Posts about Takoma Park
Capital Bikeshare could come to Montgomery County this year, along with an influx of new riders. It's time to look at how to improve the county's bike network. To do so, a group of 20 bicyclists took to the streets of Silver Spring and Takoma Park last Saturday on a 5-mile ride organized by myself and the Montgomery County Sierra Club.
Last summer, I began working with Ethan Goffman, bicycle and Smart Growth coordinator for the Sierra Club, on a Bicycle Statement outlining 6 principles that policymakers, community leaders, planners and transportation engineers should follow to make bicycling safer, more efficient and more enjoyable for everyone.
The six principles are:
Make a complete network: Bicycle lanes and paths should connect to each other and to major destinations like schools, transit stations and job centers, making them a reliable way to get around.
Be context-appropriate: A network with different kinds of bicycle facilities will best be able to fit into different neighborhoods.
Provide comfort: Bicyclists will be more likely to use the network if it provides multiple route options, is easy to navigate, and has conveniences like secure parking.
Safety: Bicyclists will feel safe on facilities that are well maintained, well-lit, and have "eyes on the street" to watch over them.
Engage the public: Making community members part of the bicycle planning process will build public support for bicycling while showing that bicyclists are valued and respected by the county.
Education: All road users, whether they are cyclists, pedestrians or drivers, should understand their rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of others.
Keeping those in mind, I designed a route that takes riders on different kinds of bicycle routes, ranging from a trail through a park to bike lanes to riding in mixed traffic.
We had a pretty diverse crowd with a wide mix of ages and skill levels, ranging from kids just out of training wheels to experienced bicyclists. Most riders came from inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring, though one person came from Takoma Park and another from Capitol Hill. The ride was pretty smooth, though there were a few spills and some emergency repairs.
Along the way, we stopped to talk about each principle, along with things the county and local municipalities are doing well, like the extensive trail network in Sligo Creek Park. While none of the neighborhood streets have bike lanes, they're slow and quiet, making them a nice alternative to busy main roads when they're not closed to through traffic. In a few places, our group had its own cheering section of neighbors.
Riders pointed out places where the bike network needs improvement. Many off-street trails are poorly maintained, leading to ruts and standing water. The Metropolitan Branch Trail abruptly stops a half-mile short of the Silver Spring Metro station, held up by historical preservationists who don't want it passing by the historic, but empty B&O rail station.
On-street riding can be equally frustrating. We used the block-long Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring, which was once named "America's stupidest bike lane" before being redesigned by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, streets like Maple Avenue in Takoma Park are wide enough for bike lanes but were given sharrows instead, which means bicyclists have to share the road with drivers that are encouraged to speed because the street is so wide.
Another issue was the need to educate everyone on how to share the road. On narrow Carroll Street NW in Takoma, drivers came too close to our group or sped into oncoming traffic to pass us, violating both DC's and Maryland's 3-foot passing laws. Meanwhile, on the Sligo Creek Park trail, a pair of joggers reminded us that we have to ride single-file so as not to block the whole path.
How can we improve the cycling environment? One recurring theme in our discussion was that the Department of Transportation made bike improvements based on their idea of what bicyclists want or need, like the Cedar Street bike lane, but were surprised when bicyclists actually didn't use them.
Casey Anderson, Planning Board member and Silver Spring resident, and Jack Cochrane of MoBike stressed the need to for bicyclists to let county officials know what they need. County officials need to listen to bicyclists, but they can only do so if bicyclists make themselves heard.
Overall, this was a great bike ride. I was blown away by the turnout and the enthusiasm of all our participants. It's been about 20 years since the Montgomery County Sierra Club last held a group bike ride, but this is definitely a tradition that they should resume. Ethan and I are already talking about when our bike ride will be.
Thanks to everyone who came! This wouldn't have been a success without you. And if you were unable to make it, check out this slideshow of our ride.
Capital Bikeshare will expand into Montgomery County next year, but bicycling advocates say the infrastructure isn't ready for it. If the county's serious about making bikeshare work, they need to make bicycling safe and comfortable as soon as the first bikes are out.
