Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Walkability

Public Spaces


When "aging in place" efforts extend beyond the elderly, everyone benefits

Across the region, grassroots efforts are underway to make it easier for elderly people to independently take care of errands and chores. But one group is recognizing the importance of mitigating these kinds of challenges for people of all ages.


College students help serve dinner at a meal hosted by Glover Park Village. Photo by Street Sense on Flickr.

Trips the doctor, food shopping, yard work, snow shoveling, and going to social events are all examples of things that can get harder as residents age or sustain long or short-term disabilities. Not having a way to do these things can cause people to live in isolation, eat poorly, worry a lot, and have a generally lower quality of life.

While residents sometimes ask for help from neighbors when they can't do it all independently, volunteers often step in and help.

This is commonly referred to as "aging in place," but more recently, "aging in community" has become the preferred term because "community" reflects the value of strong and fulfilling bonds that keep people engaged.

In 2010, Glover Park Citizens' Association president Patricia Clark and a team of volunteers formed the Golden Glovers to formalize efforts to help seniors age in community, like seminars, financial counseling, and end of life care. Before they even got started, though, they widened their scope to include everyone in their community, recognizing that young and old residents alike face both temporary and permanent conditions that could force them away from independent living.

Very soon after it formed, the organization shed "Golden" from its name and started calling itself Glover Park Village because, as a participant in Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) it wanted to apply the larger organization's "village" concept.

Glover Park Village offers tons of different services

Glover Park Village offers a broad range of services to make independent living more feasible. Some residents need a helping hand with yard work, small fix-it projects and help using tools or computers. Sometimes volunteers help with taking winter clothes out of storage and decluttering living space. They also take people for walks, help with paperwork, and simply pay friendly visits.

Others residents request transportation to medical appointments, prescription pickup, mailing packages or grocery shopping. In those cases, Clark explained that the drive itself isn't always why someone requests a ride to the doctor. Walking to and from parking spaces on both ends of the trip adds additional complexity, making a door-to-door drive more feasible.

Still others are interested in the home visits and seminars for the companionship and social interaction. Glover Park Village hosts regular gatherings with guest speakers, and attendees often say that simply getting together as a community means as much as the speaker's topic.

Really, Glover Park Village volunteers do just about everything except personal medical care. Addressing the situations of those they help is often more like peeling layers of an onion than fixing a single problem, according to Clark.

"One neighbor needs an eye operation," Clark says. "Then, he stays at home at least a week to recover. Transportation to and from the surgery is only part of his concern. We're working with him to plan his meals and volunteers to keep him company. Before he schedules the surgery, he wants to see and feel comfortable about his daily routine."

Glover Park Village has been running for five years now

At its five year anniversary, Glover Park Village boasts over 100 volunteers, including a pool of 20-30 available drivers, and provides services to over 100 residents. Glover Park Village currently gets its funding from donations, not charging a dime for its services or events.

When Glover Park Village formed, the GPCA and ANC3B provided nearly $10,000 over a three year period for early operating expenses such as background checks for volunteers, insurance, website, database, printing and postage. Now organization, currently relying on resident donations and volunteer efforts, is self-sustaining. The volunteers report that they appreciate their own opportunity to strengthen the community and connect with fellow residents.

Glover Park Village works with residents of more than just Glover Park. It has triangle shaped borders, with Glover-Archbold Park to the west, Whitehaven Parkway to the south and Massachusetts Avenue to the east—that means it covers Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, the Naval Observatory, and other nearby areas.

And in fact, neighborhoods across our region run a network of 48 villages that meet quarterly through WAVE to discuss issues such as end of life care, hospital discharges and financial liability. The DC Office on Aging organizes four seminars annually on topics relevant to villages.

Ultimately, the village movement is about more than senior citizens needing a ride. It's a reflection of how neighbors organize to identify needs of individual residents living independently, resolve quality of life issues and build livable communities.

Transit


Metro will run bare-bones service Monday; local officials urge people to stay off the roads

Metro will run extremely, extremely limited (and free) service Monday. Meanwhile, local jurisdictions are working to plow roads, and DC is recruiting people to help shovel sidewalks. What do you think of the region's snow recovery efforts?


Metrorail service Monday. Map by Peter Dovak. Click for full version.

We're doing our own shoveling and so forth, but want to let members of our community discuss the latest in the snow dig-out.

WMATA just announced there will be service every 20-25 minutes Monday on just underground parts of the Red Line (Medical Center to Union Station), Orange Line (Ballston to Eastern Market) and Green Line (Fort Totten to Anacostia).

Buses will run a "lifeline service" of a vehicle every 30 minutes only on 22 lines: the 32, 33, 36, 53, 70, 90, A6, A8, S4, U8, V4, and X2 in DC; the C4, D12, K6, P12, Q2, Y2, and Z8 in Maryland; and the 16A, 16E, and 28A in Virginia.

Metro won't charge any fares on the rail or bus.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

Officials say don't drive or walk yet

DC officials are urging people to stay off the roads unless necessary. Anyone who tries to drive and ends up blocking a major road could face a $750 fine. Many sidewalks are still impassable on foot, which has led to some people walking in the street.

