Greater Greater Washington

Posts about White Flint

Transit


MARC backs away from all-day service on Brunswick Line

In 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration proposed adding a third track to the MARC Brunswick Line, which could make it possible to have all-day, two-way service. With a recent plan update proposing less third track, it's unlikely that this will ever happen.


MARC's Brunswick Line in Dickerson. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The 2007 MARC Growth and Investment Plan proposed a third track from Georgetown Junction in Silver Spring, to Point of Rocks in Frederick County. It would have been built in three stages between now and 2035. In contrast, the 2013 draft update proposes one small portion of third track in Montgomery County and at unspecified locations elsewhere.

This reduces the chance that there will ever be all-day, two-way service. CSX owns the tracks that MARC trains use, and the agency will not allow MARC to run more service if there isn't a third track. If MARC doesn't say where they plan to put a third track, Montgomery County can't reserve the right-of-way for it, making it harder to build the third track later.

Current service on the Brunswick Line consists of 18 daily trains, peak-service headways of 40-75 minutes, one off-peak train on Fridays only, no reverse-peak service, and no weekend service. The Maryland Transit Administration's original plan for MARC called for bringing all-day, two-way service to the Brunswick Line in three stages.

In 2015, there were to be at least 6 additional peak-service trains, or 3 round trips. By 2020, there were to be shorter peak-service headways, plus some reverse-peak and off-peak service. And in 2035, there were to be reverse-commute and weekend service, as well as service to L'Enfant Plaza and Northern Virginia.

As for the third track, first, MTA would build near Rockville and along the Frederick branch of the Old Main Line. In 2020, there would be a third track on Barnesville Hill, roughly between the Monocacy River, west of Dickerson, and the Bucklodge interlocking, west of Boyds. In the long term, MTA would build the remaining sections of track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks.

In comparison, the 3-stage expansion in the 2013 draft update builds up to only marginally more service. There would be no additional trains in the short term. During the 2020s, MARC would add 3 additional trains, including one reverse-peak train.

Between 2030 and 2050, there would be 6 additional peak-service trains (3 round trips), plus some off-peak service and some more reverse-peak service. The draft update only proposes building a short section of third track on Barnesville Hill in the 2020s, with "additional triple tracking" at unspecified locations in the long term.

Why is MTA's 2013 draft update so much less ambitious than its 2007 plan? Perhaps MTA is trying to hold down the costs of the plan. But unlike the 2007 plan, the 2013 draft update does not provide cost estimates for the long-term plans. So reducing the scope of the long-term plans does not affect the total cost in the 2013 draft update.

Or maybe MTA now believes that there will be insufficient demand for all-day, two-way service and weekend service on the Brunswick Line in the future. But this seems inconsistent with MTA's explicit recognition of transit-oriented development (TOD) in the 2013 draft update, including the creation of high-density, mixed-use TOD on existing surface parking lots within walking distance of MARC stations.

In Montgomery County, there are plans for MARC-related TOD at Kensington and White Flint, and construction is already underway at Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Metropolitan Grove. But will there be enough transit to support TOD at these stations, if even MARC's own Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for eventual all-day, two-way service?

And will these plans leave room for an eventual third track, if MARC's Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for one? Montgomery County's draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which proposes a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, also covers right-of-way for MARC. But it only includes a third track northwest of Metropolitan Grove.

All of these projects should maintain a reserved right-of-way for the third track that will make it easier to provide all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line. And for this to happen, MTA's final update of the Growth and Investment Plan must restore both all-day, two-way service and a third track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks as long-term plans.

If you support all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line, please e-mail MTA at MGIP@mta.maryland.gov. MTA will accept public comments on the draft update through mid-November.

Development


See White Flint's Pike + Rose development under construction

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.


Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets in Pike + Rose. All photos by the author.

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.


Bricks going in at PerSei.

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.


