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Transit


Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit pulls into Gaithersburg

Bus Rapid Transit is years away in Montgomery County, but residents got a preview when Action Committee for Transit and Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended brought a bus rapid rabbit transit bus to the 76th annual Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.


County Executive Ike Leggett at the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade. Photos by Tracey Johnstone.

ACT's Tina Slater and Bee Ditzler conceived of, designed, and built the bus, which traveled the one-mile parade route in a rapid 45 minutes. It sports drawings of rabbits riding the bus, making this not just Bus Rapid Transit, but Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit.

In addition, a dance team performed a routine ably choreographed by the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn to the sounds of the Hollies' Bus Stop, the Fatback Band's Do the Bus Stop, and the Four Tops's bus stop song.

But don't feel bad if you missed it. ACT is already planning its second year of marching in the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. If you have ideas or want to join, please visit ACT's website and get in touch! But don't delay, because the big day is only 11 weeks away.

Events


Events roundup: Walking tours, zoning, and microbrews

Now that September is here, calendars are filling back up. The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours are back in session, our own monthly happy hour is around the corner, and the DC Zoning Commission is hold its (hopefully) final round of public hearings on the zoning update. Mark your calendars - it's going to be a busy month!


Photo by Fairfax County on Flickr.

The Silver Line, Reston, & Tysons: A New Chapter: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of the Silver Line and big changes at the Wiehle-Reston and Tysons Corner Metro stations. The tour will visit new mixed-use developments, look at bicycle, pedestrian, and bus links, check out new public plazas, and hear about the opportunities and challenges of retrofitting the suburbs. CSG tours are free and open to the public, but RSVP is requested. Planners, AICP credit for this tour is pending.

After the jump: the DC Zoning Commission hears more public input on the zoning update, and there are a whole lot of events happening on September 10.

Testify for the DC Zoning Update: The DC Zoning Commission has scheduled additional public input hearings on the proposed DC zoning update starting Monday, September 8. Even if you have already given in-person testimony, you can testify again as long as you focus your remarks on the proposed amendments. Signups are on a first-come, first-served basis. CSG has a handy signup tool and other resources for people who want to testify here.

Grab a local microbrew and BBQ with GGW: With summer coming to a close, it's time to resume our regular happy hour series. Join us at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring for drinks, food, and conversation on an outdoor patio within sight of the Red Line next Wednesday, September 10 from 6 to 8 pm. You'll find Denizens at 1115 East-West Highway, one block west of Georgia Avenue. Here are more details on how to get there.

Metro art exhibit opening: Is art more your style than beer and BBQ? Also on September 10, join Boston Properties at The Heurich Gallery for the opening of Roberto Bocci: Metrorail, an exhibition featuring recent work by the Washington-based artist. Metrorail, Roberto Bocci's newest body of work, is a multidisciplinary project that explores urban environments in and around the Metrorail system. Head over to the calendar for more info.

Tour Dunbar High School: Not a fan of microbrews or art? Join CSG at Dunbar High School for another of their popular walking tours. While NW DC's Dunbar HS has a reputation as one of the region's best known historically African-American high schools, for many years the school's design and layout were far from an urban gem.

All that changed last year, with the unveiling of the new Dunbarwith a green design more welcoming to the community, abundant natural light, a LEED platinum rating, and a much smaller footprint on a reconnected street grid. Hear from the building's designers and local school and community representatives about how smart growth design principles can transform not only a building but the surrounding neighborhood as well.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Places


Join us for happy hour in Silver Spring

With summer coming to a close, it's time to resume our regular happy hour series. Join us at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring next Wednesday, September 10 from 6 to 8 pm.


Photo by Thomas Cizauskas on Flickr.

This month, we're headed to Denizens Brewing Company, the new brewery and beergarden in South Silver Spring, for drinks, food, and conversation on an outdoor patio within sight of the Red Line. You'll find Denizens at 1115 East-West Highway, one block west of Georgia Avenue.

One of the region's newest breweries, Denizens is the result of a new state law that allows microbreweries to sell to the public in Montgomery County without going through the county's Department of Liquor Control. They offer a couple of their own brews alongside a number of local favorites from breweries like Port City in Alexandria and Brewer's Art in Baltimore. BBQ Bus, the DC-based food truck, provides a selection of tasty picnic-style dishes.

Denizens is a short walk from the Silver Spring Metro station (Red Line). If you're coming by bus, it's a few blocks from the 70/79 stop at Georgia and Eastern avenues, or the S2/S4/S9 stop at Georgia Avenue and Kalmia Road. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station one block away, at 1200 East-West Highway, and if you're driving, there's metered street parking and the Kennett Street Garage one block away.

In the past few months, we've met up at Metro-accessible bars Bethesda, Ward 3, and Tysons Corner. Where would you like us to go next? We're especially interested in suggestions for a future happy hour in Prince George's County.

History


How did Silver Spring get its boundaries? And how would you define them?

