Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Silver Spring

Parking


Thousands of public parking spaces in Bethesda and Silver Spring sit empty every day

Ask someone about driving in Bethesda or Silver Spring on a weekend night and he or she will give you a mouthful: "There's nowhere to park!" But as those communities have grown, their parking demands have actually gotten lower. On an average day, thousands of spaces there sit empty.


Montgomery's downtowns have lots of empty parking spaces. Image by the author using data from MCDOT.

This Friday, transportation planner Tom Brown and I will talk about parking and placemaking at Makeover Montgomery II, a conference about strategies for urbanizing suburban communities organized by the Montgomery County Planning Department and the University of Maryland. In 2011, Brown led a team at Nelson\Nygaard, where I now work, that recommended ways Montgomery County could better use its parking to promote and strengthen its downtowns.

Montgomery County has had its own municipal parking authority since the 1940s. A 1952 spread in the Washington Post's "Silver Spring Advertiser" section boasted, "Look at all the parking space!" in downtown. But downtown Silver Spring couldn't match the sea of free parking at new suburban malls like Wheaton Plaza, and it began to languish.


1952 Washington Post article about all the parking in Silver Spring.

Many communities around the country faced the same story, especially older suburban communities that have more in common with revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods than in greenfield developments on the fringe. Yet these older suburban communities often have the power of place: unique, local shops and businesses, walkable streets, and vibrant public spaces. Today, people will eagerly deal with the hassle of parking to visit places like this and, increasingly, to live in them.

When Silver Spring started competing on place, not parking, it started to take off as an urban destination for the entire region. And a funny thing happened: as more homes and offices and shops were built around the Metro station, filling downtown's gaps and vacant lots, the demand for parking actually decreased.

According to the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, the demand for parking in Silver Spring actually peaked in the early 1980s, when it had fewer residents and jobs. Today, a majority of downtown residents get to work without a car. Over 40% of downtown's 9500 parking spaces are vacant all the time.

Realizing that its parking policies needed to reflect how people actually got around in its downtowns, county officials asked Nelson\Nygaard to offer suggestions. The resulting Montgomery County Parking Policy Study recommended reducing or eliminating parking requirements in urban areas, since there was already a glut of parking spaces, and finding ways to direct drivers to underused lots and garages.


Focusing on people, not cars, makes downtown a more attractive place to go. Photo by the author.

Officials are starting to take the advice. Last year, the county passed a new zoning code that still mandates parking in new developments near transit stations, but requires far fewer spaces than it does for more suburban, car-dependent areas. That will conserve land and reduce building costs, as structured parking garages are very expensive to build lowering the barrier for potential residents and businesses who want to come here.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation has introduced demand-based pricing in Bethesda, setting higher rates for on-street parking spaces and lowering them in garages to encourage drivers to park there instead. This frees up on-street spaces for drivers staying for brief periods; reduces circling for a space, which causes congestion; and sends a message to drivers that they'll be able to find a space.

People will choose to live, work, and hang out in Montgomery County's downtowns not because it's easy to park there, but because they're great places to be. Some parking will be necessary, but these places will thrive if our community leaders focus on urban design and create complete streets that welcome everyone who already comes to Silver Spring or Bethesda by foot, bike, or transit.

Makeover Montgomery II runs from this Thursday through Saturday at the Silver Spring Civic Building in downtown Silver Spring. We'll be part of a panel discussion this Friday afternoon at 1:45 pm. For more information or to register, visit the conference website.

Transit


Three ways to build in Forest Glen without creating more traffic

As new homes, offices, and shops sprout around the region's Metro stations, Forest Glen has remained a holdout due to neighborhood resistance to new construction. But that may change as WMATA seeks someone to build there.


Metro wants to redevelop this parking lot. All photos by the author.

Last month, the agency put out a call for development proposals at Forest Glen, in addition to West Hyattsville and Largo Town Center in Prince George's County and Braddock Road in Alexandria. WMATA owns 8 acres at Forest Glen, most of which is a parking lot, and developers have already expressed interest in building there.