11800 Grand Park Avenue. The movie theatre and music venue will be on the right-hand side.

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.

Development


Is there room for local businesses in White Flint?

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?


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

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..

Development


White Flint can retain Baby Boomers and attract new ones

With the kids gone, many Baby Boomers face one of two choices: age in place, or move downtown. Real estate analysts say which one they pick will have a big impact on the local housing market, but communities that can accommodate both choices can benefit either way.


Photo by velvettangerine on Flickr.

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are the largest generation in American history after their kids, the Millennials. More older adults are moving to urban neighborhoods, trading the large houses they raised families in for smaller, more manageable homes in places where they don't have to drive.

Meanwhile, other retirees are staying put to be closer to friends and family, but modifying their homes so they can live there as their mobility and health decline. But is there a middle ground? By creating a new urban center within an established suburban community, places like White Flint offer Boomers the lifestyle they want while remaining close to friends and family.

While Montgomery County talks a lot about attracting younger residents, White Flint is a naturally desirable place for older residents as well.

For starters, their ranks are growing. There are almost 225,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 70 living in Montgomery County, making up 23.4% of its population, compared to 18.8% in 2000. In North Bethesda (which the Census defines as the area roughly bounded by I-270, the Beltway, Rock Creek Park, Montrose Road and Twinbrook Parkway), there are 9,753 Boomers living here today, making up 23.8% of the population, compared to 20.1% in 2000.


Boomers might be drawn to urban-style amenities in White Flint, like this farmers' market. Photo by the author.

The county's vision for a new downtown along Rockville Pike resembles many of the urban places that retirees are currently moving to, like Arlington or Bethesda: a mix of homes, offices and shops, walkable streets, new transit options and a variety of public spaces. Being able to meet all of your daily needs within a short walk is a compelling alternative to big retirement communities that may have a lot of amenities on-site, but are practically impossible to leave without a car.

In a few years, White Flint will have many of the cultural amenities Boomers want, like a growing variety of restaurants, high-end movie theatres, and Strathmore's live music venue at Pike + Rose. And, of course, it's next to the Red Line and a future BRT line along Rockville Pike, allowing Boomers to travel to Rockville, Bethesda, or DC for activities there.

With some exceptions, most of the new apartments and condominiums that will be built in White Flint will be expensive, placing them out of reach for cash-strapped Millennials. But Boomers often have the savings and the income to actually afford them.


New towers rise behind 1950's-era homes in White Flint, allowing some residents to "age in place." Photo by the author.

Many Boomers won't have to move anywhere to enjoy the new White Flint, because they already moved to one of the area's surrounding suburban neighborhoods decades ago to raise a family. If they choose to "age in place," they'll find that their neighborhood has also evolved to meet their needs.

Much as older residents might add a first-floor bedroom for when they can't climb the stairs, White Flint will become a place where they can walk to the store when they can't drive anymore. Meanwhile, they'll still be close to familiar faces: friends, family, clubs or groups, medical practitioners, or faith communities.

As Baby Boomers enter the next phase of their lives, they'll have to make decisions about how and where they'd like to live. Some communities with the right amenities may see an influx of Boomers, while others may be stuck with a glut of houses that neither Boomers nor younger generations want.

The challenge for many communities is whether they can provide the right mix of new experiences and familiar faces to attract all types of Boomers. So far, it looks like White Flint is up to the task.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint.

Bicycling


Berliner hammers MCDOT for bad road designs

Plans for White Flint call for roads that accommodate people walking, biking, and sitting at cafes as well as driving, but Montgomery County transportation officials are disregarding those plans, as Dan Reed reported. Councilmember Roger Berliner took them to task in a recent letter.


Photo by Dome Poon on Flickr.

Berliner, who is the County Council's transportation chair and whose District 1 also includes White Flint, points out how the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) didn't design the same road as in the approved Sector Plan.