Some officials have responded by urging people not to walk in the streets; others have responded by pointing out that many have little choice. The Bowser administration has been pleading with residents to volunteer to shovel out others who can't do it.

What are you observing? What do you think of the region's snow response so far?

Transit


These two Prince George's neighborhoods show how bike trails help neighborhoods

Riverdale Park and East Riverdale are two neighboring communities just east of Hyattsville in Prince George's County. One is thriving while the other has struggled. One reason could be that the Riverdale Park is near bike trails, while East Riverdale is blocked from them.


Riverdale Park and East Riverdale. Image by Dan Reed. Base map from ESRI, with boundaries from the Census Bureau.

As part of an effort to extend the WB&A Trail south toward DC, Bike Maryland and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association studied property values and housing patterns in several Prince George's county neighborhoods. The large differences in property values between neighborhoods with close proximity to bike trails and other nearby communities with few non-car transport options was striking.

As part of the study, the organization divided whole communities into those that have good access to trails (Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, Edmonston) and those that have poor bike access or are otherwise "carlocked" by major uncrossable roads (Woodlawn, East Riverdale, Landover Hills). They also looked at properties within 200 meters of a bike facility and those beyond 200m of a bike facility, both within communities and overall.


A heat map of bike infrastructure in Prince George's County. The area where Bike Maryland and WABA want to expand the WB&A Trail is circled in yellow. Image from Bike Maryland.

Two neighboring communities highlight the contrasts

For example, let's compare East Riverdale, where there is no safe place to bike or walk, either for recreation or for commuting and utility, with Riverdale Park, where there are far more options.

Riverdale is a burgeoning community with a lively farmer's market, a nascent craft beer scene, a weekly blues jam, and easy walking and bike access to the new Hyattsville Arts district and a revitalized Route 1, which has several new restaurants. A trendy new development anchored by a Whole Foods market is under construction just north of town.

But East Riverdale, which is just across Route 201, has been designated as a Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative community, meaning it faces "significant economic, health, public safety and educational challenges."


Riverdale Park. Base image from Google Maps.


East Riverdale. Base image from Google Maps.

Median housing values are more than $30,000 higher in Riverdale Park ($246,200) than in East Riverdale ($215,500), and assessments are about $50,000 higher ($215,800 in Riverdale Park vs. $163,700 in East Riverdale). Riverdale Park's value per acre ($995,000) is nearly 10 percent higher than East Riverdale's ($908,000).

Houses in East Riverdale are actually newer and larger than those in Riverdale Park. East Riverdale also has more single-family housing and fewer buildings with large numbers of units, there's more owner-occupied housing, and its houses have more rooms; all of these things are often associated with higher home values.

The demographic characteristics of the residents in Riverdale Park and East Riverdale are similar, with approximately half of the residents of Hispanic of Latino heritage (48% in Riverdale Park vs. 53% in East Riverdale). Downtown Riverdale Park has a MARC commuter rail station with some charming pre-WWII homes and cottages nearby, although the commercial area around it seemed relatively lifeless and contained several abandoned buildings until recently. On balance, looking at individual street views of East Riverdale's and Riverdale Park's housing stocks, it is certainly not obvious that East Riverdale would have dramatically lower housing values.

It's quite possible that the reason Riverdale Park is being revitalized while East Riverdale has struggled economically goes back to basic community design: East Riverdale's layout forces residents to drive everywhere, and residents can't easily walk to the market or ride their bikes to work.

Meanwhile, as younger residents who are not particularly attached to driving look for affordable place to live, Riverdale Park is a more attractive choice. The new energy attracted to the neighborhood creates an upward cycle of renovation.

To note: The comparison data on the housing characteristics and demographics of households in East Riverdale and Riverdale come from the US Census American Community Survey (ACS) for 2009-2013. Tax valuation data are from PG Atlas, gathered in June and July of 2015.

Can transit turn East Riverdale around?


Caption: East Riverdale is Blocked from the Anacostia Tributary Trails by a Major Highway, MD Route 201; map by Google maps.

It's possible that the Purple Line, which will affect East Riverdale more than Riverdale Park, may switch economic momentum back to the east over the next 10 or 20 years. The Purple Line and its feeder walks and bike routes (if any) should make it easier to get around without a car.

Granted, a more desirable neighborhood layout, with more transportation options, will attract higher income residents, who, in turn, attract more businesses and amenities, making the neighborhood even more desirable in an self-reinforcing cycle. It is very difficult, and can be a fool's errand, to try to accurately say that any one item makes a neighborhood more or less desirable when every contributing factor is related to every other!

But we certainly want to make county leaders aware of the fact that the carlocked neighborhoods in Prince George's County contribute much less per acre to county's tax rolls than trail-accessible neighborhoods. We hope our county will agree to build more great bike trails in the county and thereby test our hypothesis that unlocking carlocked neighborhoods could lift whole communities!

