. 1 corridor, which has lower crime and better schools comparatively speaking. But yes, transit isn't so great. As I've commented here before, I'd really try to get a Hyattsville station on the MARC line. It'd be way better placed, and worth paying $3-$4 for a 10 minute trip to Union Station.

A Hyattsville Dinky between the West Hyattsville station and a proposed MARC station would go a long way towards repositioning that community.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-11/princeton-s-exile-of-dinky-train-pits-locals-against-ivy-league.html

But a city like Hyattsville has very little money to be able to take on such a project.

by Richard Layman on Mar 12, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

To be fair when people are saying Hyattsville is high crime they are probably comparing it to Arlington or Rockville, not DC. Most people would acknowledge that DC has the worst crime, probably even on a per capita basis.

by BTA on Mar 12, 2014 2:28 pm • linkreport

When people usually refer to the crime in Hyattsville, it is usually the parts of the county that are identified as Hyattsville, but not in the City of Hyattsville. Places such as parts of Landover, Landover Hills, over by FedEx field are classified by the postal service as Hyattsville for postal service reasons. Hyattsville has been trying to get this changed for years because it has done exactly what people on GGW are doing. It gives a perception that the City of Hyattsville is crime ridden when that isn't the case.

by Donald James on Mar 12, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

"the VRE that you could develop a railroad commuting culture like that north of NYC. "

It would be nice to have exurban TOD villages adjacent to VRE (and MARC) stations, and IIUC PWC is trying something like that for Woodbridge, Va - but Embrey Mill is five miles to the VRE station. Folks will depend on park and ride - and while thats better than having them drive in on I95, its not quite like what you get in NY.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman
Princeton also has very little money to be taking on a project like a 'Dinky' line. It's hard to make the numbers work on a rail project in a low-density environment, and the appeal of transit drops every time you have to change trains. That said, we have Bottigheimer now, and he's working on a potential upgrade.

by renegade09 on Mar 12, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

"New Urbanist" developments such as this are total scams. Not even close to mass transit of any sort (5 miles, possibly further, down the highway from a VRE station does not count as "close" to mass transit)and only adds to the hell that is I-95 between Quantico and Spottsylvania County. Unless somebody wants to pay for a new rail line through existing and poorly planned subdivisions. (Paying for it and the eminent domain issues should go over really well with the locals too.) We have seen this in Loudoun County as well. It's a way for developers to get maximum profits and claim to be building something great. Total scam. And we get stuck with the mess of additional gridlock, overcrowded schools, and minimal amenities. Oh yeah, and strip malls with cute "town center" names. Anyone recall what happened in a little place called Lovettsville in western Loudoun County... The Washington Post ran a front page story on that scam years ago. Checkout what developers have done to Round Hill and used the term "New Urbanist" community as a selling point. We should be protesting development of this kind. It's a criminal exploitation of substantive New Urbanism and planning. I hope the Congress for New Urbanism has retracted the praise they lavished on the small Belmont subdivision in Ashburn, VA (I know that was ages ago... but, take a look at it now). Context matters. Localities that approve this kind of development and sprawl should have to pay for the result themselves. Let angry residents and taxpayers pay for their own poor planning decisions rather than seek state and federal funding in the future to clean up the mess. That would force these developers and local governments to build sensible communities near transit... or funding for transit. Maybe "proffers" for something other than larger highway interchanges and "parkways" for a change. If you want to do more than talk about New Urbanism, we should push for all new exurban development to be built directly around existing transit or face stiff penalties as a result. Subdivisions with cheap cosmetic nods to "urbanism" deserve nothing but scorn.

by angry local on Mar 12, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

well to be fair to NUism, most of this kind of development is greenfield development, and they take the jobs that come in the door. It's not up to the architects of a development to fix regional planning and transit systems, and to get the developer to buy a different plot of land that is better placed.

But yes, there is a reason that I often call new urbanism "smarter sprawl." Fred Kent of PPS calls it "new suburbanism".

by Richard Layman on Mar 12, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

Its up to the jurisdictions. Since, as I said above, a regional Urban Growth boundary is not feasible. And the details arent always obvious - we had a discussion of I think it was One Loudoun - its not always clear how far people will go to transit, and what the alternatives are.