Forest Glen should be a prime development site. While it's on the busy Red Line, it's one of Metro's least-used stations. It's adjacent to the Capital Beltway and one stop in each direction from Silver Spring's and Wheaton's booming downtowns. Holy Cross Hospital, one of Montgomery County's largest employers with over 2,900 workers, is a few blocks away. But since Forest Glen opened in 1990, not much has happened.

On one side of the Metro station is a townhouse development that's about 10 years old, while across the street are 7 new single-family homes. The land the parking lot sits on is valuable, and it's likely that WMATA will get proposals to build apartments there because the land is so valuable. But zoning only allows single-family homes there, the result of a 1996 plan from Montgomery County that recommends preserving the area's "single-family character," due to neighbor concerns about traffic.


Townhouses next to the Forest Glen parking lot.

As a result, whoever tries to build at Forest Glen will have to get a rezoning, which neighbors will certainly fight. It's true that there's a lot of traffic in Forest Glen: the Beltway is one block away, while the adjacent intersection of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road is one of Montgomery County's busiest. While traffic is always likely to be bad in Forest Glen, though by taking advantage of the Metro station, there are ways to bring more people and amenities to the area without putting more cars on the road.

Make it easier to reach Metro without a car

Today, two-thirds of the drivers who park at Forest Glen come from less than two miles away, suggesting that people don't feel safe walking or biking in the area. There's a pedestrian bridge over the Beltway that connects to the Montgomery Hills shopping area, a half-mile away, but residents have also fought for a tunnel under Georgia Avenue so they won't have to cross the 6-lane state highway.

Montgomery County transportation officials have explored building a tunnel beneath Georgia, which is estimated to cost up to $17.9 million. But county planners note that a tunnel may not be worth it because there aren't a lot of people to use it.

And crossing Georgia Avenue is only a small part of the experience of walking in the larger neighborhood. Today, the sidewalks on Forest Glen Road and Georgia Avenue are narrow and right next to the road, which is both unpleasant and unsafe. WMATA has asked developers applying to build at Forest Glen to propose ways to improve pedestrian access as well, and they may want to start with wider sidewalks with a landscaping buffer to make walking much more attractive. Investing in bike lanes would also be a good idea.

Provide things to walk to

Another way to reduce car trips is by providing daily needs within a short walk or bike ride. The Montgomery Hills shopping district, with a grocery store, pharmacy, and other useful shops, is a half-mile away from the Metro. But it may also make sense to put some small-scale retail at the station itself, like a dry cleaner, coffeeshop or convenience store, which will mainly draw people from the Metro station and areas within walking or biking distance. Some people will drive, but not as many as there would be with larger stores.

Putting shops at the Metro might also encourage workers at Holy Cross to take transit instead of driving, since they'll be able to run errands on their way to and from work. Encouraging this crowd to take transit is important, since hospitals are busy all day and all week, meaning they generate a lot of demand for transit, making it practical to run more buses and trains, which is great for everyone else.

Provide less parking

Whatever gets built at the Metro will have to include parking, not only for commuters, but for residents as well. While Montgomery County's new zoning code requires fewer parking spaces, each apartment still has to have at least one parking space. Even small shops will have to have their own parking. The more parking there is, the more likely residents are to bring cars, which of course means more traffic.

Thus, the key is to give future residents and customers incentives to not drive. The new zoning code does allow developers to "unbundle" parking spaces from apartments and sell or rent them separately. Those who choose not to bring cars will then get to pay less for housing. The code also requires carsharing spaces in new apartment buildings, so residents will still have access to a car even if they don't have their own. If Montgomery County ever decides to expand Capital Bikeshare, the developer could pay for a station here.

And the developer could offer some sort of discount or incentive for Holy Cross employees to live there, allowing hospital workers to live a short walk from their jobs.

No matter the approach, there are a lot of ways to build in Forest Glen without creating additional traffic. A creative approach can do wonders for the area's profile and elevate the quality of life for residents there.