Public Spaces


The National Zoo will be open for 1,000 fewer hours in 2016

Starting in 2016, the National Zoo's grounds will be open for three fewer hours per day. Beyond not having as many chances to see the animals, the change means people who use the Zoo to walk and exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon won't be able to anymore.


Photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Year-round, the Zoo will open two hours later and close one hour earlier than it does now. That means it will open at 8 am instead of 6, and close at 5 pm in winter and 7 pm the rest of the year rather than the current 6 pm in winter and 8 pm otherwise. The later opening will allow the animal house buildings to open at 9 am, one hour earlier each day than they are now.

The changed hours are the equivalent of the Zoo shutting its doors 7.5 days a month compared to the current winter schedule.

There's more to the Zoo than animals in buildings. When it's open, residents walk through the grounds for fitness or relaxation before and after work or school. The Zoo grounds provide a direct east-west connection, especially for pedestrians. Also, a section of the Rock Creek Trail runs though the Zoo.

In an email to members earlier this month, the Zoo cited visitor and animal safety as the primary reason for this change, particularly when it gets dark on shorter fall and winter days. Not having the public on the grounds will also allow Zoo staff and vendors "to move freely around the park during early morning hours."

What's unclear, however, is the degree to which new safety measures are actually needed.

The Zoo is great in the early morning and late afternoon

Congress chartered the Zoo for "the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people," and some of its wonderful sights and sounds only happen outside during early morning hours. Visitors can watch the Zoo staff introduce new orangutans to the overhead "O Line" when there aren't many people around, or hear sea lions bark or lions roar.

Nearby resident and Zoo member, Sheila Harrington, describes the value for her family of accessing the grounds prior to the Zoo's planned 8 am opening.

I've been walking in the Zoo early in the morning, before starting work, often 2-3 times a week (unless it's freezing or pouring), for decades. My husband used to visit the gibbons with each of our babies in a Snugli, and bonded with the mother gibbons similarly burdened. When the children were in strollers they rode along on my walks—up and down those hills pushing a stroller is a great workout. It's quiet, mostly without vehicles, and the animals are lively and fascinating. Sometimes I stop to sketch. The Zoo staff are usually working on some interesting tasks. Opening at 8 am would be too late because I need to get to work!

The Zoo is a useful travel route across Rock Creek

The paths and roads that the Zoo maintains also fulfill transportation needs, intended or not. The Zoo's 163 acres are directly adjacent to Rock Creek Park, an area with somewhat limited routes through the parkland.

When the Zoo closes its grounds in the evening, there are two big negative impacts to transportation. First, four Zoo entrance gates close across walking paths and roads that normally allow direct east-west (or west-east) routes into and through the Zoo for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers (yellow marks on the map below). Second, two gates close at the two ends of the north-south Rock Creek Trail within Zoo boundaries (green marks).


The yellow dots are entrances to east-west paths that cut through the Zoo, and the green dots are entrances to those that run north-south. Base image from Google Maps, with labels from the author.

Whether the four Zoo entrance gates are open affects anyone who wants to travel across the Zoo and Rock Creek at this point. Pedestrians can walk just 0.8 miles to get from the Harvard Street NW bridge through the Zoo to Connecticut Avenue NW. But the walk doubles to 1.5-1.6 miles when the Zoo is closed when they have to walk around to Porter Street NW or Calvert Street NW. The distance similarly doubles for cyclists and drivers when they have to use Calvert or Porter instead of North Road.

When the two trail gates close, pedestrians and cyclists instead need to traverse the Beach Drive tunnel on a narrow sidewalk. (This area will be widened in late 2016 and early 2017 by planned NPS construction.) DDOT, NPS and the Zoo explored closing Rock Creek Trail at night during the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail Environmental Assessment. Trail users want to see it open 24/7, but Zoo insists this is infeasible "in order to maintain ... accreditation by the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (AZA)."


The November Project DC, a "just show up" fitness group, did its Friday
6:30 am exercises on the Zoo grounds. Photo by tusabeslo on Flickr.

Safety issues? What safety issues?

Zoo users are both surprised and disappointed by the change to fewer open hours. They're also still unsure of what, exactly, the safety issue is because the Zoo did not release the crime or safety data used to support its decision or identify any potential alternatives.

Media coverage on crime at or near the National Zoo has focused on incidents that occurred on three separate Easter Monday events at the Zoo. A shooting in 2000, stabbing in 2011 and shooting in 2014 all occurred in late afternoon between 4 and 6 pm. These events were unfortunate, but they were isolated, and they happened in late April when even the new Zoo hours would mean it'd be open until 7.

Zoo management has historically been great about keeping up a dialog with members, visitors and nearby neighborhoods on an array of issues. But the Zoo hasn't shared any details with the public regarding this decision. Even the announcement only went to members by email and on the public website, not appearing on any of the Zoo's active social media accounts.

Warren Gorlick, a nearby resident, said he wants to know the exact safety concerns that warrant the hours changes.

There is not much we know, however, because the [letter] ... was carefully worded to provide almost no details as to the underlying rationale. It simply mentioned "safety" issues repeatedly, without stating what they were or whether the zoo had considered methods other than restricting public access to the zoo. We have to wonder what is causing this sudden concern about "safety" right now that would result in such a major cutback in public access to this space.
Can Zoo users prompt a change of course?