Bicycling has become more popular as a form of transportation in Montgomery County in recent years, but there are very few bike lanes, and the county's wide, busy roads deter all except the most fearless cyclists. As a result, bikeshare users might be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, which could be dangerous for pedestrians.
Proposed Montgomery County bike lanes. Blue represents bike lanes and separated paths, while orange represents sharrows. Click for interactive version.
In this report, the two groups suggest a network of bike lanes in Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Bethesda and Friendship Heights. They proposed having dedicated bike lanes on major roads like Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring and business district streets like Arlington Road in Bethesda.
Streets that were too narrow or too congested for bike lanes, like Elm Street in Bethesda, would get sharrows, which help drivers and cyclists share the road.
They also asked the county to complete major regional trails, like the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which currently stops half a mile short of its proposed terminus at the Silver Spring Metro station.
The proposed lanes make a lot of sense, focusing on compact downcounty neighborhoods where everything's already within biking distance. I've written before that more on-street bike routes can make bicycling more practical as a form of transportation by bringing riders to shops, jobs and other activities. And bikes take up a lot less space than cars, meaning we can fit more bicyclists on a congested street than we can drivers.
Some of the proposed routes, like Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, may face resistance from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration, which have been reluctant to take away space from cars. But WABA and MoBike weren't the first to propose bike lanes for them: earlier this year, County Councilmember Nancy Floreen asked that the state paint lanes on several major roads that they're scheduled to repave anyway next year.
Creating a countywide bicycling network will take a lot of time and planning, but there are things we can do to improve the biking experience sooner rather than later. As more people take up bicycling, they may find that they don't have safe places to ride. As a result, Capital Bikeshare could help build a constituency for bike lanes that doesn't exist now.
Capital Bikeshare is ready to expand into Montgomery County. The question is whether our streets will be ready for Capital Bikeshare.
Concerned about through traffic, many neighborhoods in Montgomery County have closed off their once-connected streets. But the costs of a quiet street might outweigh the benefits.
Montgomery County neighborhoods, like many in North America, generally fall into two categories: those with cul-de-sacs, and those without. Before World War II, and for a little while afterwards, neighborhoods in Montgomery were built with streets in a grid, or at least in a connected network. As cars became more popular, these streets often became noisy and congested, so planners came up with an alternative.
With support from the Federal Housing Administration and prevailing design trends that turned their back on traditional urban street patterns, builders nationwide switched to cul-de-sacs. As a result, most Montgomery neighborhoods built since then have them. Just look at a map of the county and you can pick out older, gridded communities like Bethesda from newer ones with loopy, disconnected streets, like Germantown.
Disconnected cul-de-sacs in Germantown force everyone to use collector roads. Photo by Evan Glass.
Gridded streets in King Farm disperse traffic throughout the neighborhood. Photo by Evan Glass.
Of course, cul-de-sacs weren't the traffic panacea 20th-century planners thought they were, and there's since been a growing backlash against them. In some newer neighborhoods like Poplar Run in Glenmont, they're few and far between; in others, like Kentlands in Gaithersburg or King Farm in Rockville, they've been all but banished.
We've returned to appreciating a connected street network, which can diffuse congestion and make walking, biking and even driving safer and easier. They're also cheaper to maintain and easier for emergency vehicles to navigate, which are two of the reasons why Virginia banned cul-de-sacs in 2009.
Yet in many of Montgomery's oldest neighborhoods, which were built with grids to begin with, the cul-de-sac mindset remains. Prodded by residents sick of speeding drivers on their neighborhood streets, the county's Department of Transportation has found ways to keep through traffic at bay using a kind of "fake" cul-de-sac.
Sometimes, they'll restrict turns from arterial streets or ban cars from entering certain streets at rush hour. Occasionally, they'll take more drastic measures and cut off a through-street entirely, like Ellsworth Drive near downtown Silver Spring.
If you live on a street like Ellsworth, you're probably not complaining. You get all of the benefits of living next to one of the region's biggest jobs, shopping and entertainment districts, while enjoying quiet, peaceful streets undisturbed by people from outside the neighborhood.
Less amused, however, are your neighbors on adjacent streets, like Colesville Road, Wayne Avenue or Georgia Avenue, that have to pick up the slack. Breaking up the street grid means more local trips end up on what through streets remain, making them more congested.