Transit


Behold how the Purple Line corridor is changing

When built, the Purple Line could dramatically improve transit commutes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. To explore that and other changes the line will bring, researchers created a series of maps including this one of the "commute shed" of each Purple Line station, or how far you can get on transit before and after it's built.


All images from the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

Two weeks ago, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition organized a workshop called "Beyond the Tracks: Community Development in the Purple Line Corridor" to bring different stakeholders together and talk about ways to prepare for changes along the future light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, which awaits federal funding and could open in 2020.

The coalition is a product of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, which hosted the workshop. Members of the group include nonprofit organizations, developers, and local governments in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. At the workshop, they looked at examples from cities like Minneapolis and Denver, which recently built light-rail lines.

The 16-mile corridor contains some of the region's richest and poorest communities, in addition to major job centers and Maryland's flagship state university. When it opens in 2020, the Purple Line will help create the walkable, urban places people increasingly want. However, rising property values could potentially displace small businesses and low-income households. To illustrate and explore these issues, the Center for Smart Growth produced a series of awesome maps.

Like the DC area as a whole, the Purple Line corridor is divided from west to east, with more jobs and affluence on the west side, and more low-income households on the east side. Many of the estimated 70,000 people who will ride the Purple Line each day in 2040 will come from communities in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's county to jobs in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

But today, getting between those areas can be difficult and time-consuming, whether by bus or by car. It's no surprise that many commuters along the eastern end of the Purple Line have one-way commutes over an hour.

These maps, and the map above, show the "commute shed" of three Purple Line stations, or how far you can get on transit in an hour. In all three cases, the Purple Line opens up huge swaths of Montgomery, Prince George's and DC to each community. While the Purple Line only travels through a small portion of our region, it adds another link to our existing Metro and bus network, meaning its benefits will go way beyond the neighborhoods it directly serves.

But better access comes with a price, namely rising property values. The revitalization of downtown Silver Spring has resulted in higher home prices in surrounding neighborhoods because of the increased demand to live there. But Silver Spring and Takoma Park still have substantial pockets of poverty, meaning that low-income residents may not be able to afford to stay in the area once the Purple Line opens.

There are two ways to ensure that neighborhoods near the Purple Line remain affordable for both current and future residents. One is to protect the existing supply of subsidized apartments. Many complexes near the Purple Line have price restrictions for low-income households, but they will expire before it's scheduled to open in 2020.

The other is to build more new housing near the Purple Line. New homes are usually expensive, but increasing the supply of housing to meet demand can result in lower or at least stabilized prices. We're starting to see this in downtown Silver Spring, where thousands of apartments have been built in recent years. But Montgomery officials reduced the number of new homes allowed in Chevy Chase Lake and Long Branch due to concerns about changing the character of each neighborhood.

There are a lot of great and interesting communities along the Purple Line. But many of them are dramatically different places than they were even 10 years ago. They'll be different in 10 more years, whether or not the Purple Line is built. We can't preserve these places in stone, but we should try to ensure that the people who enjoy and contribute to these places can stick around in the future.

Events


Events roundup: Dedicated lanes and growing pains

As we seek safer streets and better transit in the greater Washington area, we encounter some big questions and little battles for how to best accomplish smarter, greater growth. Show up to support the steps we must take to realize this vision at events around the region.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Meetup for 16th Street bus lanes: This Wednesday, March 13, the Coalition for Smarter Growth kicks off its campaign for dedicated rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street NW with a happy hour from 6 to 8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar, located at 1518 U Street NW. Dedicated rush hour bus lanes would help to relive overcrowding and shorten commuting times. Most mayoral candidates support the lanes. Do you? You can click here to RSVP.

After the jump: talk about Metro with David and Eleanor Holmes Norton, support bike lanes in Alexandria, get an update on Red Line rebuilding, have some one-on-one time with DC planning officials to discuss the zoning update, learn more about DC's Southwest Ecodistrict, and discuss the impact of Metro Momentum in Maryland.