That plan specifies a road with bike lanes as well as a path for walking, and enough room for sidewalk cafes. Instead, MCDOT squeezed all of these into less space in order to move even more cars faster.

MCDOT officials told Berliner they plan to redesign Old Georgetown a second time in the future to fit in bike lanes, but only once traffic drops in the area!

That's rightwhile the White Flint plan aims to encourage bicycling as one of several ways to reduce dependence on driving, transportation officials are saying they want to see the effects of this lesser dependence before putting in the basic infrastructure to make it possible. That wasn't in the plan, and they haven't specified how much of a traffic drop is enough to make them willing to tolerate biyclists on the road.

As Berliner more circumspectly points out, MCDOT seems to have a pervasive attitude that it should design its roads solely around driving needs, and then only if there's extra room, it can accommodate other users, or just promise to do so at some vague future time. This is similar to county officials' baffling attitude in Clarksburg that they won't build an important crosswalk until after an planned but unfunded multi-lane road gets built, who knows when.

MCDOT treats pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure as "nice to have" extra features on roads, not integral parts of a transportation network that shares space and balances needs among all userseven when a plan says otherwise. Elected officials like Berliner will have to keep calling out this bad behavior in hopes that the department will eventually get the message.

Here is the relevant part of Berliner's letter:

I am very concerned that the current design for Old Georgetown Road between the current Executive Boulevard alignment and Rockville Pikethe first and one of the most important areas being developedis inconsistent with the approved White Flint Sector Plan.

As you know, the Sector Plan calls for both a shared use path and bike lanes along this stretch of road (p. 56). Regrettably, MCDOT's 35% design drawings include no bike lanes and only a 13 foot shared use path/sidewalk as opposed to a sidewalk and a shared use path. The combined facility would not be wide enough to allow for the desired café seating in front of the adjacent properties, customers exiting and entering retail establishments, and safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. exiting and entering retail establishments, and safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. These functions simply cannot coexist in a 13 foot span directly adjacent to retail structures. The shared use path should be ten feet wide according to ASHTA [I think he means AASHTO] standards.

Adding to these concerns is the fact that this segment of Old Georgetown Road is also supposed to accommodate the Recreation Loop called for in the approved Sector Plan (p. 59). In the current design you shared at the meeting on Monday, there is no Recreation Loop. If it will not be possible to accommodate this element, important to manyif not allresidents involved in the WF Sector Plan process, then I am interested in hearing what options are being considered as an alternative route.

MCDOT has stated that the current realignment for Old Georgetown Road is a temporary measure and that when the Plan meets its mode share goals and traffic has lessened, a second realignment of the road will be considered/constructed and that this realignment would include bike lanes. The problem with this approach is threefold:

(1) MCDOT's statement is predicated on an assumption that bike lanes are only warranted where vehicular traffic meets a certain, but yet unspecified, level. This creates great uncertainty regarding the future of bike facilities, the shared use path, and recreation loop as called for in the Plan;

(2) In order to meet the Plan's mode share goals, we should implement multi-modal, complete streets on the front end, not at the end stages of the Plan; and

(3) It is costly and a potential waste of scarce tax dollars to reconstruct Old Georgetown twice as opposed to taking a long term approach and reconstructing it once, integrating multimodal elements into the design.

Read the whole letter and thank Councilmember Berliner for his action on this isssue.

Roads


Road designs stand in the way of White Flint's urban future

White Flint's future as an urban place depends on a street network that welcomes people on foot and bike, not just in cars, and roads that are pleasant to spend time in, not just move through. But county transportation officials may not make getting there easy.


Old Georgetown Road today. Photo by the author.

On Monday, representatives of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) gave a presentation to the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee about the Western Workaround, a planned network of new streets on the west side of Rockville Pike.

"We want to provide an environment that's pedestrian and bicyclist friendly and will encourage people to get out of their vehicles," said Bruce Johnston, MCDOT transportation engineering chief, citing the county's Road Code, which describes how to make streets in urban areas. But the streets he presented continue to prioritize moving cars over pedestrians and bicyclists or creating enjoyable urban spaces.