Zoo users want to understand whether closing the Zoo is the best solution to keep visitors, staff and animals safe, but the Zoo's email is correct in saying the change will "frustrate" some patrons. The closure of Zoo grounds three hours a day represents a significant change in public access to the animals and walking trails. The plan to add one hour of animal house access during hours when the grounds were open anyway doesn't outweigh the overall reduction to grounds access.

What remains to be seen is whether the Zoo will share details behind the safety concerns. There may be other options through sponsorships to support hiring more security staff, partnerships with other law enforcement agencies or even establishing community watch groups. Without more information, we only see the locked gates in the name of keeping visitors safely on the outside.


Photo by Tim Herrick on Flickr.

The Woodley Park Community Association will host Dennis Kelly, the Zoo's director, at its upcoming meeting for a discussion of the Zoo operating hours changes. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm at Stanford University in the Washington Building (2661 Connecticut Ave NW).

Pedestrians


Van Ness residents say their neighborhood isn't safe for walking

"My biggest concern at Van Ness is pedestrian safety. I feel my safety is constantly at risk," Benae Mosby said at a recent meeting of the Van Ness Main Streets board. As the communications and community relations manager at WAMU, whose headquarters are at Connecticut Avenue and Windom Place NW, Mosby walks this troubled intersection daily.


Connecticut Avenue at the Van Ness Metro station. All photos by the author.

It is an especially challenging time for Mosby and others on this stretch of Connecticut. On the east side, a one-block segment of the sidewalk is closed to accommodate the construction at Park Van Ness. On the west side, the entrance to the Metro has been closed since late June.

ANC 3F commissioners pushed DDOT to provide some relief to pedestrians, but to no avail. DDOT said it would add no second crosswalk on Connecticut at the south side on Windom (a few years after one of its own studies recommended one), and after adding a few more seconds to the crossing times at Veazey Terrace and Windom, DDOT said it would add no more.

With all this pressure on the intersections and pleas for changes falling on deaf ears at DDOT, a predictable outcome set in over the summer. The intersections became especially taxed in the morning rush hour, and pedestrians piled up and had a hard time getting through in a single cycle. Morning commuters, especially those traveling by bus to the Van Ness Metro stop, started taking more risks to avoid missing a walk cycle and potentially their train. Several could be seen crossing mid-block from the bus stop on the west side of Connecticut at Veazey Terrace to get to the Metro entrance on the east side.

As the problem grew, ANC 3F Commissioner Mary Beth Ray urged police action to deal with these hazardous crossings.

Police tried to make things safer

On Thursday, August 13th, MPD put up a yellow tape barricade to block mid-block access to the Van Ness Metro station. Officers were also handing out brochures and talking to pedestrians.

But by the next morning, the tape had been torn away. The next week, MPD tried another tack: Placing the tape where bus passengers are most tempted to cross.

These are short-term measures that do not address the real problem: The infrastructure is unfriendly to pedestrians, and right now it looks like DDOT would rather pedestrians bear the safety risk than accommodate pedestrian needs.

Metro escalator work has cut off what was a safer option

These hazards are what made the "secret" Metro passage under Connecticut Avenue, now lost to the escalator rehab project, so appealing.

"Metro has closed our 'secret' shortcut!" lamented Dorn McGrath, a long-time Forrest Hills resident who misses the safer underground route. "Pedestrians in the know wanting to cross Connecticut Avenue at Veazey Place could bypass the wait for a walk signal and the heavy traffic and cross in safety by using the Van Ness/UDC Metro tunnel. One could reach or depart from the Starbucks without having to rush across six lanes.

"Alas, the Metro entrance next to Starbucks is now closed and a pedestrian has no choice but to cross either through the heavy traffic or a block earlier."

To achieve Vision Zero, a lot has to change

Going back to Mosby's issue, even when the Metro entrance and Park Van Ness sidewalk reopens, the traffic and short crossing times will remain hazards to pedestrians at Windom and Veazey.

This will also continue to be the case at other Connecticut Avenue crossings, such as the one to the north on Albemarle Street. There, resident and seniors advocate Barbara Cline has seen car crashes, drivers running red lights,blocking intersections, speeding through an apartment building driveway from Connecticut to Albemarle.

Even with a new 25-year plan from DDOT that makes pedestrians the number one policy priority, the changes needed to make this a reality seem light years away. Photo enforcement can help, but the reality is that we live in a car culture, and pedestrians still need to push for changes to make room for us on the street.

Cross-posted at Forest Hills Connection.

Public Spaces


What other college towns can teach us about College Park's challenges

Our contributors recently discussed why College Park, Maryland doesn't have the same "college town" feel as the places around similar flagship universities in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, or California. But College Park isn't the only place struggling with these issues. What can we learn from other college towns around the nation?


Morgantown, WV. Photo by Bill Walsh on Flickr.