As I said in response to RL, a real TOD village in the 95 corridor would have to be walking distance to VRE. This is not that. But as I also said - at least they can walk to the little village center (its quite possible Stafford would otherwise have approved something just as bad for traffic on I95, but less internally walkable) and it DOES demonstrate demand for the new lifestyle.

Counties want revenue, and new housing gets them that. The highways will be paid for by someone else (and much burden of the congestion will be paid by folks in other counties)

As for what should get CONU's stamp of approval, I dont know. Maybe they need multiple levels, like LAB has for bike friendliness - lowest level could be "this is really not much better than sprawl, but at least it has sidewalks"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 12, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

They should really relocate the Riverdale stop which is too close to College Park anyway to the new downtown Hyattsville area, but I'm sure you'd rile up the (im guessing few) dedicated riders using the current location.

by BTA on Mar 12, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

It's kind of funny how new urbanism which was essentially a suburban model, morphed into faux urbanism in actual cities, and is now treated as novel (or out of place) when it appears in the suburbs from whence it came.

by BTDT on Mar 12, 2014 7:28 pm • linkreport

Do these new places have the scale to support useful things that are in walking distance or are they basically new takes on old planned subdivisions like those in Columbia or even some older suburbs. Places like Traville in MoCo have amenities but they've struggled and there really aren't big numbers of people within waling distance. I'd imagine that Stafford has little in the way or regular transit and what they have probably is rush hour oriented.

The best models for walkable suburbs tend to be old rail-based market towns that have been engulfed by cities (Kensington and Silver Spring would be examples) or between the wars suburbs that were built with street car strips and scale that supported a mix of single family homes, duplexes (more other cities than DC) and small apartments. that's the scale that Calthorpe favors and aesthetically it beats ugly mini-mansions in a row like the Embrey Mill pic. The old market towns usually have main street downtowns or small grids of shops and services that quickly transition into residential. Between the wars suburbs usually have one or more shopping districts often anchored by a modern supermarket and a decent array of services. Either model works with a fairly large population base, but wouldn't work sitting in the middle of nowhere.

by Rich on Mar 12, 2014 10:57 pm • linkreport

Great article! Lots of things to consider....Developments such as these provide an alternative that people are choosing....affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods in the 'burbs. Not everyone wants to live in a typical urban environment. Developments like the one described provides u nice quality of life for folks who are willing to live in the 'burbs with less negative environmental impact.

by buppymama on Mar 13, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

"It's kind of funny how new urbanism which was essentially a suburban model, morphed into faux urbanism in actual cities,"

Not quite - while DPZ got there start with greenfield suburban developments like Kentlands and Seaside, Peter Calthorpe I believe started the idea of pedestrina pockets as urban infill in places like Oakland at roughly the same time.

And of course there is nothing faux about how these principles have been applied in urban areas. They arent old buildings like Jane Jacobs liked - its really difficult to build an old building. And they are often on larger plots and don't have the granularity of the building on small parcels - when someone builds on a small parcel, they dont hire a big name new urbanist designer - but what is done on small parcels (see our discussions of pop-ups) can still follow NU principles.

And yeah, they provide the amenities and unit sizes and so forth that are current in demand. As did all those lovely 19th c buildings, back when they were built.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 13, 2014 9:47 am • linkreport

That, and many of our downtowns were embracing sprawl architecture as well (aka surface lots with the buildings set back from the street and such) though they did retain advantages of the street grid (but not in all cases).

The terms can be confusing and all but New Urbanism really is about building cities how we built them largely before the advent of the automobile and the appearance of Sprawl.

And it's explictly designed to work at every level of density as opposed to Sprawl which can really only handle low density, hence why it became so pervasive.

by drumz on Mar 13, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

You mentioned Hyattsville as a fair compensation but Maryland taxes are much different than Virginia. We were MD residents for years and opted for Embrey because the tax savings allowed us to pursue a larger house. Also the developer has already delivered on many of the amenities early in the project which is a rarity.

by Khloe on Mar 14, 2014 10:04 pm • linkreport

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