Greater Greater Washington

Posts about LEED

Transit


Breakfast links: How we do things in America

More bars on the Metro: By 2012, customers of all four existing mobile networks will be able to use their phones in Metro tunnels. The new network will also provide Wi-Fi access. (Post)

Robert Moses what if: Vanshnookenraggen created some Google maps showing what Manhattan would look like if Robert Moses has gotten his Mid-Manhattan and Lower Manhattan expressways built.

What America are you from? An American tourist blocked the exits to a "car park" in Telford, UK. She'd lost her ticket, triggering a mandatory 6 charge, and refused to pay, insisting that nobody pays for parking where she comes from. (Shropshire Star via How We Drive)

LEEDing the way: LEED's 2009 revisions fix two major criticisms of the green building rating system. Retaining an old building gets more points than tearing one down, throwing away all the materials, and building a brand-new energy-efficient building in its place. Also, projects near transit and in dense urban areas will get a lot more points for location than under the old code. (Preservation Nation via Will Stephens)

Free Metro for life? 2,800 former Metro employees and board members have special farecards giving them unlimited rides, for life. Metro wouldn't say how much these cost the system, but the Examiner's Kytja Weir estimates it's at least $377,460 a year. Transit advocate Ben Ross defended the practice as "a legitimate part of compensation and retirement for employees." (Examiner via Unsuck DC Metro)

Honoring Gerry Connolly: The Coalition for Smarter Growth honored Congressman Gerry Connolly of Fairfax last week for his work promoting transit-oriented development, affordable housing, conservation and energy efficiency while Chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. Will Sharon Bulova continue his legacy? (Article XI)

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Development


Designing for walkability in Fairfax and Loudoun

In a suburban context, developers tend to propose suburban designs for new development. Those designs separate buildings with large amounts of space, fill that space with empty lawns and plazas, and channel traffic to wide boulevards around the periphery of a site. These designs don't lend themselves to walkable environments with lively ground level activity.

If Northern Virginia wants its growing areas, like those along the Silver Line, to become walkable neighborhoods like Arlington, Bethesda and Silver Spring, we need to ensure that new development builds the connected street grid with small blocks common to all of those places, and even more common in older cities like DC and Old Town Alexandria. Unfortunately, many of the developments currently proposed or under construction miss this opportunity.

Last week, DCmud discussed the Towers Crescent development just south of the Tysons Corner Center mall. They have already built several office buildings on the site, and are interested in adding several residential buildings on the west edge. Residential buildings are a good idea, but unfortunately, they've designed them, along with the already-completed buildings, in a very un-urban form.

No streets stretch all the way across the site. There are pedestrian paths from one side to the other, but require people to take a circuitous route around the various and motley buildings, plazas and gardens. Nothing lines up. The mall and Marriott on either side are just as bad, but planners are trying hard to evolve Tysons into more of a walkable place. This design will hinder that evolution.

The plan reflects a "suburban sensibility", a term I first saw used in the context of the Newport development in Jersey City, right across the Hudson from Manhattan. Suburban office park developers design something for a denser, more urban place that looks like a suburban office park, but with all the buildings a little taller and a tad closer together.

Some projects are trying harder. The Connection recently profiled the Dulles World Center, a proposed "town center" style project adjacent to the Dulles Access Road at Route 28, just outside the airport property. The property is very close to the future Route 28 Silver Line station.

The developer is excited about creating a "mixed-use transit-oriented development" including residential, office, and hotels. Of course, some people don't like that idea, including Loudoun Supervisor Andrea McGimsey, who isn't pleased that the project could devote 25% of its space to residential units.

According to the Connection, the project includes "a pedestrian-friendly grid network of streets, a large central park, public plaza and ... LEED certification." The grid is more pedestrian-friendly than most, though the blocks still lean to the large side. Based on this site plan, there appear to be eleven internal intersections, or 89 per square mile. LEED-ND calls for 150 per square mile.

The project still follows the suburban "towers in the park" design, with tall buildings surrounded by a lot of open space. That's far more open space than people could actually use, meaning most of the lawns will function more as voids than parks. On the other hand, by putting the buildings along streets and more of the space in the center, they maximize the opportunities to activate the street with cafes, retail and more.

The more mixed-use TOD we can get around the Silver Line, the more riders it will have and the more we can recoup our investment in this transit line. Still, all development isn't created equal. Entirely suburban designs like Towers Crescent will hinder Tysons' progress toward a walkable place. Dulles World Center, meanwhile, jumps ahead of most of its surroundings, but would look like horrible superblocks in Arlington or DC. We can and should do even better.