Geoff Hatchard posed the question:

[What] college towns aren't the commonly-cited ones that may be "somewhat great" and are improving that College Park can look to as inspiration? I'm thinking of places that have or are overcoming obstacles. The first that comes to mind is New Haven, CT. Are there other examples anyone can think of?
Ben Ross said, "Boston University might be an example. When I lived in Boston, that stretch of Commonwealth Avenue was dominated by auto dealerships. It's much more urban now."


Photo by Wendy Brolga on Flickr.

Tracey Johnstone has an example from not too far away:

Old Dominion U. in Norfolk had/has the same problems: It's a metropolitan area with better [or worse] places to go and Hampton Blvd. divides it 1/3-2/3rds. And, to be honest, men vastly outnumber women in the Norfolk area (whereas it's the opposite in the immediate DC area) so, the demographic skews younger and more male than most college towns. In other words, college girls aren't limited to dating college boys. As a lot of first-generation college students attend Old Dominion, the income/class jump from dating college students to sailors isn't that big. And the situation is muddied by all the folks attending Old Dominion while still serving and on the GI Bill after getting out.

All that contributed to no "college" ambiance.

Toronto has a few student-oriented places near the university like the Brunswick House, but on one side is the Ontario Parliament Building and on another Toronto's "Rodeo Drive" with Cartier, Louis Vuitton, etc. Not exactly college fare.

Joe Fox fleshed out the list:
Comparisons that come to mind (for me) to UMD—being near an urban area, but not having an urban campus like GWU or ODU, in a large market—are:
  • University of Miami
  • SMU in Dallas
  • University of Richmond
  • Manhattan College
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • UC Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • UC-Irvine
  • Arizona State
  • George Mason U
Of the above, only Tempe and Westwood, to me, have that feel. The rest are similar, or less college-like, than College Park.

San José State. Photo by HarshLight on Flickr.

Geoffrey Hatchard said, "Add SJSU in San José to that list."

SJSU is compact, dense, has 30,000 students, but turns its back on all four sides to the city around it. Parking garages are located on a couple of the corners, and the only place where there has been an active move to make the school and the outside city mix is at the northwest corner where the MLK Library, shared by the school and the city's library system (serving as its HQ), sits.
Gray Kimbrough tried to break down the "college town" challenge into some specific factors, which we quoted in the first part as well. He went on to tie them into general trends nationwide:
UMD has a pretty perfect storm of:
  1. A nearby community that is relatively hostile to the university and its students, as others have already mentioned.
  2. A location near, but not really in, a fairly major city.
  3. A campus that is relatively suburban and spread out, in addition to having little interface with the surrounding community.
  4. Its large size, especially relative to its town.
  5. Its lack of a medical center, which can often provide a built-in need for communication between the university and the community (and all the positive results that flow from that).
Universities with prototypical college towns generally lack #2. The closest thing I can think of to an exception would be Princeton, which is NYC-accessible because of NJT, but not really that close. Also Ann Arbor isn't all that far from Detroit, but it's somehow in a different world.

Universities that have condition #2 but nonetheless have good relations with the community tend to lack or have resolved at least one of the other conditions. Northwestern has the advantage that Evanston is quite a bit larger than College Park, but it also has a much denser campus that isn't completely inward facing. Minnesota isn't exactly in downtown Minneapolis, but it has a dense campus that interfaces with a commercial strip on at least one side. And despite original reluctance, UMN's leaders have come around to the idea that transit has a huge role to play in tying the campus to the broader community. Berkeley might be the closest example here, but I haven't spent enough time there to comment on what they're doing right.


Transit mall at the University of Minnesota. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.
Basically think of any large university that has a decent amount of activity near campus. All of these have at least one side of campus that blends relatively seamlessly with a prime commercial strip. UMD has a pretty effective buffer on its side of campus facing US 1, and basically no part of campus faces outward. NCSU is beyond what could be considered a relatively dense core in Raleigh, yet somehow its main campus is denser than UMD's.

Also, where a university lacks a great relationship with the surrounding community, a medical center can serve as an entry point to a discussion to improve that. I see some schools that have turned their backs on their towns, like Yale and Duke, starting to take advantage of this. UMD has a vet school, but I don't think this has the same effect as a really good hospital. Even GW and Georgetown have built-in positive interactions with DC because of their med schools and hospitals.

College Park can't do much about #2, #4, or #5, but they can work to change #3 in particular, and hopefully work on #1 in the process. There needs to be an acknowledgment that the layout of UMD's campus absolutely plays a factor here. As they build out the campus, perhaps they can work to both build more densely and build connections to the surrounding area.

Jonathan Krall brought it back to walkability and the urban form:
In my experience, most universities have adjacent commercial areas, so long as zoning allows it. The ones with college towns have human-scale street grids in or adjacent to the commercial zone. This is true of UC Boulder, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSB, all of which have large cities nearby. It is not true of UM College Park or UC San Diego. I do not know how those street grids came to be, but they make all the difference. What the college-town part of Boulder (just west of the school) has over College Park isn't better shops and restaurants. It's that people like to walk and bicycle in the college-town part of Boulder (and the rest of Boulder as well, but that's another story).