Studies show that residents living on busy streets are not only exposed to higher pollution levels, but they have fewer friends and a weakened sense of community.
Cutting off through-streets in Silver Spring forces all traffic onto streets like Georgia Avenue, making them a barrier between neighborhoods. Photo by the author.
Sometimes access restrictions displace car traffic to another neighborhood entirely. In 2010, the Sligo Park Hills community in Silver Spring asked the county to restrict rush-hour commuters from using several streets there.
Neighbors in adjacent Takoma Park worried it would just send cars their way. "We will be impacted by moving your traffic over to us, and your neighborhood is no more important, your kids are no important and your convenience is no more important [than our own]," said Takoma Park resident Ellen Zavian.
However, one Sligo Park Hills resident was so tired of drivers using his street that he threatened violence against them. "If you guys drive through my neighborhood in the early morning hours and I perceive you to be a threat, I'm going to start walking around with a rock in my hand," Sean Gibbons told the Gazette.
As a result, the City of Takoma Park implemented their own traffic restrictions later that year. Mayor Bruce Williams said that if they didn't, they would "be essentially saying 'okay take all that traffic and send it through Mississippi Avenue and Ritchie Avenue."
We can't fault people for wanting to live on a safe, quiet street, but the streets in neighborhoods like Sligo Park Hills are owned by Montgomery County, meaning that all Montgomery County residents pay taxes to maintain them, and have a right to use them. Besides, telling drivers they can't use your street does nothing to solve the larger traffic problem.
If we're trying to discourage folks from driving through certain neighborhoods, we might as well finish the job and make it easier for them and the people living in these neighborhoods to get around without a car.
While Montgomery's older communities were built with interconnected streets, they didn't have sidewalks. Many residents want to keep it that way. However, the best way to reduce car traffic, at least for shorter trips, is to make it easier and safer to bike or walk. Many of the neighborhoods that currently have traffic restrictions are already within a short walk or bike ride of major shopping areas, job centers and public transit. If more people are out biking and walking on local streets, it'll be a cue that drivers should slow down.
Sidewalks are a start, though Montgomery County planners have also explored striping a "pedestrian lane" on streets where sidewalks are either impractical or too costly. While we're at it, we could stripe some more bike lanes as well.
Or we could turn streets like Ellsworth Drive into "neighborhood greenways," also known as "bike boulevards," designed to give people on foot or bike priority over drivers. That's sort of what currently exists on Second Avenue between 16th and Spring streets in Silver Spring, which allows bikes and buses during rush hour, but not cars. And if we're going to turn a street into a dead-end, we should at least make it passable for pedestrians and bicyclists, like on Middleton Lane near downtown Bethesda.
A well-connected street network has many potential benefits: better access to local amenities, diffused traffic congestion, and even stronger social ties. The best way to reduce congestion on little streets and big streets alike is to give people choices, whether it's multiple routes for driving, the option of taking transit, or the ability to safely get around by foot or bike.
While residents shouldn't have to worry about speeding drivers or heavy traffic on small neighborhood streets, closing off public streets isn't a real solution.
Sometimes, it's okay for progressives to embrace progress."
Dan Reed wrote recently about the link between development and progressiveness in and around the area of Takoma Park, but the narrow coverage missed the real story of what is going on.
Its true that City residents worked to oppose a proposed development that would have eliminated green space at the Takoma Metro in favor of townhouses with two car garages and less bicycle and bus access. Somehow that didn't sound like smart or progressive growth to us.
However, at the same time, development plans on nearby previously developed but underused sites have been moving forward near the Metro.
Elsewhere, the City of Takoma Park has been working to facilitate mixed commercial and residential space along the University and New Hampshire Avenue corridors to make more housing and affordable housing available on mass transit and future Purple line routes. These are developments that take advantage of underutilized commercial and retail space to build new capacity and energy into an area In both cases, the City is supporting more density where it makes sense. In fact, if you actually watch the video about Melbourne, Australia's urban development plans that Alex Steffen refers to, they did precisely what Takoma Park has been promoting And in reference to the claims of Takoma Park pushing poor people out, we have great data from the Community Indicators Project that shows just the opposite. We have a higher proportion of low and moderate income families than the rest of Montgomery County Part of this is because since 1980, the City has had a rent stabilization policy in place that has been an effective way to keep rents down and not without sacrifice from other residents who end up paying a higher property tax burden. The point is, not all development is progressive and if you look a little deeper, you will see a lot more evidence that Takoma Park knows how to balance quality of life, diversity and development far better than Mr. Reed suggests.
