Posts about Montgomery
Today, the Montgomery County Planning Board reviews plans for a second phase of Pike + Rose. Meanwhile, the first phase of the new urban neighborhood at Rockville Pike and Montrose Road inches closer to opening next year.
When finished, Pike + Rose will have housing, offices, shops and restaurants, a high-end movie theatre, and a hotel, along with several public open spaces. A redevelopment of a 1960's-era strip mall, it'll be multiple times the size of developer Federal Realty's other projects in the area, Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square.
According to Evan Goldman, Federal Realty's vice president of development, the first phase will start opening next year. In the meantime, let's visit the construction site.
Back in July, the first of three buildings in the first phase, a 174-unit, five-story apartment building called PerSei, topped out. Units here will start renting late next spring, Goldman says. You can see cream-colored brick going in on one side.
Like many new apartment buildings, PerSei has been designed to look like a block of smaller buildings. The windows on Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets, are more modern, with large panes and less ornamentation. But around the corner, the windows have smaller panes and more detail, almost like those on a warehouse.
Across the street, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, an office building, has topped out as well. It'll open in fall 2014, along with 150,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in both buildings. 75% of the retail is already leased and will include a high-end iPic movie theatre, a music venue operated by Strathmore, several restaurants, and a Sport & Health Club.
Read on and see additional photos at the Friends of White Flint.
In 2010, local builder EYA made a deal with a private school to buy their Silver Spring campus and build townhouses there. After a three-year battle with the neighborhood association, construction has finally begun.
Workers are busy clearing the five-acre site on Pershing Drive, four blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station. Eventually, there will be 63 townhomes, including 8 moderately-priced units for low-income households, and a restored, 150-year-old farmhouse, which will be sold as a single-family home.
Over the past week, ads for the new development, dubbed Chelsea Heights, appeared on bus stops around downtown Silver Spring. It's named for the Chelsea School, a special-needs institution that sold its home of 36 years and recently moved to Hyattsville. But getting here wasn't easy.
Long and contentious history
Chelsea first announced their plans to sell the school to EYA in 2010 and move closer to their students in Prince George's County. But a group of neighbors in the Seven Oaks-Evanswood Citizens Association (SOECA) were unhappy with EYA's proposal, then called Chelsea Court.
Neighbors persisted, suing the county and later hiring a consultant who claimed that the project would violate state and county environmental laws. Both claims were dismissed, and the Planning Board approved the project in April with requirements that EYA provide more parking and restrict turns into the development to discourage through traffic.
It's about time this got built
It's not unusual for new development in existing communities to be controversial. Writing about the lost battle against a new apartment building on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney recently noted, people generally like their neighborhoods the way they are, and are often suspicious of plans to change it.
But there are so many reasons why infill development in Silver Spring is good for those neighborhoods and for the region as a whole. Chelsea Heights will place 64 new households within a short walk of transit, local shops and restaurants, and other amenities, reducing their need to drive and bolstering the local economy.
It reduces the pressure to build on the region's fringe, while providing housing where it's most wanted. These $700,000 townhouses aren't affordable to most people, myself included, but they'll help make the area more affordable by growing the housing supply.
This project has been a long time coming, and I'm glad to see it finally come to fruition.
Montgomery County's newest skate park in White Oak doesn't have any skaters, due to poor design and an isolated location. A "skate plaza" in the center of the community could give skaters and non-skaters alike a better place to hang out.
The 6,000-square-foot White Oak skate spot, a sort of mini-skate park, is located at at the end of a cul-de-sac off of Lockwood Drive next to a new recreation center, both of which opened in the summer of 2012. Built by the county's Department of Recreation, the facilities cost $22 million to build, a very small portion of which went to the skate spot.
The recreation center is usually busy, along with the basketball courts and soccer fields. But I've dropped by the skate park at least dozen times this year, at different times of day, on different days of the week, in winter, spring, and summer. And I've never seen anyone using the skate spot.
"There's no flow"
28-year-old Mike Rious of Colesville visited the skate spot a few times, but he quickly got frustrated with it. Instead, he goes to the Woodside skate spot in Silver Spring or to skate parks in Prince George's County. "It seems as though no skatepark designers or anyone with knowledge of skateboarding was consulted before putting it together," he wrote in an email.
The skate spot is laid out in a way that makes skating almost impossible. I showed some photos of it to my friend Jordan Block, an urban designer and skater who used to work for Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that builds skate parks. "There's no flow," he explains.
Normally, skaters would do a trick on one side, then go over to the other side to do another one, building up momentum along the way. In order to do that, you need a clear, straight path with no obstructions. But officials at the Department of Recreation simply dropped pieces like ramps and rails around the site randomly. As a result, Block says, there's always something in the way.