However, these college towns could be considered anemic (Boulder, UCSB) or over-commercialized (Berkeley, UCLA) compared to a small college town such as Ithaca, NY, home to Ithaca College and Cornell University. The big-city effect is real, but it is the walkable street grid that is essential.


Westwood, CA. Photo by Tony Hoffarth on Flickr.

Owen Chaput pointed out that what makes a good "college town" varies depending on whose eyes you are looking through:

When we ask what makes a good college town, whose perspective are we looking at it from? Undergraduates, graduate students, staff, unaffiliated residents, and random visitors all have very different needs and interests, and what suits one group very well might be uninteresting (or a nuisance) for another group. I suspect that a great college town comes in part from having all groups present on or nearby campus, and relatively dependent on the campus business district(s) to meet their needs.

For towns looking to improve, here are a few possible factors: for undergrads, the challenge is getting them off campus and spending money or living in the surrounding community. With grad students, the challenge is enough cheap housing, beer, and culture nearby the university so the grad students don't go live somewhere more interesting and affordable. Staff (professors, admin, support) and unaffiliated community residents need to be able to live close enough to the college business districts to patronize them year-round, but require diversified housing stock and separation from the weekend rowdiness.

Ithaca, NY is the best I've ever spent time in. Hard to find fault with it, except it is far from a major city and frigid for six months of the year. But it's an easier example since it doesn't fit the UM-College Park suburban-urban rubric, and I think it benefited from natural geography keeping things crowded in two directions. Emory is bad. Surrounded by very expensive, low-density suburban housing, but only three miles from Atlanta! Very little commercial zoning. Awful, awful traffic. It has a huge medical facility and the CDC right next door, but lacks any college town feel. The walkable street grid explanation fits for Emory.

What universities around the nation do you think have lessons for UMD and College Park?

Public Spaces


Why isn't College Park a better college town?

Many major state universities have "college town" areas right near them, with walkable neighborhoods that serve the student population. Charlottesville, Virginia; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Berkeley and LA's Westwood, California are a few well-known examples. College Park, by contrast, doesn't have this feel. Why is that?


Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

This isn't a new topic of conversation around the region, but after it came up in a recent comment thread, we asked our contributors to weigh in on this.

Jeff Lemieux pointed out the single most significant factor many people point to: the surrounding roads are far too car-oriented.

A sewer runs through it. University Boulevard bounds the campus to the north as a divided highway with no bike or pedestrian access and no development potential. Route 1 is getting better but is still treated more like a suburban strip arterial then a commercial street. College Park should be a paradise for walking and biking. But it has a ways to go.

Route 1 and Calvert Road near UMD. Image from Google Maps.

Dan Reed thinks location and the number of commuters contributes:

[This is] exacerbated by UMD's history as a commuter school. ... Even kids who live on campus but grow up in the area frequently go back home to visit friends or family, to work, etc.

I do think this is changing as 1) Maryland's national reputation means it draws more students from out of state and 2) more students live on campus, which means you have a bigger base to support shops and restaurants in the area, which in turn gives people more of a reason to stick around, which in turn supports more activity. I don't know if that's enough to support the kind of businesses that we associate with a "college town," like the awesome College Perk coffeehouse which closed many years ago, but it's a start.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Partap Verma also thinks College Park is improving:

College Park has always been divided into two main areas—the downtown area with restaurants and bars that's not too far from the dorms, and the overall Rt. 1 area. In recent years the downtown has seen some new development with new apartments/retails/restaurants and actually looks pretty decent. And then you have the larger Rt. 1 area that is filled with strip malls and car dealerships that are slowly going away and being replaced by much needed apartments and hotels that serve UMD.
Commenter dcer52, on the thread that started this discussion, pointed out how an often-contentious town-gown relationship has also held back the growth of a college town area:
Here is one famous example that sums it up. When the Green Line station in College Park opened in the 1990s, the University planned to run a shuttle bus from campus to the station. However, the extension of Paint Branch Parkway was not built yet so the bus would have to run through surface streets in the City of College Park. The University offered to allow any College Park resident to ride the bus for free (not just students), but the city refused to allow the shuttle buses to ride on city streets to access the Metro station.

When the College Park Metro station opened, about six blocks from the edge of the University of Maryland campus, the University was prohibited from running a shuttle bus to the station (as was Metro and PG County The Bus). So instead students, faculty, and others had to take a shuttle bus to the Greenbelt station.

When I was a student there in the 90's I tried to take an active role in city issues. I changed my voter registration to College Park only to find that for persons living on campus or in student housing neighborhoods, the assigned polling place was not College Park city hall (downtown and walking distance from everything) but some other building that required a drive (or cab ride) from campus. Some colleges actually have polling places for students on campus, College Park put theirs as far away from campus as possible. Message sent.


College Park Metro. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Gray Kimbrough summed up some of the major reasons for the problem:

UMD has a pretty perfect storm of:
  1. A nearby community that is relatively hostile to the university and its students, as others have already mentioned.
  2. A location near, but not really in, a fairly major city.
  3. A campus that is relatively suburban and spread out, in addition to having little interface with the surrounding community.
  4. Its large size, especially relative to its town.
  5. Its lack of a medical center, which can often provide a built-in need for communication between the university and the community (and all the positive results that flow from that).