In both cases, the City is supporting more density where it makes sense. In fact, if you actually watch the video about Melbourne, Australia's urban development plans that Alex Steffen refers to, they did precisely what Takoma Park has been promoting
And in reference to the claims of Takoma Park pushing poor people out, we have great data from the Community Indicators Project that shows just the opposite. We have a higher proportion of low and moderate income families than the rest of Montgomery County Part of this is because since 1980, the City has had a rent stabilization policy in place that has been an effective way to keep rents down and not without sacrifice from other residents who end up paying a higher property tax burden. The point is, not all development is progressive and if you look a little deeper, you will see a lot more evidence that Takoma Park knows how to balance quality of life, diversity and development far better than Mr. Reed suggests.
Part of this is because since 1980, the City has had a rent stabilization policy in place that has been an effective way to keep rents down and not without sacrifice from other residents who end up paying a higher property tax burden.
The point is, not all development is progressive and if you look a little deeper, you will see a lot more evidence that Takoma Park knows how to balance quality of life, diversity and development far better than Mr. Reed suggests.
Takoma Park has long been known for civic activism, dating back to the freeway fighters who stopped I-95 and I-270 from cutting through the area 40 years ago. But that culture of resistance to change could prevent the community from allowing positive improvements to take place.
Writing in Utne Reader, the same publication that once called Montgomery County the "Most Enlightened Suburb," Alex Steffen notes that Takoma Park's progressive politics prevent it from being truly progressive:
One of the most unfortunate side effects of the urban activism of the '60s and '70s is the belief that development is wrong and that fighting it makes you an environmentalist.
We know that dense cities are both environmentally better and dramatically more equitable places. Walkable neighborhoods are better than the suburbs for people with a wide range of incomes, and what happens in cities that don't grow is that they gentrify and poor people are pushed out. Trying to fight change makes you less sustainable and more unfair.Sometimes, standing in front of bulldozers is the right thing to do. It's likely that Takoma Park wouldn't have become a sought-after place to live if it were carved up by highways. And sometimes it's harmful, like the efforts of some residents to block a housing development adjacent to the Takoma Metro station back in 2007.
Well-designed urban infill development in places like Old Town Takoma can get people out of their cars and bring customers to the area's struggling local businesses, which presumably are progressive ideals. Not allowing development to happen effectively enables all of the things progressives say they don't want, such as more driving, more gentrification, more suburban sprawl, and more destruction of farmland.
Greater density would in fact support progressive causes, according to Takoma Park resident Victor Reinoso. He says that there would be more progressive businesses, such as the TPSS Grocery Coop, and the ones that exist would get more business, if his neighbors didn't oppose greater density at every juncture.
Not all progress is bad. It's the mark of a true progressive when they can tell the difference.
You also have just under 3 weeks left to get tickets to Clybourne Park at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. GGW's performance is July 28, at 8 pm. Buy tickets here using discount code 1186 for 15% off and a $1 coupon for wine or beer at our preceding happy hour, starting at 6.
Here are some more events in the coming week:
Forum on TOD and housing in Prince George's, organized by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Envision Prince George's featuring David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners, Rodney Harrell of AARP, and developer Jair Lynch. Monday, July 11, 6:30-8:30 at the CSC Building, across from New Carrollton Metro station, 7900 Harkins Road, Lanham.
Circulator east of the river public meeting to present alternatives and get resident feedback on the route. Tuesday, July 12, 7-8:30 pm at the Southeast Neighborhood Library, 403 7th Street SE, DC.
Action Committee for Transit discussion about how White Flint advocates built support for Smart Growth, featuring Dan Hoffman and Barnaby Zall from Friends of White Flint. Tuesday, July 12, 7:30 pm at Silver Spring Center, 8818 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, in the Woodside Conference Room.