There are also safety issues. The skate park uses prefabricated modular pieces bought off the rack. Skateboarding advocates like Skaters for Public Skateparks discourage using them instead of permanent, concrete pieces, because prefab fixtures often deteriorate faster than permanent ones, and they have exposed seams that can trip and injure skaters.
The skate spot's location is an issue as well. In 2008, county planners noted that 10,000 people live within a 3/4-mile of the site. But the street network is so disconnected that someone living on Carriage House Way, 1,000 feet away as the crow flies, would have to travel over a mile to reach the recreation center.
"If I were younger and didn't have my own transportation," wrote Rious, "I would probably still be skating the same places I had before these skate spots were built."
Location, design affect skate spot's use
Compare this to the Woodside skate spot, which the parks department built itself after consulting with local skaters. It also has prefab fixtures, but they were made flush with the ground, reducing tripping hazards. And it's in downtown Silver Spring, a short walk from buses and Metro, places to eat, and other hangouts. Not only is the Woodside skate spot popular with skaters, but it's become such a fixture in the local skating community that they even hold barbeques there.
In its current form, the White Oak skate spot is basically unusable. We could rebuild it to be safer and more attractive to skaters, but the location remains a problem. What if we moved the skate spot to the center of White Oak, instead of the fringe, and made it a destination for skaters and the larger community as well?
Last month, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved the Science Gateway plan, which envisions creating a research and technology hub in White Oak. Planners also envision turning the run-down White Oak Shopping Center at New Hampshire Avenue and Lockwood Drive into a "town center" with shops and housing in taller buildings around a two-acre park.
That park would be a great location for a skate spot: it's across the street from the White Oak Transit Center, an important bus terminal, and is a short distance from thousands of homes and apartments, along with shops, restaurants, and the Food and Drug Administration campus. This is an accessible location for skaters, but it's also surrounded by a good mix of uses that could make it a unique public draw.
"Skate plazas" bring skaters to the center
Communities around the country are building so-called "skate plazas," a cross between a public plaza and a skate park. Franklin's Paine, where my friend used to work, opened a skate plaza in Philadelphia last May called Paine's Park. Designers call it a "not just a skatepark...a park for all that's made to skate."
To the naked eye, Paine's Park looks like an ordinary plaza: there are benches, stairs, ramps, and rails. These all happen to be things skaters like to use, but here they won't get chased away for doing so. And everything's made from cast-in-place concrete, which can take lots of abuse and are still affordable.
Planners often build skate plazas alongside other uses, inviting skaters into the center of the community. Portland is building a big skate plaza in the middle of downtown. The Lafayette Park Skate Plaza in Los Angeles is part of a larger park complex with a library, amphitheatre, and even food carts.
These are spaces you'd go even if you weren't skating, and non-skaters can hang out in skate plazas as well, so long as they don't mind the thumps of skate trucks on concrete. But if skateboarding ceased to exist tomorrow, the community would still have a great public space.
Skate plazas aren't just better for skaters. They create more interesting, attractive public spaces for everyone. It's clear that this thinking went into the White Oak skate spot, which is next to a recreation center, but the design of the skate spot and its isolated location sends a message to skaters that they should be kept out of sight.
Montgomery County wants White Oak to become an innovative urban community. What better way to do so than by embracing the athleticism and spectacle of skateboarding?
Following two well-attended public hearings last week on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit system, the Montgomery County Council will now consider transit routes, approximate station locations, and rights-of-way. But one of the most significant policy issues will be whether the county gives transit priority on key routes with bus-only lanes.
Dedicated lanes allow for much faster, much more reliable service, which in turn attracts more riders and lowers costs per passenger. They make rapid transit a real alternative to driving in traffic, but removing general travel lanes to create bus-only lanes can be a hard sell to some members of the public. After all, many people consider it common sense that eliminating a lane of traffic will cause traffic to exponentially worsen.
Fortunately, evidence suggests that eliminating a lane often has no serious adverse effect on traffic. It may seem counter-intuitive, but removing a lane can occasionally cause traffic to flow better than it did before.
In 2002, a team of researchers looked at hundreds of situations where transportation planners reallocated roadspace away from general car travel. Most situations they examined experienced little to no increase in traffic, and in many cases local transportation planners reported, "the traffic has disappeared and we simply don't know where it has gone to."
The empirical evidence from dozens of case studies demonstrates that reducing roadspace for cars, especially when paired with providing better transit options for residents, can actually improve traffic operations. All of the case studies looked at affected and surrounding roads, and over half the cases saw more than a 10% reduction in traffic in the area.