Old Georgetown Road will get wider, not more pleasant for people

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for Old Georgetown Road to have 4 car lanes, a median where pedestrians can wait while crossing the street, a "shared use path" for bikes and pedestrians, and one of the few actual bike lanes proposed for the area.

With ground-level shops and apartments at Pike + Rose going up on the north side and White Flint's future Civic Green on the south, this street needs to be a place for people, not a highway.

Instead, MCDOT proposes keeping the 6 existing lanes and adding 2 more at intersections for right and left turns. The bike lanes are gone, and the wide sidewalks have been reduced. The speed limit would remain at 40 miles an hour, which is totally inappropriate in an urban environment. Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, pointed out that the speed limit on Old Georgetown in downtown Bethesda, which has 4 lanes and a turn lane, is just 30 miles per hour.


The sector plan's street network (left) and bike network (right).

Johnston blamed the Maryland State Highway Administration, which controls state roads like Old Georgetown and has resisted attempts by MCDOT to lower speed limits or reduce the number of lanes.

"The state has the authority to say 'I know that's in the sector plan, but traffic volumes are what they are,'" he said, adding that if White Flint residents and landowners want bike lanes and safer, pedestrian-friendly streets, they can "go over their heads" and speak with Governor O'Malley.

Cars, not people drive design choices

But even streets that are entirely under MCDOT's jurisdiction, like an extension of Executive Boulevard, have been designed for cars first. Johnston described it as a business street with tall buildings up against the sidewalk, which might make you think of Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda, one of the best urban streets not just in the county, but in the region.


Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda. Photo by eddie welker on Flickr.

Instead, Executive Extended will be 5 lanes wide, including a turn lane. Landowners who have willingly agreed to give up land for the new street have asked MCDOT for on-street parking, which would not only serve future businesses but give pedestrians a nice buffer from traffic. Instead, on-street parking will only be available during rush hour.

Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicyclists would get a 10-foot "shared use path" on either side of the street and a 6-foot buffer. To compare, the sidewalks on Woodmont Avenue are about 20 feet wide, and there's also a separate, 6-foot wide bike lane.

When asked why there's so little room for pedestrians and cyclists, Johnston said they need all 5 lanes "because of the anticipated traffic volume of the road."

But as Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces likes to say, "If you design for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you design for people and places, you get people and places." It's not a given that Executive Boulevard needs 5 lanes, especially if there are legitimate alternatives to driving. But MCDOT officials seem unwilling to entertain that possibility.

Mary Ward, a White Flint resident and regular cyclist, was disappointed by the new street designs. "This kind of needs to be rethought," she said. "The Complete Streets vision is that it's all levels of cycling, not just experienced cyclists."

Better street network means baby steps

Thankfully, MCDOT's street designs are only 35% complete, meaning there's still room for improvement. Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty, which is building Pike + Rose, says the plans are flawed, but are better than what MCDOT has presented before. For instance, lanes on many streets including Old Georgetown would be 10 or 11 feet wide, compared to 11 or 12 feet today. That means slower traffic speeds and extra space for sidewalks.

"There are a lot of good things happening here," Goldman said, though he admitted that he will go to the governor to ask for "appropriate" street designs on Old Georgetown Road.


This short stretch of Woodglen Drive will get a bike lane. Photo by the author.

Until then, the only bike lane White Flint's getting anytime soon will be on Woodglen Drive between Executive Boulevard and the Bethesda Trolley Trail, a distance of less than 1/3 mile. MCDOT will remove 6 parking spaces in front of Whole Foods to make room for a northbound bike lane. They'll also paint sharrows, or lane markings that tell drivers to watch out for bikes, in the southbound traffic lane, which will become 5 feet wider.