You could ask five residents what Silver Spring's boundaries are and receive five different answers, ranging from a neighborhood near the DC line to a city the size of the District of Columbia itself. But how did it end up this way to begin with? The answer involves a railroad, zip codes, and possibly Marion Barry.


Silver Spring, as the Census Bureau sees it. Image from Wikipedia.

Unlike northeastern states where every square inch of land sits inside a municipality, or western states where cities compete for territory to access natural resources or tax revenue, much of Maryland and Virginia are unincorporated. Part of the reason is that counties in these states can perform functions like zoning and schools, reducing the incentive for communities to become a town or city.

Silver Spring is one those places. As a result, most definitions of Silver Spring fall into two camps: one I call "Little Silver Spring," or areas near its historical center, or "Big Silver Spring," which comprises most of eastern Montgomery County. To find out which one is more dominant, local organization Silver Spring Inc. will have residents draw their own boundaries in an interactive event at Fenton Street Market this Saturday.

Big Silver Spring

Francis Preston Blair founded Silver Spring in 1840 when he fell off his horse and discovered a mica-flecked spring. It became one of several towns that grew up around the Metropolitan Branch railroad, which starts in DC and heads northwest. Meanwhile, the rest of eastern Montgomery County remained largely undeveloped save for a few suburban developments and small villages with names like White Oak, Colesville, and Norwood.

Silver Spring became the reference point for the larger area, and "Big Silver Spring" was born. In the 1930s, home builder R.E. Latimer boasted that his new subdivision Burnt Mills Hills was three miles "beyond the Silver Spring traffic light" at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. Ken Lubel, owner of Tires of Silver Spring and a longtime resident, notes that Silver Spring addresses once appeared as far north as Columbia.


"Big Silver Spring," or the Postal Service's definition of Silver Spring. Image by Christy Batta.

The invention of zip codes in the 1960s made Big Silver Spring official right as suburbanization took hold. The first three digits of each five-digit zip code referred to a larger region.

Naturally, Silver Spring got its own prefix, "209," and with it the rest of eastern Montgomery County. (This may have been due to then-DC mayor Marion Barry demanding that Silver Spring and Takoma Park give up the DC zip codes they were originally assigned.) New residents thus identified with Silver Spring and participated in activities there, like these students at then-new Springbrook High School marching in the 1970 Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade.

The US Postal Service assigns Silver Spring addresses to all of zip codes 20901, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 10, and parts of 20912, which is mostly in the city of Takoma Park. This definition stretches from the District line to the Patuxent River to the north, and roughly from Rock Creek Park and Georgia Avenue to the west to Prince George's County to the east, and even dipping into Prince George's in a few places. At its widest point, Big Silver Spring is about 12 miles long.

Big Silver Spring has over 306,000 residents, comprising 30% of Montgomery County's population, and covers 62.4 square miles, almost as large as the District of Columbia. If it were an incorporated city, it would be larger than St. Paul, Minnesota or Buffalo, New York. The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce likes to use a version of Big Silver Spring.

Little Silver Spring

"Little Silver Spring" usually refers to what's now downtown Silver Spring, where Blair fell off his horse, and other areas inside the Capital Beltway. The Census Bureau generally uses this definition, claiming the area from the Beltway to the north to the District line and Takoma Park to the south, and from Rock Creek Park in the west to Prince George's County in the east.

Little Silver Spring has about 71,000 residents in just under 8 square miles. (Incidentally, this definition includes an area between Grubb Road and Rock Creek Park that has a Chevy Chase address.)


Sean Emerson's map of the "Real Silver Spring."

Proponents include the Planning Department and the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, which also counts Four Corners as part of Silver Spring. Local bloggers Silver Spring, Singular and Sean Emerson of Around the Corners argue that a narrow definition of Silver Spring protects its identity while encouraging other communities to distinguish themselves as well.

And communities in Big Silver Spring are doing just that. Citizens associations in Colesville and Glenmont erected signs to set themselves apart. Montgomery County has worked hard to brand Wheaton as a distinct place from Silver Spring.

What do boundaries mean, anyway?

However, many people still identify with their mailing address. Landlords on Craigslist are more than willing to claim Big Silver Spring. And earlier this year, a concertgoer showed up at the Fillmore with a Silver Spring sleeve tattoo. All of the familiar landmarks were there, like the Lee Building and Chompie the shark, but so was the sign for Snowdens Mill, a subdivision 6 miles away in zip code 20904.

Jarrett Walker writes about the "emotive power" and "resonance" of a place name that often transcends boundaries. Silver Spring has historically been one of the DC area's biggest cultural and activity centers, and by drawing boundaries, you're commenting on how much that destination "resonates."

In other words, Silver Spring could be whatever "feels" like Silver Spring to you. I tend to believe in Big Silver Spring, if only because I went to Blake High School, a full 10 miles from downtown Silver Spring in a place once called Norwood. But we hung out in downtown, and its diverse student body looked way more like Silver Spring than it did Olney, which was much closer.