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Transit


Bus Rating Typology (LEED-BRT?)

Many local leaders have proposed rapid buses of one kind or another. WMATA has the existing 79 express bus on Georgia Avenue, and has proposed rapid bus corridors. Montgomery Councilmember Marc Elrich has his own rapid bus plan. The Purple Line alternatives included bus options, as does the Corridor Cities Transitway. A northern Circulator would make limited stops. Which of these is Bus Rapid Transit and which is just a faster bus?


Mexico City's BRT. Photo by World Resources Institute on Flickr.

This confusion clouds debates over BRT. Elrich's ideas might be just what Montgomery County needs, but they won't bring Bogotá's TransMilenio to Silver Spring. If (say) Fairfax puts in a few colored stripes on the pavement and calls it a Priority Bus Corridor, we haven't really achieved Metro's vision. Sometimes BRT is the best solution for an area. But we should understand each proposal and what it will and won't accomplish.

BRT is a continuum, and we need the language to talk about it that way. Mark Gorton, publisher of Streetsblog and founder of its parent, The Open Planning Project, once suggested a rating system for rapid buses. We could evaluate each on objective factors and come up with a score. Maybe, taking a page from LEED, we'd call lines above a certain score "Silver BRT", "Gold BRT", or "Platinum BRT".

Such a rating system could help distinguish proposals. Metro could set a policy of building priority bus corridors in those areas where the jurisdictions are willing to do enough street improvements to make them (say) Gold BRT. We can compare Elrich's proposals, whether they're Platinum BRT, Silver BRT, or Lump Of Coal BRT, to comparable systems around the world.

Should we take a stab at developing this rating system? Here are some ideas for characteristics. Some are very specific, others vaguer. We need to come up with a list that's all very specific and all possible to compute, ideally facts that the local agencies for existing BRT lines already know.

Transitway design:

  • The percentage of the route that's completely grade-separated
  • The percentage that's closed to traffic but pedestrians can cross
  • The percentage that's just enforced with restrictions but traffic can enter
  • The number of signal priority signals along the route
  • The number of non-signal priority signals along the route
  • Queue jumper lanes near signals when operating in mixed traffic
Stations:
  • Percentage of stations where people can pay ahead of time
  • Use of proof-of-payment versus traditional tickets
  • Percentage of stations with a fare controlled boarding area
  • Percentage of stations with a weatherproof enclosed waiting area, or just a covered area
  • Percentage of stations with digital displays showing next arrivals
Vehicles:
  • Whether vehicles have low floors
  • The environmental footprint of the vehicles
  • Acceleration profile
  • Sitting and standing capacity per train
Service frequency:
  • The total number of operating hours per day
  • The trains per hour during the peak morning hour
  • The TPH during the midday hour with the lowest service
  • The TPH during the weekend hour with the lowest service
  • The average TPH over all operating hours
  • etc.
Surrounding area:
  • The average number of residents within 1/4 mile of each station
  • The average number of jobs within 1/4 mile of each station
  • Same for 1/2 mile, etc.
  • Numbers of restaurants, bars, shopping destinations, etc. nearby
  • The opportunity for future development within 1/4 mile of stations
Other topics:
  • Price of fares
  • Something about maintenance facilities? Turnaround areas?
What else? What do you think of these?

If we want to devise this system, we have to first identify a good list of facts to collect. Then, we need to collect them for a good number of existing BRT systems. We then can design a formula to circulate for feedback.

If the formula works right, it could even apply to light rail. Perhaps it could help compare light rail and BRT alternatives for projects like the Purple Line or Corridor Cities Transitway. But that would also open up a huge can of worms, inviting criticism from bus and rail boosters who might think the formula tilts toward the other mode. Better to start with an apples-to-apples bus rating system, then an oranges-to-oranges light rail and streetcar rating system. Once both have some credibility, it might be possible to align the scores so a Platinum Bus is always better than a Gold Rail which beats a Silver Bus.

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Roads


Connectivity: a good way the stimulus can invest in roads

There has been a great deal of outcry over Obama's transportation stimulus plans once word got out that the plan would prioritize money for roads. But not all road projects are the great Satan. The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) is proposing that the federal stimulus invest specifically in areas with highly conected, walkable street grids (via Laurence Aurbach).


Philadelphia's connected street grid. Photo by elizabethps on Flickr.