"There's a lot of competing uses among our roadways," said Pat Shepherd, MCDOT bikeways coordinator. "We need to reallocate this space."

Shepherd has it exactly right. The White Flint Sector Plan calls for the creation of a new downtown where people have real alternatives to driving. To make that happen, we need streets that prioritize and celebrate pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than treating them as an afterthought. And we need transportation planners, both at the state and county level, who are willing to fight for them. We shouldn't have to go to the governor to ask for bike lanes because MCDOT won't stand up for us.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint.

Roads


Montrose Parkway undermines White Flint's urban future

After 40 years of planning, an extension of Montrose Parkway through White Flint could soon become a reality. County and state transportation officials say the highway is needed to move cars, but residents and county planners say it contradicts their goal of making White Flint an urban center.


The existing part of Montrose Parkway. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Yesterday, the Montgomery County Planning Board recommended that the State Highway Administration and Montgomery County Department of Transportation change their plan to build a $119 million, 1.62-mile extension of Montrose Parkway from Rockville Pike to Veirs Mill Road. They questioned how it fits into the White Flint Sector Plan, which calls for the creation of a place "where people walk to work, shops and transit."

"It's hard to see this as consistent with a pedestrian-friendly environment," said Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier, who lives near White Flint. "It detracts from our efforts to create a grid of streets ... it makes our transportation goals harder."

Work on Montrose Parkway began in the 1970's, when it was planned as part of the Outer Beltway, which was eventually built as the Intercounty Connector. Later, a portion of the highway's route between Veirs Mill Road and New Hampshire Avenue was turned into Matthew Henson State Park.

Planning for the current version of Montrose Parkway began in 1998 and resulted in the construction of the segment west of Rockville Pike, which opened in 2010. The Planning Board's recommendations, which aren't binding, will next go to the County Council for a vote. SHA officials say that construction won't begin for at least 5 years.

The proposed four-lane highway would have a stoplight at Chapman Avenue and overpasses at Nebel Street and the CSX railroad tracks. At Parklawn Drive, there would be a single-point urban interchange or SPUI (pronounced "spooey"), where drivers on Parklawn would stop at a light before turning onto the highway. A SPUI already exists at the junction of Falls Road and I-270.

SHA and MCDOT representatives insist that Montrose Parkway is needed to handle anticipated traffic from the redevelopment of White Flint. "If you build more density, you're going to have more traffic congestion," said Edgar Gonzalez, MCDOT's deputy director for transportation policy.

However, recent studies and local examples suggest that compact, mixed-use development like what's proposed here will actually reduce traffic, raising the question where MCDOT and SHA's concerns are actually valid.

Parkway would reduce east-west connections


Plan showing Montrose Parkway at Parklawn Drive if Randolph Road is closed.


Plan showing Montrose Parkway at Parklawn Drive if Randolph Road is open.

Since the latest plans for Montrose Parkway were first presented two weeks ago, residents have expressed concerns about the state's plans to close Randolph Road, a major east-west thoroughfare running parallel to the parkway, where it crosses the railroad tracks.

"One of the biggest problems in White Flint planning is the lack of east-west crossings," wrote Barnaby Zall last week. "We've been trying for years to figure out a way to bridge that gap."

SHA officials say it'll improve safety. The Federal Railroad Administration calls it the 4th most dangerous crossing in Maryland: there have been 21 collisions there in the past 35 years, including one death. Since 2007, there has been just one collision. Separating the road from the railroad tracks also means trains won't have to blow their horns when they pass through, something many neighbors have complained about.

Randolph Road would end in a cul-de-sac just east of the tracks, and anyone who wanted to go further west would have to get on Montrose Parkway. Chair Carrier worried that this would hurt access to shops along Randolph Road. "It would be hard to imagine that the businesses there would remain viable," she said.

Gonzalez said it could be a safety hazard. "You have to weigh the benefits [of access to Randolph Road] with the possibility of a future event occurring," he said. "Nobody wants to be in a train collision."