Metro roundtable with David and Congresswoman Norton: What do we need and what should we expect from Metro as riders in the 21st century? GGW's David Alpert and fellow panelists will explore that topic this Tuesday, March 11 from 6 to 8 pm, at a public roundtable discussion at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.

Organized by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the discussion will cover pertinent long-term Metro issues, including ridership, financing, and timeframes for construction, all in preparation for the development of a surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

Joining David to discuss the future of Metro are General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles; Klara Baryshev, the chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee; and Jackie L. Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. To submit a question for the panel to address, email NortonMetroRoundtable@mail.house.gov and make sure to include your name and address.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Speak out for King Street bike lanes: Almost 60 percent of residents spoke up for King Street bike lanes at the last Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Now, the issue will go to the Alexandria City Council once again for a public hearing and final vote on Saturday, March 15 from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at City Hall, 301 King St #2300. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition for those who would like to express their support in advance of the meeting.

Another chance to learn about DC's zoning update: The DC Office of Planning will continue to host open houses on the expected update to the zoning code through Friday, March 28. At each open house, you will have the chance to sit down one-on-one with Planning staff to learn more about the update and have any lingering questions answered. The remaining scheduled open houses are as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Implementing the SW Ecodistrict vision: Plans for DC's Southwest ecodistrict envision connecting the National Mall to the waterfront and creating a more sustainable neighborhood and prosperous local economy.

Join speakers Diane Sullivan, senior planner at the National Capital Planning Commission, and Otto Condon, urban design principal of ZGF Architects, at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, March 20 for a lunchtime discussion about next steps of implementation. The event is free but registration is required here.

Talk about Metro Momentum in Maryland: How will Metro Momentum serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Join Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Metro's Office of Planning, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and local leaders to talk about Metro's plans to serve a growing Washington region, and to learn how you can get involved.

The event will take place Thursday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. Advance registration is requested here.

Events


Events roundup: Events to keep you warm

The polar vortex is back, and so are your chances to talk about DC's proposed zoning update, buses in the District and Montgomery County, housing in Arlington, and more at events around the region.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

It's time for the Circulator: The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting its Semi-Annual Circulator Forum this Tuesday, February 25.

The discussion will likely cover the planned National Mall route, a potential fare hike, and a 2014 update to the Circulator's longer-range plan. The forum is 6-8 pm at Eastern Market's North Hall, 225 7th Street SE. If you can't make it, you can send comments to Circe Torruellas at circe.torruellas@dc.gov or call 202-671-2847.

After the jump: speak up on King Street bike lanes and DC's zoning update, learn about bus rapid transit in Silver Spring, glean wisdom from Arlington housing officials, and take a walk to see the negative implications of a proposed highway in Montgomery County. Plus, don't forget about our happy hour in Alexandria this Thursday!

Big meeting for King Street: Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board, which decided to defer bike lanes on King Street, will discuss the issue once again tonight at the council chambers in Alexandria City Hall. WABA says it's an important meeting and there will be a lot of "vocal and motivated" opponents. The meeting starts at 7:30 and you have to sign up by 7:45.

Final zoning update hearing: A snow day forced the DC Office of Zoning to reschedule its planned hearing on the zoning update for residents of wards 1 and 2. The meeting, which is the last of the series, will finally take place starting at 6 pm this Wednesday, February 26 at the DC Housing Finance Authority, 815 Florida Avenue NW. If you are a ward 1 or 2 resident who wishes to testify but has not signed up, please click here.

Rapid Transit open house: Montgomery County planners are working on a bus rapid transit (BRT) network to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the county. Join Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth on Wednesday, February 26 from 6:30-8:30 pm for a brief presentation on how the system is an opportunity to move people and connect communities, even as population and congestion rise. A collaborative discussion and questions are welcomed.

The event (and refreshments!) are free but RSVP is recommended. The meeting will be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

Join us for happy hour this Thursday: Greater Greater's monthly happy hour series heads to Old Town Alexandria this Thursday, February 27, with cosponsors CNU DC. Come share drinks, snacks, and conversation with us at the Light Horse, located at 715 King Street between Columbus and Washington streets, from 6 to 8 pm. The Light Horse is a 15-minute walk from the King Street Metro station, but there are also a number of bus and Bikeshare connections as well.