A road on the UMD campus. Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

Payton Chung added some context and a possible quantitative metric, Floor Area Ratio (FAR):

Some universities have successfully built their own college towns—like UIC, a postwar commuter school. That UMD hasn't is probably a semi-conscious decision, both due to a commuter school mentality on behalf of the administration (and students) and a snobbish suburban mentality on behalf of the town (as dcer52 retells).

As Gray points out, the commuter school mentality results in a campus that isn't all that dense, and is isolated from walkable retail. From the middle of McKeldin Mall to the nearest off-campus restaurant is about 0.4 miles away—an eight-minute walk one way, or too far to manage a roundtrip within a 15-minute break between classes. Contrast that to 0.07 miles from the middle of the Court of North Carolina (at NC State) or 0.2 miles from the middle of Polk Place (at UNC).

Local architects Ayers Saint Gross have a cool "comparing campuses" tool with figure-ground plans and statistics on many academic and medical campuses. Overall, FAR isn't the most useful metric for something as big as an entire campus (which might include athletic fields, research farms, etc.), but UMD's campus has an overall FAR of just 0.22. By contrast, "urban" campuses like UCLA and VCU have FARs in the 0.8-0.9 range. All FARs are not created equal, but it's not for nothing that LEED awards points for FARs above 0.5/0.8. In my experience, few truly walkable places have FARs much below 1.0; there's just not enough other destinations within walking distance.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Dan Reed discussed the pros and cons of the FAR metric and the issue of just where the downtown area is located relative to campus:

I like Payton's discussion about FAR, which makes a good point about the walkability of a campus itself and its ability to contribute to the surrounding area. But I would note that a golf course takes up like half of the 1200+ acres UMD has, and the part of the campus closest to "downtown" College Park (aka South Campus) is fairly dense, walkable, and somewhat oriented to Route 1 and Knox Road where all of the bars are.

That said, South Campus is predominantly upperclassmen dorms and apartments, which is great for the bars, but sucks for anyone trying to grab students going to and from class. Most of the academic buildings are either in the middle of campus (far from Route 1) or on North Campus (very far from Route 1. When I was in architecture school we drove (!!!) to Route 1 for lunch because otherwise it was a 20 minute walk.

UMD's been talking about East Campus for a decade now and their plans to put retail and housing and a hotel on Route 1 are good. But this discussion makes me wonder if they should also put some academic buildings there instead of cloistering them far away from the rest of town.

College Park clearly faces some obstacles to be a better college town (including disagreement among residents about whether it should be at all). It's not the the only place where some or many of these factors apply. Our contributors also discussed other towns which are grappling with these same issues, and other universities that lack a good physical connection to their surroundings. We'll have more of this contributor discussion, moving beyond College Park, Maryland, in an upcoming article.

Public Spaces


Change is coming to the Montgomery DOT. Will things get better for residents?

Montgomery County leaders and residents want walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, but the county's department of transportation has a reputation for putting cars over everything else. Now that two of the agency's top officials have departed, will new leadership bring the department in line with a changing county?


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

MCDOT's former director Art Holmes retired at the end of last year. Holmes had brought little vision or leadership to the department. Instead, most of the on-the-ground decisions fell to Deputy Director for Transportation Policy Edgar Gonzalez, a dyed-in-the-wool champion of designing roads for more and more cars to the exclusion of all else.

Last month, county officials announced that Gonzalez, too, was leaving the department, to become deputy director of the Department of Liquor Control. Gary Erenrich, who ran the county's transit programs, will fill the post on an acting basis, reporting to MCDOT's acting director, Al Roshdieh.

Gonzalez's legacy: Lanes yes, walkability no

While an accomplished planner, Gonzalez prioritized building of highways over other priorities. He relentlessly pushed to extend the Midcounty Highway (M-83) from Gaithersburg to Clarksburg over protests from both neighbors and county councilmembers. MCDOT even protested a bill from councilmembers Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner that would require narrow, low-speed street designs in urban areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Despite Montgomery's vision for a walkable, urban White Flint, Gonzalez fought the plan every step of the way, pushing an extension of Montrose Parkway through the area, and resisting calls from residents to make Old Georgetown Road less of a traffic sewer.

A change in leadership is an opportunity to bring the county's transportation policy in line with its planning and economic development policies, which promote walkable neighborhoods around transit hubs.

At a time when the county's fastest growing areas are near Metro stations and driving rates have plateaued, that only makes sense. New leadership is a signal to anyone who supports sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit that MCDOT is ready to work with them.

Has MCDOT turned over a new leaf?

To be fair, the department has made some big strides in recent years. Last fall, Montgomery County got its first protected bikeway, on Woodglen Drive in White Flint, and the DOT decided to allow the narrower, slower-speed design for Old Georgetown Road than the county's plans originally called for. After a years-long fight with parents at Wilson Wims Elementary School in Clarksburg, MCDOT agreed to install a crosswalk across a busy road.