Nonetheless, board members voted to keep Randolph Road open at the railroad crossing, which planning department staff recommended because it gives travelers more options, reducing the traffic burden on any one road.

Debate over whether interchanges are "barriers"


Plan of the entire eastern segment of Montrose Parkway.

Much of the debate about Montrose Parkway revolved around the proposed interchange with Parklawn Drive. Board members worried it would become a barrier between White Flint and Twinbrook, making it difficult for people to walk or bike from one side to the other.

"We should rethink what we're doing in the context of the future land use of White Flint," said Planning Board member Casey Anderson. "We're not trying to build these huge slabs of asphalt that divide communities into pieces."

In the past, county planners have recommended putting a stoplight there instead. Former planning director Rollin Stanley argued that interchanges in White Flint "[reinforce] the view that Rockville Pike is a runway to get through White Flint versus moving through the area as a destination itself." Last fall, acting planning director Rose Krasnow wrote a letter asking MCDOT and SHA to consider it, but was rebuffed by MCDOT director Arthur Holmes, who said the interchange would "improve safety and reduce barriers by separating conflicting flows" of cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Likewise, Gonzalez said that an at-grade intersection, which would require that Montrose Parkway be 9 or 10 lanes wide to handle projected traffic, which would be just as bad for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Planner Larry Cole argued that it's because the county and state's plans are "overdesigned" and overestimate the amount of future car traffic in White Flint. "The reason [Montrose Parkway] is this big is that the space is available," he said.

Nonetheless, the board eventually voted in favor of keeping the interchange after officials from MCDOT and SHA promised to look at ways to make crossing the interchange safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, such as restricting right turns on red. The parkway will already have a 10-foot path for bicyclists and pedestrians on the north side and a 5-foot sidewalk on the south side.

Over time, the vision for White Flint has changed a lot. Forty years ago, the Outer Beltway was supposed to pass through it. Twenty years ago, the Planning Board sought to build multiple interchanges along Rockville Pike. Even the White Flint and Twinbrook sector plans, which are less than 5 years old, included the Montrose Parkway.

However, these neighborhoods are envisioned as urban places where people will be able to drive less, and to succeed it needs a street network where people feel comfortable and safe not driving, and Montrose Parkway as proposed could undermine that. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration work for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, not just drivers, and their plans for places like White Flint must reflect that.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint blog.

Development


White Flint's journey points way for other struggling malls

White Flint Mall opened in 1977 as the emblem of Montgomery County's rising suburban affluence, but over time the luxury mall began to show its age. Now located at the center of the urbanizing White Flint Sector Plan area, the mall's transformation into an urban neighborhood is a sign of where the county's going.


White Flint Mall today. All images by the author except where noted.

"It's going to be an incredible project, certainly adding to the energy and synergy of White Flint," says Francine Waters, managing director of owner Lerner Enterprises, which built the mall and others like it throughout the region over the past several decades.

In October, the Planning Board approved a sketch plan to replace the 874,000-square-foot mall and an adjacent office building with 5.2 million square feet of shops, homes, offices and a hotel. The project could take 25 years to build over 3 phases; when finished, it would be the largest development in the White Flint area.

In a 2011 Washington Post article, Michael Cohen of Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects described the project as "making a town, a community."

Enclosed malls like White Flint were popular throughout North America during the late 20th century, but have become less popular as changing demographics and shopping habits have lured consumers to big-box stores and the Internet.

Borders, one of the mall's anchors, filed for bankruptcy and closed in 2011, followed by Bloomingdale's, which closed last year and moved to the mixed-use Wisconsin Place complex in Friendship Heights. Though Lerner won't divulge how many vacancies there are, portions of the mall are now empty.