Lunchtime workshop on Eco-City Alexandria with Bill Skrabak of the City of Alexandria and Joe Schilling of Virginia Tech discussing Alexandria's sustainability initiatives and community indicators developed based on best practices from around the country. Thursday, July 14, noon-1 pm at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, 901 Wythe Street, Alexandria.
Maryland Avenue SW plan public meeting to present draft recommendations for the CSX railway corridor between 4th and 12th Streets, SW, and adjacent property. Thursday, July 14, 6:30-8:30 at 1100 4th Street SW, DC in the 2nd floor meeting room.
St. Elizabeth's East public meeting to give feedback on land use and transportation concepts for the redevelopment of the east campus. Thursday, July 14, 7-9 pm at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School (Old Congress Heights School), 3100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE, DC.
Takoma Langley Crossroads urban design guidelines discussion between the Planning Board and the community. The guidelines will govern development around the future Purple Line stop. Thursday, July 14, 7:00 pm at the Takoma Rec Center, 7315 New Hampshire Avenue, Takoma Park.
You can find these and many more events on the Greater Greater Washington calendar. If you know an event we should include, send it to email@example.com.
U-Md. journalism students Karen Carmichael and Jamie McIntyre try to explain why Takoma Park has so many locally-owned businesses in this ten-minute video, posted to YouTube late last month.
In the beginning, it sounds like another screed against commercialism. Carmichael calls a CVS in Takoma, D.C. a "chunk of suburbiana" (doesn't she know that making up words is only for English majors?), while McIntyre, a former CNN correspondent, contrasts historic Old Town Takoma with Olney, which he claims "could be Anytown, USA" for its many chain stores.
The video has interviews with owners of local mainstays like Mark's Kitchen and the House of Musical Traditions, though Carmichael and McIntyre can't get them to say why Takoma Park is able to do what it does. "The first thing you notice in Mark's Kitchen is ... it's not Starbucks," one talking head opines.
As much as I enjoy a local coffeeshop, I doubt many people outside of Takoma Park walk into to one and marvel, "Wow, what a locally-specific, non-homogenized experience!" What Carmichael and McIntyre don't explain is that Takoma Park can sustain so many local businesses because they're organized into one unified destination. Stores are close enough that people can park once and walk around, meaning they can rely on each other for customers and marketing - not unlike stores in a mall.
And like a mall, Takoma Park benefits from branding - for instance, from its long history of liberal politics. Sometimes, it manifests in negative ways, like vandalism of a Subway franchise on Carroll Avenue six years ago, whose owner is also interviewed in the video. But it also results in a focus on artistic pursuits - a music store, a vintage clothing store, a bakery - and preserved historic buildings that lend it a feeling of authenticity.
But cutesy Victorian storefronts can only go so far. At the end of the video, McIntyre suggests Takoma Park could do better. He goes to Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring, where he points out that successful business districts often have a high density of people (living there and/or working there) and are easy to walk around.
Takoma Park's nice to walk around in, but difficult to reach if you don't already live in the neighborhood.
Takoma Park is a joy for pedestrians, but it's not very dense, meaning that businesses cannot rely solely on people who can walk to their stores. At the same time, Takoma Park is difficult to reach by car, and though there's a Metro station nearby, it can be a long, hilly walk to either of its business districts. These impediments will discourage people from shopping there, and no shortage of ad campaigns will fix that.
In the past, some Takoma Parkies have opposed new housing in the area, like this proposed development at the Metro station. But if they'd like to retain its mom-and-pop businesses, they should push to have it built. It's a good lesson for neighborhood business districts in East County and beyond: if you want people to shop in your stores, you have to get them there. And it's often easiest to get them there if they already live in the neighborhood.
The Washington region will receive $58.8 million for bus priority improvements across the region, but no money for the K Street Transitway or regional bicycle sharing in the TIGER grants. USDOT announced the winners today.
Through regional planning organization MWCOG, local governments had applied for $204 million in bus improvements, $13 million for regional bike sharing, and $47 million for "transit station" improvements including a Takoma-Langley Transit Center and the Medical Center underpass.