New director Al Roshdieh has expressed an interest in focusing on pedestrian and bike infrastructure and wants to reexamine all of the county's policies. He wants to combat the perception (though rightly earned) that the agency is "pro-car."

But there are signs that elements of the old, highway-focused culture remains. Roshdieh insists that the county's proposed bus rapid transit line on Route 29 won't work without building highway interchanges. And though Roshdieh said there isn't room for new roads, the department recently recommended building the most environmentally-destructive route for Midcounty Highway.

Change might not come all at once, but neither are merely small changes (or just words and no changes) enough. Roshdieh is evidently angling to become permanent director, and he'll need to take bold action to fix an agency deeply out of touch with a county that's changed significantly since the 1990s.

Meanwhile, it seems a little ironic that Gonzalez, who spent much of his career pushing for transportation and land use patterns which force people to drive, now is in charge of liquor. Car dependence all but forces people to drive home from restaurants and bars where they want to drink, while people who can walk or take transit home need not worry about driving drunk. Gonzalez will now be in charge of mitigating a problem he himself exacerbated in the past.

Public Spaces


Think you know Metro's neighborhoods? This quiz might surprise you

Yesterday, PlanItMetro posted maps showing what's within walking distance of each Metro station. Check them out (and maybe read up on what walk sheds are and how they differ across the region), then take our quiz to test what you know.


A map of the area around the Columbia Heights Metro station that's easily walkable. Images from WMATA.

1. Which of these stations has the most jobs within walking distance?

McLean
U Street
Pentagon City
Rockville

2. Which of these stations has the fewest jobs within walking distance?

Bethesda
Medical Center
Ballston
Federal Triangle

3. Which of these stations has the most jobs that are nearby, but not within walking distance?

Van Ness
Glenmont
West Falls Church
Franconia-Springfield

4. Which of these stations has the most households within walking distance?

Dupont Circle
Silver Spring
Columbia Heights
Court House

5. Which of these stations has the fewest households within walking distance?

Friendship Heights
Pentagon City
Crystal City
Georgia Avenue-Petworth

6. How many households live within walking distance of Metro?

95,322
190,631
321,240
458,273

7. Which of these stations has the lowest Walk Score?

Morgan Boulevard
Fort Totten
Arlington Cemetery
Van Dorn Street

8. Which of these areas has the smallest area within walking distance?

West Hyattsville
Southern Avenue
National Airport
Landover

Answers

1. U Street might not have many high-rise office buildings, but the medium-density neighborhood does have 9,034 jobs within walking distance. Logan Circle's density isn't just for residents: its lack of parking lots and high street connectivity mean that it also has plenty of economic opportunities nearby.

2. Federal Triangle, the very heart of the federal bureaucracy that built Metro to bring commuters into the city, has fewer jobs nearby than the three big edge cities it's grouped with. (That's partially because PlanItMetro's assessment is for non-overlapping walk sheds. This is why Federal Triangle has so few jobs: they're assigned to neighboring sheds.) Medical Center may not look like much from Wisconsin Avenue, but its 32,473 nearby jobs put it in a league with several Downtown DC stations.

3. At Franconia-Springfield, 92% of the nearby jobs aren't within walking distance. Springfield Town Center is beyond a half-mile walk, and the new FBI headquarters site even the site Virginia is promoting for the FBI is cut off from the station by a ravine. (At Branch Avenue, 96% of nearby jobs are outside the walk shed.)


Franconia-Springfield walk shed.

4. Columbia Heights just edges out Dupont Circle for this title, 10,842 to 10,636. Relatively low-rise Court House has the highest household concentration outside the District, with 8,100 within walking distance.

5. It's Friendship Heights, although all of these have between 4,071 and 4,623 households within walking distance. High rises don't always mean high residential density, especially if there are lots of offices and shops mixed in. Crystal City probably has a higher density, but its walk shed is also constrained by the George Washington Parkway.

6. 190,631. Contrary to what those ubiquitous "Steps to Metro!" real-estate listings might tell you, just 9% of the 2,091,301 households in the metro area live within a ten-minute walk of Metro.

7. Morgan Boulevard has a paltry Walk Score of 6. Even Arlington Cemetery's is somehow 15. Twenty five Metro stations are in locations with a Walk Score that's "car-dependent," and just 30 are in places deemed a "Walker's Paradise."

8. Landover. Hemmed in by a railroad and US 50 on one side and by its own parking lot and an industrial park on the other, its walk shed covers a mere 80 acres. That's not fair to the almost 1,000 households, mostly on the other side of 50, who are less than half a mile away but can't easily reach the station.


Landover walk shed.

How did you do?

0-3 correct: You're a Metro Newbie! While you're playing #WhichWMATA, step outside those stations and explore!
4-6 correct: You're a Metro Explorer! You've walked around many of Metro's stations, and always want to see more!
7-8 correct: You're a Metro Voyager! Are you sure you didn't download that 113-megabyte Atlas and take this quiz open-book?

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