Of the bus lanes studied in their report, there was an average 5% decrease in overall traffic. The study concludes that people make a much wider range of behavioral responses in these cases, including switching modes from driving to transit, chaining trips, or shifting their travel times away from peak hours.
Other recent traffic studies on repurposing lanes for transit have predicted a similar result. In Alexandria and Arlington, where the Potomac Yard-Crystal City BRT line will open in 2014, the traffic analysis for the environmental impact statement indicated that dedicating one curb lane in each direction to transit vehicles would cause no significant change in traffic flow.
In fact, modeling indicates that where repurposed curbside lanes are planned in Crystal City, exclusive lanes for buses help to channelize automobile flow and reduce traffic delays compared to not doing anything at all. In other parts of the corridor, the modeling predicted minor increases in traffic at a few intersections, balanced out by reductions in traffic at other intersections. Meanwhile, transit planners from Seattle tell us that their traffic study predicts a similar result on Aurora Avenue where plans call for repurposing two curb lanes for transit service.
In New York, data on traffic flow following the creation of bike lanes and bus lanes, as well as closing some streets to car traffic completely, indicates that traffic speeds have actually improved. The data matches similar observations in Brooklyn that travel times on Prospect Park West decreased after city planners converted a car lane to a bike lane several years ago.
The Maryland State Highway Administration is already planning on giving lane repurposing a try along the Purple Line on University Boulevard. SHA will reallocate two center lanes to the light rail line instead of widening an already large arterial road. The agency will make other improvements in the surrounding area to mitigate potential traffic impacts and keep people moving.
Planners and traffic engineers will be able to learn from that experience as they implement BRT in Montgomery County. The BRT plan recommends repurposed lanes where forecast transit ridership exceeds the capacity of a general traffic lane to move single occupant vehicles, a simple but sensible threshold.
While there are choke points along some of the corridors, in general, the proposed BRT routes are wide roads with six or more lanes. Montgomery planners and transportation officials alike seem to understand that continuing to widen these roads forever is not desirable, given the negative impact on neighborhoods and the long-term ineffectiveness of such an approach.
Lane repurposing offers the opportunity to move more people in Montgomery County's limited road space. When combined with simultaneous improvements to bike and pedestrian networks that connect neighborhoods and work centers to the BRT stations, dedicated bus lanes offer Montgomery its best chance to create safer roadways that encourage walking, biking, and transit use.
Experience from other cities show that we can't assume that traffic will increase. If we build a great system that can actually attract riders, traffic may not change much at all, and in fact may even decrease.
New developments in urban areas often have a lot of chains. At Pike + Rose, the large mixed-use development on Rockville Pike, all of the first six restaurants to open will be chains as well. Will there be room for local businesses in the future White Flint?
Representatives from Federal Realty say their goal is to create an interesting array of shops and restaurants, no matter what they are. "It's less important to us whether something is a chain than [having] a mix of retail types, a mix of expense points, and a mix of dining types," says Evan Goldman, vice president of development. "We want...a diverse mix of options to get a diverse mix of people there."
Projects like Pike + Rose can be risky. Successful retail isn't a given even on a busy corridor like Rockville Pike, and both developers and business owners want to minimize risk. Unlike chains, which have a standard store format that's easy to recreate, small businesses also have to design and build a space from scratch, costing money and time.
And if an entrepreneur opens a second location that fails, their business may be sunk. If a chain's 20th store isn't successful, existing branches can help subsidize it. That's why developers often find it easier to work with chains in new projects.
"We know they can perform, they know they can perform," Goldman says. "And God forbid it doesn't perform, it's not going to take down their company or ours."
Where do chains go today?
When Pike + Rose is finished several years from now, it may look like other town center developments in the region, with a mix of stand-alone stores, national chains, and local chains, which I define as locally-owned businesses whose locations are primarily in the DC area. So Georgetown-based Sweetgreen counts, because all but 4 of its 20 locations are here, but Virginia-based Five Guys, which has over 1,000 locations across North America, doesn't.
Some projects have more locals than others. They're 22% of the businesses at the Market Common at Clarendon to 65% at the Mosaic District in Fairfax. At Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, both owned by Federal Realty, locals make up between 50 and 60% of all businesses.
The distribution of chains vs. local businesses at 7 DC-area town center projects. Image by the author.
Locally-owned restaurants and shops, whether one-offs or small chains, can be an asset for communities, supporting the local economy and providing unique attraction for customers. To make it easier for them to open, they need to have lower risks. There are two ways to do that: reduce the cost of doing business, or increase the potential number of customers.
How can we do that? Read the rest of my post on the Friends of White Flint..