Hear neighborly advice from Alexandria: If you're not at the happy hour, also on Thursday the Montgomery County Planning Department hosts housing officials from Alexandria in part two of its Winter Speaker Series. Mildrilyn Davis and Helen McIlvaine will talk about about how Alexandria has redeveloped blocks of public housing into mixed-income communities and built affordable housing alongside new public buildings.

The APA National Capital Area Chapter is co-hosting this event, which is free to the public. It starts at 6 pm in the Montgomery County Planning Department Auditorium, 8787 Georgia Avenue.

Learn about law and planning: That's not the only forum APA-NCAC is cosponsoring on Thursday. The National Capital Planning Commission is hosting a panel discussion with area planners about how the laws of our region's many jurisdictions and levels of government shape our planning. That's 6-7:30 pm at NCPC, 401 9th Street, NW Suite 500.

Walk and talk about Midcounty Highway's future: Over the summer, the Montgomery County Planning Board received 237 comments from the public about Midcounty Highway or M-83, a proposed highway between Montgomery Village and Clarksburg, 228 of which were in opposition. This Saturday, March 1, you can join the TAME Coalition (Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended) in Montgomery Village for walking tours, to see exactly what the proposed highway would damage or destroy.

The tours start at South Valley Park, 18850 Montgomery Village Avenue, and end at Montgomery Village Avenue. You can choose to tour either the wooded area or the non-woods area that would be affected. Registration begins at 12:30 pm, and the tours will go from 1:30-3:30 pm. You can park at South Valley Park near the ball field, next to Watkins Mill Elementary School.

Roads


Support grows for BRT in eastern Montgomery, but councilmembers are undecided

Montgomery County is currently deciding what projects to prioritize for its share of state transportation funds. But elected officials are divided over whether to support building new interchanges along Route 29 in East County, or a Bus Rapid Transit line instead.


Route 29 interchange with the ICC. Image from Google Maps.

Tomorrow, the County Council will discuss its transportation priority letter, which requests funding for specific projects from the state. The council's Transportation and Environment committee has recommended taking a progressive shift to prioritize more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects.

Led by chair Roger Berliner and at-large councilmember Hans Riemer, the committee prioritized funding to extend the Corridor Cities Transitway to Clarksburg, WMATA's Priority Corridors bus network, and funding to implement bicycle-pedestrian priority areas throughout the county. They also voted to remove three out of four proposed new interchanges on Route 29 in White Oak and Burtonsville.

Several interchanges have been built on the corridor between Silver Spring and Burtonsville in recent years, creating a partially closed-access highway between Route 198 and New Hampshire Avenue that narrows down to a typical, six-lane arterial south of New Hampshire Avenue, where Route 29 approaches downtown Silver Spring.

There have been plans on the books for years to add four additional interchanges north of White Oak, at Fairland and Musgrove roads, Tech Road, Stewart Lane, and Greencastle Road, which has the support of County Executive Ike Leggett. The total price tag? $344 million.

The problem is, the real bottleneck on Route 29 is south of all these intersections in the Four Corners neighborhood, where drivers queue to get on the Beltway. State and county planners know they will never widen Route 29 through Four Corners, meaning new interchanges will only speed more commuters to the bottleneck faster. The interchanges will also make pedestrian connections across the highway more difficult, while increasing the flow and speed of traffic in areas like Four Corners, reducing pedestrian safety.


A family tries to cross Route 29 at Stewart Lane, where an interchange is proposed. Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

That's why the council committee and the Planning Board both recommended removing additional interchanges from this year's list. Route 29 is one of the 10 corridors in the county's newly-approved BRT network, and Planning Department staff who ran models on the corridor suggested implementing BRT first, and then reviewing whether the interchanges are still needed. They estimate that an 11-mile BRT line between Silver Spring and Burtonsville would cost $351 million, similar to the three interchanges.