About $140 million of the bus improvements would have built a dedicated busway along K Street for regional and local buses, many of which use that street, while the rest would have improved a patchwork of corridors in all jursdictions.
The final award provides $26.6 million for the bus corridor improvements, which will improve service on 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, and Wisconsin Avenue in DC; Addison Road, University Blvd, US-1 and Veirs Mill Road in Maryland; US-1, Leesburg Pike, and the Van Dorn to Pentagon route in Virginia. It also funds and connections from the TR Bridge and 14th Street to K Street in DC for Virginia buses.
Update: Here's more on the funded bus projects, which mean some long-awaited and exciting improvements will be going forward.
In addition to the bus improvements, the Takoma-Langley Transit Center gets $12.3 million, and Virginia gets $20 million for "station improvements (bus bays, real time bus information and other improvements" supporting bus priority on the I-95/395 corridor," which contribute to a longer-term plan to set up dedicated bus lanes.
It doesn't fund the Medical Center underpass, a second entrance to Rosslyn Metro, I-66 bus, bike sharing, or K Street. The table on page 11 of the application shows all of the improvements requested and their individual dollar amounts.
According to a so-far-unconfirmed rumor, the K Street project scored very highly on the metrics USDOT was using, but they excluded it because of potential bad press surrounding any funds going to "K Street" with its lobbyist connotations. If that's true, DC should immediately introduce a bill to rename K Street as "Abraham Lincoln Boulevard" or something. While they're at it, maybe they should rename Capitol Hill just in case.
Or, that could be totally false, and they simply decided that the Washington region could get almost $60 million but, at nearly $140 million, the K Street project was too large and more money had to go to other cities.
Early Saturday morning, a clothing store and former Allen Theater in Takoma Park was destroyed in a three-alarm fire. Police from Montgomery and Prince George's counties were called into fight the blaze at what was Gussini Fashion and Shoes, located at New Hampshire and Ethan Allen avenues. The story quickly made the rounds on firefighter blogs drawn to the spectacular flames.
The fire could be a setback to the City of Takoma Park's The New Ave campaign, which seeks to draw customers to local businesses and eventually revitalize the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. The building and the adjacent strip mall were one of the major properties along New Hampshire targeted for redevelopment. A pair of The New Ave banners can be seen on the corner of the building, partly singed but still intact.
The building originally opened in March 1951 as the 946-seat Allen Theater, whose neon marquee was so bright that it was never fully turned on due to fears of distracting motorists. Shuttered in 1990, the Allen joined a handful of now-closed single-screen cinemas in the Takoma Park area, including the Langley Theatre at New Hampshire and University, the Flower Theatre at Flower and Piney Branch, and the Takoma Theatre on 4th Street NW in the Takoma neighborhood of DC.
In the 1950's, the Allen Theater didn't discriminate against black patrons, unlike other local theaters. Burtonsville resident Jeffrey Fearing would walk to the Allen Theater as a kid while living nearby on Sheridan Street in the District. "It was one of the Maryland theaters that my parents knew was integrated. Not all of them made people of color welcome," he writes in an e-mail. "Only movie I remember seeing there as a kid though was Peter Pan, though I went there at least once as a grown-up when it was more of a grindhouse theater."
The Allen Theater on opening day in 1951.
Photo from Maryland's Motion Picture Theaters by Robert Headley.
The Allen Theater, now Gussini Fashion & Shoes, in 2008.
Photo by Jack Coursey.
While many of the Allen Theatre's original features had been removed after its conversion to a clothing store in 1990, the marquee and double-height lobby windows remained. They were emblems of the area's dwindling supply of Mid-Century Modern or Googie buildings, which after fifty or so years are old enough to be irrelevant but too young for many people to appreciate for its history. One well-known example would be the Perpetual Building in Downtown Silver Spring, which has long been threatened with demolition despite being neither abandoned or in poor condition.
On Monday, the Montgomery County Fire Department told the Gazette that the Allen Theater will be razed. "Three of the walls were still standing ... they were eventually knocked down," said Capt. Oscar Garcia. "Essentially, the building is going to be demolished."
Crossposted at Just Up The Pike.
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