The proposal (PDF) would fund all roads in a "qualifying network," including local roads that generally don't receive federal funding but are integral to quality street networks. Local and state governments could use the funding for projects that improve multi-modal transportation, traffic circulation, and the streetscape itself.

This outside-the-box policy planning is a major switch from the federal government's traditional investment approach, which focuses on one road or corridor instead of on a network. Instead, the road projects CNU prefers would distribute traffic throughout the network and eliminate some of it in the process. This is a far cry from traditional projects to widen a single corridor, which often has destructive consequences for adjacent development.

CNU's proposed qualification criteria comes from the LEED for Neighborhood Development standards, which set a standard of 150 intersections per square mile. Areas that do not meet the threshold would be eligible so long as the investment increased the number of intersections per square mile to 150 once the project is completed. Better connected streets generally generate fewer automobile trips. They have shorter blocks, which makes them much more walkable, and in turn more desirable to live.

Instead of adding lanes on a freeway, we could use the stimulus money to connect roads over a freeway, thereby reducing the need to get on the freeway. Technically that would be a "freeway project," but one that would actually reduce traffic, VMT, and car trips. It increases accessibility and mobility at the same time. This would be a great measure to petition your congressman to support.

Imagine if there was more street connectivity near Pentagon City Metro station. Or near New Carrollton station. Or Greenbelt station. Or Van Dorn Street. Imagine if the Shirley Highway were less of a barrier for southern Arlington and Alexandria, and instead had more streets crossing over it. Imagine it over 295 in Deanwood. Imagine if we reconnect truncated streets in the L'Enfant city. Or if we improve traffic circulation in Georgetown. This measure could apply to projects like Tyson's Corner and North Bethesda. It can help reverse some of the most destructive planning policies of the past half century.

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Roads


Breakfast links: Progress and detours


What the Stanford robocar sees.
Robocars are almost here: An autonomous VW built by Stanford managed to navigate a blockaded Eleventh Avenue in Manhattan during a demonstration, stopping at stop signs, avoiding other vehicles and pedestrians. How long until we have real autonomous vehicles on regular streets? Check out the video. Tip: Phil Lepanto.

Not saving the environment: A new Atlanta-area motorsports park will be LEED certified. Only thing is, motorsports is about driving loud cars very fast, and it's 57 miles from Atlanta. Via Richard Layman.

New Haven moving toward a boulevard: New Haven took one more step toward converting its underutilized, neighborhood-killing Route 34 stub freeway into a boulevard, soliciting proposals for consultant teams to design and execute the change.

11,000 tour buses and no place to park: District and WMATA officials are trying to plan for an estimated 11,000 tour buses to come to DC for the Inauguration, and where to park them. In addition to common sites during major events like RFK Stadium, according to the Post, WMATA will use some Metro station parking, but wants to keep some (free) for area residents. They're also looking at sites as far away as Laurel Racetrack, Six Flags in Bowie, and Wolf Trap.

And: Advocates of a more walkable Tysons argue Fairfax needs to move faster to change the zoning now that the FTA has approved the Silver Line; Annapolis' three-year-old municipal garage is losing lots of money, because people would rather park on the street for free (tip: Ben Ross); a tongue-in-cheek DailyKos diary attacks Obama's choice for Secretary of Transportation as not representing change ... even though he hasn't nominated anyone yet (tip: Jeff Wood).

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Sustainability


Designing sustainable communities with LEED-ND

One big shortcoming of the LEED green building code is its focus almost entirely on the building rather than the location. A building could get high marks in LEED with a green roof, cutting-edge stormwater management, effective heat insulation, electricity-saving equipment, and more, but be located in the middle of a former forest where the average employee drives 30 miles to work. Is that really saving the environment?


Conneectivity diagram for LEED Neighborhood Development.

Enter LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), a new type of LEED for new large-scale developments. LEED just opened up their draft for public comment. It's fascinating to read. They have to quantify every element, like whether a site has good linkage to the surrounding neighborhood, or too many dead-end streets within.

The draft also gives points for the bicycle network, buildings fronting onto the street, avoiding blank walls, mixed-income housing, unbundling parking, car sharing, historic preservation, and of course green building practices in the structures themselves.

LEED-ND isn't replacing the regular building LEED, but it's bringing good urban design practices into the LEED system. Next, LEED should adapt some of the concepts of LEED-ND into their code for individual buildings, giving more credit to developers who locate their office buildings near transit.

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