While Bus Rapid Transit is not yet ready for construction on Route 29, requesting funds for the three interchanges now would absorb a significant amount of state funds for years to come, making it more difficult to fund needed, high-quality transit in the corridor in the future.

A chart comparing the County Executive's proposals and committee recommendations is on the last page of the council packet. At-large councilmember Nancy Floreen wants to see all four interchanges on 29, while the County Executive wants two: Fairland/Musgrove and Tech. It's unclear where the rest of the Council stands on the issue, especially newly-appointed interim Councilmember Cherri Branson whose district (District 5) includes Route 29.

If you want to see Montgomery County prioritize Bus Rapid Transit and other sustainable transportation projects above decades-old, grade-separated interchanges, click here to send county leaders an email.

Public Spaces


It takes more than open space to make a great urban park

The Silver Spring Transit Center isn't finished yet, but there's already support for turning vacant land next to it into a big park. However, this really isn't a good place for a park. There are also lots of small, underused parks nearby, and with some alterations, they could help quench the demand for open space.


The unfinished Silver Spring Transit Center. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer recently proposed building a two-acre park next to the Transit Center instead of an originally planned hotel. On his blog, he talks about the many "green urban parks" in downtown DC, like Dupont Circle. "Silver Spring deserves one too," he writes.

What makes a great urban park like Dupont Circle, or Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, or Union Square in New York? They all have grassy areas and trees, and are nice places to enjoy the outdoors. But they don't exist in isolation. What happens on the edges of great urban parks is what makes them successful.

Great urban parks need people and buildings, too

Parks like Dupont and Rittenhouse sit in the middle of very dense, busy neighborhoods with thousands of people living and working nearby. The surrounding buildings also create a frame around the space, making it an outdoor room. Most of the buildings that face Dupont Circle have a store or restaurant on the ground floor. On Rittenhouse Square, there are apartment building entrances and restaurants with dining terraces opening to the square.


What happens on the edges of Rittenhouse Square make it a great park. Photo from Google Street View.

Together, these things make a space that people are constantly using throughout the day, eating lunch, playing chess, making music, holding demonstrations, getting exercise, or just passing through.

Compare that to the Transit Center. Most of the surrounding buildings don't face the space Hans Riemer would like to be a park. At the street level, all you'll find are fast-food places, lots of blank walls, and loading docks, none of which do much to generate life on the sidewalk. Putting a park here wouldn't change that context.

We know that because there used to be a park next to the Metro station before the Transit Center was built. It was a popular skate spot, but it was also run-down and empty. It wasn't a good park.


A site plan of the proposed Transit Center park. Image from Montgomery County.

It would be different if we could build a park with shops and restaurants directly facing it, and lots of people in very, very close proximity to use it and pass through it all the time. In fact, that's what the Transit Center plans already call for: a smaller park, less than an acre in size but with some green areas, directly adjacent to an apartment building, an office building, and a hotel.

Unfortunately, those plans are on hold due to a breakdown in negotiations between developer Foulger-Pratt, which also built the Transit Center, and Metro, which owns the land. But that doesn't mean we should throw them away.

Silver Spring has lots of open space, but we don't use it

People complain that Silver Spring doesn't have enough parks, but we might actually have too many. In downtown Silver Spring, there are literally dozens of small pocket parks, the result of a requirement that new development include an open space that's accessible to the public.

Many of those spaces are poorly designed and go unused. County planners and residents have already been working to fix this problem.

In 2008, the Planning Board recommended eliminating the pocket park requirement and build big parks instead. Two such projects have already been approved. The redevelopment of the Blairs will include a big park, while the Studio Plaza development on Fenton Street will have one as well.

And last year, the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board suggested looking at ways to repurpose existing parks and county-owned properties. Evan Glass, chair of the board and a candidate for County Council, has proposed reusing the current Silver Spring Library as a recreation center and park space once the new library is built.


There's a big, grassy park a block from the Transit Center, but it goes unused. Photo by the author.