What does your Silver Spring look like? Join me and Silver Spring Inc. and draw your boundaries this Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm at Fenton Street Market, located at Veterans' Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

Public Spaces


Baltimore plans to replace beach volleyball with a parking garage

Over the past 11 years, beach volleyball has become an unlikely success in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, drawing young adults for clean, athletic fun. But as the city moves ahead with plans to replace the volleyball courts with a parking garage and rooftop lawn, typically unengaged millennials are fighting back.


Fun in the Baltimore sand. All images by Katie Howell Photography.

Under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore hasn't poured a lot of public resources into sexy projects, focusing instead on keeping the city afloat and the books balanced. That's why it was surprising when the visionary Inner Harbor 2 Plan emerged.

The plan's headliner is an iconic bike/pedestrian bridge across the harbor. Other smaller complimentary projects, like adding stationary exercise bikes, food kiosks with outdoor seating, kayak ports, bike share, playgrounds, more beach, or a pool barge, would collectively make a big difference.

But there's been pushback to a proposal to build a $40 million, 500-space parking garage, which would replace the volleyball courts where the Baltimore Beach Volleyball league has operated since 2003, as well as a memorial to the Pride of Baltimore, a sunken clipper ship.

The garage, which would have a rooftop lawn, appears to be the very first project out of the gate, causing the Inner Harbor 2 plan to get off to an unpopular start for many. Millennials, often criticized as a demographic for being politically absent, are expressing their unhappiness about losing a popular recreational area for a parking garage.

Volleyball supporters have written at least five letters to the Baltimore Sun over the past month advocating for the beach at Rash Field and noting its ability to draw young people. An unscientific poll from an earlier post I wrote in February received over 850 votes of 900 total for keeping beach volleyball.

Rash Field could use some improvements, but the many smaller projects in the Inner Harbor 2 plan could give the space the punch the city is looking for. Todd Webster, owner of Baltimore Beach Volleyball has been willing to help pitch in, if he could secure a multi-year lease for the league.


Beach volleyball is a social attraction for Baltimore.

A parking garage isn't what will make Rash Field and the Inner Harbor a better place. There are many cheaper ways to make Rash Field better without displacing Baltimore Beach Volleyball or the Pride of Baltimore memorial. Doing so would not only be in keeping with the city's bent for fiscal responsibility, but it could also free up money for projects that are truly a game-changer for the Inner Harbor.

Public Spaces


This could have been the Silver Spring Transit Center

Though it remains unfinished, the Silver Spring Transit Center has been in planning since 1997. But 20 years before that, architecture students created this proposal for a giant box stretching across downtown Silver Spring.


A 1970s proposal for the Silver Spring Transit Center. All images courtesy of Neil Greene.

Silver Spring is one of the region's largest transportation hubs, bringing together Metro, commuter rail, local buses, intercity buses, and eventually the Purple Line and the Capital Crescent Trail. Fitting all of those pieces presents a pretty interesting design challenge, and naturally attracts architecture students. When I was in architecture school at the University of Maryland, I saw more than a few thesis projects reimagining the transit center.


A section drawing of the proposed transit center, which would have also contained stores, offices, a hotel, and apartments.

Recently, Action Committee for Transit's Neil Greene found this proposal for the Silver Spring Transit Center produced by a group of architecture students at Catholic University in the 1970s, right before the Metro station opened in 1978. Like the most recent plans for the transit center, which have since fallen through, they surrounded the transit center with buildings containing apartments, offices, a hotel, and shops. Except in this proposal, they'd all be in one giant superstructure surrounding the station platform.

In their design, Metro trains would pull into a giant, skylit atrium, surrounded by shops and restaurants, with apartments, offices, and hotel rooms above. That was a really popular idea at the time, pioneered by architect John Portman, though I don't know of any atria that included a train station.


Metro trains would have passed through a giant atrium.

Directly below the platform was the B&O Railroad, the precursor to today's MARC commuter rail. Below that were buses, taxis, and a kiss-and-ride, as well as an underground parking garage for commuters.

The entire structure would have stretched over multiple blocks from Colesville Road and East-West Highway, where the NOAA buildings are today, up to Wayne Avenue, where the current transit center is. Existing streets would go through the transit center in underpasses, while skybridges would allow visitors to travel through the rest of downtown Silver Spring without touching the street.


Skybridges would have connected the transit center to the rest of downtown Silver Spring.

Of course, this was just a student proposal, and was never carried out. But Montgomery County did propose skybridges in downtown Silver Spring as early as 1969 and, by the 1970s, had drawn out an entire network of them, most of which were never built.

This was in keeping with the prevailing wisdom of the time, that cars and pedestrians should be kept separate. But as we've seen in places where this actually happened, like Rosslyn or Crystal City, this doesn't work very well, and those communities are getting rid of their skybridges.

Of course, had we actually pursued a design like this, the Silver Spring Transit Center might have actually opened by now. Repair work on the current facility is currently underway and Montgomery County officials say that it could open next year, just seven years after groundbreaking.

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