What can you do to refresh a mall? Some, like Landover Mall in Prince George's County, were simply demolished while awaiting another use, while others like Harundale Mall in Anne Arundel County were turned into a strip center. A few, however, are being turned into something that resembles a neighborhood, with a mix of residential and commercial uses and public open space.

One of the best examples of this kind of redevelopment is Belmar, a former mall outside of Denver that is being redeveloped as a suburban downtown. Closer to home, plans are underway to do the same with Landmark Mall in Alexandria and Owings Mills Mall in Baltimore County.


Photo by Chris Yarzab on Flickr.

To orchestrate this transformation, Lerner hired Elkus Manfredi, which also designed CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Florida, a renowned example of New Urbanist planning principles, and Americana at Brand, a mixed-use project in Glendale, California. Both projects helped revive formerly struggling business districts and became regional destinations.

"We're looking for that exciting compelling story that [the Friends of White Flint and the White Flint Partnership] all have been looking for," says Waters. "Elkus Manfredi is a world-class architect and Americana at Brand certainly reflects a very successful project."


Site plan of the proposed redevelopment of White Flint Mall.

In the proposed design, both department store spacesLord and Taylor and the former Bloomingdale'swould remain, effectively preserving the "memory" of the mall's original footprint. Meanwhile, the center of the mall would be demolished and replaced by a 1.7-acre "central piazza" surrounded by smaller shops with housing above.

The tallest buildings, reaching as high as 200 to 250 feet, would line Rockville Pike and a future extension of Executive Boulevard that would form the site's northern boundary. From there, the height steps down to 100-foot-tall buildings around the piazza and 50-foot buildings on the site's eastern and southern boundaries, where it's closest to single-family homes.

Overall, there would be 1 million square feet of retail space, which would be joined by another million square feet of office space, a 280,000-square-foot hotel, and over 2400 apartments in 14 buildings. Underground parking garages containing 9,300 spaces would serve the entire development. According to the planning department's report, each building will be designed and oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating and lighting, reducing energy costs.

A new grid of private streets would divide the site into blocks and connect it to Rockville Pike and future extensions of Executive Boulevard and Nebel Street. The streets will be designed to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and cars and have extensive landscaping and street furniture.

Meanwhile, 40% of the site would be set aside as public or private open space, including the piazza, a 2.3-acre addition to the existing White Flint Park, and four smaller plazas scattered throughout the development.

Lerner will also set aside 4 acres on the property's southern end for an elementary school if Montgomery County Public Schools chooses to purchase it. County planners estimate that the 14,000 housing units that could eventually be built in White Flint will create demand for new schools in the area.

However, there was a brief conflict last fall when the Planning Board asked the developer to simply give the land away, but they later backed down. At the time, Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier argued that the school was necessary to placate concerns about overcrowded classrooms.

Handing over the property "was not in the sector plan," says Waters.


Bird's-eye view of the proposed White Flint Mall redevelopment.

While the redevelopment of White Flint Mall has a lot of potential, some urban design issues stem from its history as a mall. While streets break the site up into city blocks, they are much larger than blocks in other projects in the White Flint Sector Plan area. For instance, the block containing the former Bloomingdale's appears to be over 800 feet long, while the 2 blocks closest to Rockville Pike are subdivided by what appear to be cul-de-sacs that don't connect to the Pike itself.

Not only does this reduce pedestrian connectivity, but it forces drivers onto a series of 4- and 6-lane streets roughly located where the mall's ring road is today.

These larger blocks and road sections may arise in part from county Department of Transportation regulations that discourage blocks shorter than 600 feet. While a series of pedestrian passages cutting through the site help improve connectivity, it may be worth reconsidering how the street grid is set up, and whether traffic can be managed with a more fine-grained grid of smaller streets and shorter blocks.

Though the mall is set to close next year, it's unclear when construction will begin. The Planning Board will need to approve a preliminary plan and a site plan, both of which are more detailed than a sketch plan, before anything can happen. Nonetheless, Waters looks forward to what the property will become.