Some of downtown's pocket parks could be repurposed as well. There's already a big, grassy park exists a block from the Transit Center at the Discovery Channel headquarters. But it isn't really used and was closed for months after a gunman attacked the building in 2010. Across from the Transit Center, Montgomery County will turn a bus turnaround into another small park with trees and landscaping.

These spaces aren't perfect. But they exist, and if any community member or elected official is serious about improving open space in downtown Silver Spring, they should start here.

There's a better use for the Transit Center site

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes, creating great parks in urban areas means more buildings. Silver Spring needs a critical mass of people and stuff to generate the activity needed to give our streets and parks life. Meanwhile, too many bad parks have instead created big, gaping holes in our downtown, sucking out activity and life.


The park we could have at the Transit Center. Image from Montgomery County.

The Transit Center is a bad place for a big park. But it's a good place for buildings.

Montgomery County and Maryland taxpayers have already spent upwards of $120 million on the Transit Center, on top of money spent decades ago to build the Metro station, and money we will soon spend to build the Purple Line. Where they converge will be one of the most valuable development sites in the region, and a significant opportunity to encourage transit use and generate tax revenue.

Not taking advantage of this would be a colossal waste. So would ignoring all of the open spaces Silver Spring already has, as well as the opportunities we do have to create new and better ones.

Public Spaces


Sidewalk shoveling Hall of Shame: Snochi edition

After two storms in one day, the DC area is finally beginning to dig out. But some are clearing their sidewalks faster than others and, in some cases, making the sidewalks harder to use.


Photo by Leslie McGorman.

In Mount Pleasant, reader Leslie McGorman writes in about a church under renovation whose sidewalks are completely covered in snow and ice. "Despite the fact that there is construction/renovation occurring, people still use this building," she notes. "As such, they should get their asses outside with a shovel."


Photo by Leslie McGorman.

While taking his daughter for a walk today, David Alpert found the uncleared sidewalks near his house especially difficult to manage with a stroller:


The sidewalk in front of a condo under renovation near Dupont Circle. Photo by David Alpert.
Most houses on my block had shoveled, with just a couple of exceptions. Some of the large apartment/condo buildings at the corners had a layer of ice and some didn't; I think though that the ones facing south seemed more clear, probably because the sun has warmed it enough to easily get the ice up.

A slushy corner. Photo by David Alpert.
The worst part was at the corners, where they were all thick slush. Plows had evidently cleared the roads but left a large area, like 5 feet, for pedestrians to cross. A few businesses seem to have cleared their corners, but not most.

The sidewalk in front of Stead Park was a sheet of ice. It looks like it had been shoveled after the first big snow but then not after the 2nd, and then people walking on P Street flattened it into ice. It's too bad that one of the worst spots to walk with a child was past the park!

And in Silver Spring, Kathy Jentz took a video of a mini-digger outside her home on Fenton Street near Montgomery College piling snow on the sidewalk:
Bobcat earth movers are piling huge mounds of snow onto my sidewalk and my immediate neighbors. Who is going to clear this for the thousands if commuters and college students who use that public sidewalk daily? I am so angry!!!!!

Luckily, today's warm temperatures mean that much of the snow will melt, though we may get even more late tonight. Many parts of our region received over a foot of snow this week, but that's no excuse not to clear your sidewalks. It's required by law within eight hours of a storm in the District. Alexandria, Arlington, and Montgomery County will give you 24 hours, while Prince George's County requires it within 48 hours.

How are the sidewalks where you are?

Bicycling


Slow start for Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery County

Since launching in September, the Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County have been slow to draw riders, with some stations being used less than once per day on average. This may change over time, but it'll take a more complete bike network to increase ridership.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

I reviewed Capital Bikeshare's trip history data to find lessons from the first few months after the September 27 launch through December 31. Of the 50 stations in Montgomery County, the highest-performing ones were those in Friendship Heights and Bethesda, and those near Metro stations.

To count each station's number of trips, I included any trip that started or ended at the station. Trips that both started and ended at the same station counted only once, but if those trips lasted less than 30 seconds, I decided not to count them at all. To find the trips-per-day averages, I made sure to account for the fact that some stations were installed after the initial launch.

On the maps, blue dots are stations which averaged 10 or more trips a day; green dots at least 5 trips but less than 10; yellow at least 2 trips but less than 5; orange at least 1 trip but less than 2; and red dots were stations with less than one trip per day. Black dots represent stations that weren't installed until this year.

Bethesda and Friendship Heights

The most popular bikeshare station in Montgomery County so far is the one at the Friendship Heights Metro station, which was involved in about 11 trips per day. It has several things going for it. Metro stations are a popular place for bikeshare trips, as we'll see throughout this analysis. The location is also right on the border with DC, which has its own bikeshare stations nearby and, presumably, residents who were already members before the Montgomery launch.


Map by the author.

The next most popular station was at Bethesda Avenue & Arlington Boulevard, in the dense, mixed-use Bethesda Row area. The third most popular was the station at Montgomery Avenue & East Lane, close to the Bethesda Metro stop. Those two each saw between 7 and 8 trips per day.

The most common trip involving a Montgomery station went from Battery Lane & the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Norfolk Avenue & Fairmont Avenue. But this trip only happened 70 times last year, meaning a handful of users could easily be responsible for all the trips. As a result, I'm hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from the popularity of certain trips.

Rockville

Bike sharing in Rockville started very slowly. The only station involved in more than two trips per day was East Montgomery Avenue & Maryland Avenue, which averaged 2.5 trips per day. It's the closest station to Rockville Town Center, and also less than a half-mile from the Rockville Metro stop.


Map by the author.

The most glaring omission in Rockville is the lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro stop. Capital Bikeshare put stations in the King Farm and Fallsgrove neighborhoods, both of which have bike-friendly routes to the Shady Grove Metro.

The lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro seems like a missed opportunity to connect residents to a major destination. Throughout the system, Metro stations are among the most popular sites for bikeshare stations. The two most popular stations in the whole system were the one near the Dupont Circle Metro stop's north entrance and the one near Union Station. Each was involved in more than 300 trips per day from September 27 to December 31 last year.

Silver Spring and Takoma Park


Map by the author.

Like Bethesda, Silver Spring has some of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the county. But the most popular station in eastern Montgomery County was the one near the Silver Spring Metro station, at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. It saw just 4.3 trips per day.

There's no bikeshare station right near the Takoma Metro station. The closest one is at Carroll Avenue & Westmoreland Avenue. It was Takoma Park's most popular, averaging 4.1 trips per day after it was installed in late October.

Comparing Montgomery County to Alexandria

Alexandria was the first jurisdiction outside of DC and Arlington that Capital Bikeshare expanded to. The cluster of stations there is geographically isolated from other parts of the system in a similar way to the Montgomery County clusters.

The growth of ridership in Alexandria since its stations launched on August 31, 2012 could offer a clue for what to expect going forward in Montgomery.

There were 4,736 trips involving at least one of Alexandria's stations during the fourth quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, that number went up to 5,345, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

All eight stations in Alexandria launched on the same day, and there have been no additional stations since then, so it's easy to compare them from year to year.

Notably, and not surprisingly, the bikeshare station near the King Street Metro station was Alexandria's most popular.

Looking forward

Montgomery County can expect bike sharing to grow over time, but it shouldn't assume that such a slow start is normal.

In DC, the station at North Capitol Street & G Place NE opened in mid-December and managed 14 trips per day during the final few weeks of the year, even during a relatively cold month. The 10th Street & Florida Ave NW station, added in October, saw 25 trips per day for the rest of the year.

No station in Montgomery County really came close to those numbers, let alone those of the most popular stations in DC.

If the county wants its investment in bike sharing to pay off, it should fill in key gaps, especially at the Shady Grove Metro. Providing bike lanes or paths to connect neighborhoods to Metro stations would also encourage the kind of trips that have proven popular everywhere else in the system.

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