On the heels of its third anniversary, Capital Bikeshare makes a big expansion into Montgomery County. Local officials celebrated the first of 50 new stations that will open here today in Rockville with a large crowd of well-wishers.
Montgomery County opened its first Capital Bikeshare station today in Rockville. All photos by the author unless noted.
"It's no secret that the Washington area has the worst traffic," said County Executive Ike Leggett. "That's why Montgomery County is committed to increasing its transportation options . . . Bikeshare is another cost-effective option that can help reduce the need to drive, especially for short distances."
State delegate Al Carr, County Executive Ike Leggett, and County Councilmember Roger Berliner try out the new Bikeshare bikes.
According to Art Holmes, the county's director of transportation, 14 stations and 218 bikes will open today in Rockville, Shady Grove, Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and Takoma Park, communities where cycling is most popular. Eventually, there will be 50 stations and 450 bikes. The county seal now appears on the bright red bikes along with the logos of DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, which already have Capital Bikeshare.
Several local officials attended and spoke at the announcement, including county councilmembers, state delegate, and representatives from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Bike advocates, including the Washington Area Bicyclist Association were also there in force. Passers-by stopped to admire the bright red bikes and ask questions about the new service.
The federally-funded expansion is one of the nation's first bikesharing projects in a suburban area. If it's successful, it could be an example for how to encourage cycling outside of large cities.
But first, county officials need to make area streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Councilmember Valerie Ervin recently told WTOP she wants to fill gaps in the county's trail network and ban right turns on red.
At today's event, Councilmember Hans Riemer said he believes Capital Bikeshare will help Montgomery County attract businesses and younger residents who don't want to drive everywhere. "Every time you see a red bike," he said, "Recognize that we're moving forward."
Residents from across Montgomery County spoke in favor of building an 82-mile bus rapid transit network at the second of two public hearings about the proposal at the County Council last night in Rockville.
While public opinion at the first hearing Tuesday night was more split, supporters dominated Thursday's hearing, arguing that BRT was the only way to tackle the county's growing congestion. Speakers cited the need for better transit to connect currently undeserved parts of the county, like East County, and as an alternative to proposed roads like Midcounty Highway, which would destroy parkland in Germantown and Clarksburg.
The county has been studying a BRT network for almost 5 years. This fall, the County Council will consider the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which outlines what the system could look like and is required before the county can do any detailed study on a particular corridor.
Speakers urged the Council to think big about traffic congestion and the county's future transportation needs. "Do I want to live in a community that invests in a better tomorrow, or one that lacks courage and vision?" asked Jonathan Jayes-Green, a senior at Goucher College in Towson and a Silver Spring native.
Councilmembers noted that this hearing was only the beginning of a larger conversation. "Issues have to be worked out," said Councilmember Hans Riemer, "but we can't go forward without establishing whether transit is a priority on our roads."
Next month, the County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) committee will take up the plan over several worksessions before making a final recommendation. Then, the full County Council will review the plan later this fall, though a vote has not been scheduled.
Once again, I live-tweeted the event with Kelly Blynn from the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Ronit Dancis from the Action Committee for Transit, and Geri Rosenberg from Communities for Transit. Below are some of our highlights:
This week, speak out on bus improvements in Montgomery County, learn about bus improvements in DC and Prince George's County, and take a tour of Tenleytown, and more at events around the region.
Time to support BRT: On Thursday, Montgomery County holds its second public hearing on its proposed 82-mile proposed Bus Rapid Transit system. The hearing will be at 7:30 at the Council Hearing Room at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.
Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and other transit advocates to show your support for the plan by attending the hearing. For more details, visit the CSG website.
More Metrobus improvements: WMATA is holding an open house in Hyattsville about their study to improve bus service on Route 1 in Northeast DC and Prince George's County, including the 80-series buses and routes G8 and T18. You can come at any time and tell WMATA how you think bus service can be made faster and more reliable. The meeting runs from 6 to 7:30pm at Hyattsville City Hall, 4310 Gallatin Street.
Walking from the Top: Come join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Ward3Vision on a walking tour this Saturday of Tenleytown's commercial district to learn about its past, present, and future. The walking tour will include a discussion of the growth of Tenleytown and visits to sites where development has occurred as well as areas that are prime for future development. The discussion will also focus on your ideas on how to improve the streetscape and walkability in the coming years.
The tour kicks off at the eastern entrance of the Tenleytown Metro station at 10am on Saturday. To RSVP, click this link.
Exciting events next week: Visit our calendar to see all of the exciting events coming up next week, including the kickoff for designing Franklin Park, the Smart Growth Social, an educational event about Rapid Transit on Rockville Pike, and many more!
As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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