"It's going to be an incredible project certainly adding to the energy and synergy of White Flint," says Waters. "I am absolutely, positively thrilled with what we're proposing and how it works with the other projects within White Flint."

This content was originally developed for the Friends of White Flint blog. For more images of White Flint Mall and its proposed redevelopment, check out this slideshow.

Events


On the calendar: White Flint happy hour, Dupont buses, Potomac Ave, Bethesda sidewalk, gentrification and more

What are you doing this week? If you care about the future of the White Flint area, there's a happy hour Tuesday. If you care about gentrification in DC, you might enjoy a panel discussion in Anacostia Thursday.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

If you care about bus service on 16th Street, sidewalks from Friendship Heights to Bethesda, or pedestrian and bike safety around Potomac Avenue Metro, there are local community meetings on important transportation projects tonight and Thursday. And take a tour of Frederick Douglass's Anacostia with John Muller Saturday.

Here are some highlights from the Greater Greater Washington calendar:

16th Street buses in Dupont: WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre will meet with residents about the performance of the S line, where many riders have to endure long waits during rush hour. That's not because the buses take a long time to come, but rather, full bus after full bus pass them by on this extremely popular line.

New Dupont ANC commissioner Kishan Putta organized the meeting, tonight (Monday), 7:30 pm at the JCC, 16th and Q (enter on Q Street). Residents are free to bring up concerns about other bus lines as well.

Sidewalk on Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda: Maryland SHA wants to build a 6-foot sidewalk on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Friendship Heights and Bethesda. The Little Falls Watershed Alliance is opposing the sidewalk because it will require cutting down trees, but WABA wants to ensure there's a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists on this road.

There's a public meeting tonight (Monday), 7:30-9 pm at Somerset Town Hall, 4510 Cumberland Avenue, Chevy Chase, where SHA will present plans and hear from residents.

Friends of White Flint happy hour: On Tuesday, Friends of White Flint and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are having a happy hour to talk about how to make the suburbs "hip," or much more than "hip."

The happy hour starts at 5:30pm at Seasons 52, 11414 Rockville Pike, a short walk from the White Flint Metro station. Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner will be there; RSVP here.


Image from DDOT.
Potomac Ave "circle": DDOT has been studying ways to improve the intersection of Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues, at the Potomac Avenue Metro. A previous study recommended a sort of square with 5-lane roadways around the edge; at this meeting, DDOT will present its new ideas, which it hasn't yet released, and hear from residents.

The meeting is Thursday, January 31, 6:30-8:30pm at Payne Elementary, 1445 C Street, SE.

Does redevelopment mean gentrification? River East Emerging Leaders (r.e.e.l.) is convening a panel discussion on the positive and negative effects of redevelopment, and lessons learned for the future.

The panel will include NBC's Tom Sherwood, planning head Harriet Tregoning, Clinton Yates of the Washington Post, and a number of other community and city leaders. It's Thursday, January 31, 7 pm at the DHCD Community Room, 1800 Martin Luther King Avenue, SE in Anacostia. RSVP at info@reeldc.org.

Frederick Douglass's Anacostia: Greater Greater Washington contributor John Muller, who recently wrote a book about Frederick Douglass and his years in Anacostia, is giving a tour Saturday of the places Douglass frequented, including majestic views of the Capitol, and historical explanations of Douglass's life. The tour runs from 1-2:30 pm and costs $30.

MoveDC Idea Exchange: And don't forget, Saturday, February 9th is the big "Idea Exchange" for DDOT's moveDC citywide transportation plan. You can stop by the MLK Library for fun and even family-friendly interactive transportation booths anytime from 9:30-3.

An organized program begins at 10:30, including a panel discussion at 11 featuring PolicyLink's Anita Hairston, author Chris Leinberger, and Slate blogger Matthew Yglesias.

Have an event for the calendar? Post it in the comments or email it to events@ggwash.org.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC