Tour program: The Silver Line, Reston, & Tysons: A New Chapter

[PDF] Decades in the making, Phase 1 of the Silver Line has arrived in Fairfax County and new buildings are appearing at the Wiehle-Reston East and Tysons Metro stations. We have a rare opportunity to witness a new phase of the county and the region as old suburbs are retrofitted and new walkable, urban, and sustainable destinations emerge.

Walking tour explores Fort Totten’s present and future

Development at Fort Totten has been slow despite access to 3 Metro lines, its close proximity to both downtown DC and Silver Spring, its access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, its green space and its affordability. But as demand increases for housing in the District, this previously-overlooked neighborhood could become a hot spot.

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.Last Saturday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth concluded their spring walking tour series with “Fort Totten: More than a Transfer Point,” a look at future residential, retail and commercial development near the Fort Totten Metro station. Residents and visitors joined representatives from WMATA, DDOT and the Office of Planning on a tour of the area bounded by South Dakota Avenue, Riggs Road, and First Place NE.

Today, vacant properties and industrial sites surround the station and form a barrier between it and the surrounding area. Redeveloping them could improve connections to the Metro and make Fort Totten a more vibrant community.

There is a significant amount of new residential, retail and commercial development planned within walking distance of the Metro station. But Saturday’s tour began with the only completed project, The Aventine at Fort Totten. Built by Clark Realty Group in 2007, the 3-building, garden-style apartment complex consists of over 300 rental units as well as ground-floor retail space.

The Aventine at Fort Totten, the newest apartment complex in Fort Totten. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.Visitors were ambivalent about the success of the Aventine due to its small amount of retail space and lack of connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods. While residents noted that it created more options to live close to Metro, representatives of the Lamond Riggs and North Michigan Park civic associations agreed the development differed from the original vision for the project.

They called it an example of the need to continually engage real estate developers and local government agencies to ensure that new development is of a high quality and responsive to the local context. Throughout the tour, residents said that future development proposals should adhere to DC’s urban design guidelines, improve pedestrian access and have a plan to mitigate parking concerns.

Between South Dakota Avenue and the Metro station, the Cafritz Foundation will redevelop the old Riggs Plaza apartments to build ArtPlace at Fort Totten. When finished, the 16-acre project will contain 305,000 square feet of retail, 929 apartments, and 217,000 square feet of cultural and art spaces, including a children’s museum. Deborah Crain, neighborhood planning coordinator for Ward 5, noted that ArtPlace will include rental units set aside for seniors and displaced Riggs Plaza residents.

An ad for ArtPlace at Fort Totten at its future home.As one of the largest landowners near the Fort Totten Station, WMATA has a huge stake in future development around the station. They own approximately 3 acres of land immediately west of the station along First Place NE that is currently used as surface parking lot for commuters. Stan Wall, Director of Real Estate at WMATA, discussed the great potential for development on the current parking lot mentioned that the agency will solicit proposals for development of the area in the near future.

Parking lot at Fort Totten station.Anna Chamberlain, a DDOT transportation planner, talked about how streetscape improvements could calm traffic, making streets around the Metro station more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. DDOT is also working to improve connections to the Metro, as some areas lack clearly defined walking paths. The agency will begin designing a path connecting the Metro to the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the next few months.

New sidewalks and street trees on Riggs Road.The final stop on the tour was Fort Totten Square, a joint effort by the JBG Companies and Lowe Enterprises to build 350 apartments above a Walmart and structured parking at South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. DDOT has completely rebuilt the adjacent intersection to make it safer for pedestrians and more suitable for an urban environment, replacing freeway-style ramps with sidewalks, benches, crosswalks and improved lighting.

Jaimie Weinbaum, development manager at JBG, says they’re committed to working with the city and residents to make Fort Totten Square an asset to the community. They’ve promised to place Capital Bikeshare stations there and would like to have dedicated space for Car2go as well.

With help from the private sector and public agencies like DDOT and WMATA, Fort Totten could become a model for transit-oriented development, but much of the new construction won’t happen for a long time. Until then, residents eagerly await the changes and continue to work with other stakeholders toward creating a vision that will benefit everyone.

Photos courtesy of Greater Greater Washington

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How to fix parking: Price it right, and don’t play favorites

Parking has been called third rail of local politics, and for good reason. At a panel Wednesday on “Getting Parking Right,” Nelson\Nygaard transportation planner Jeff Tumlin put it this way: “People hate the existing system, but they’ll also hate any changes you make to the rules. No matter what you do, people are going to be very upset with you.” Sam Zimbabwe, planning director for the District Department of Transportation, was also on the panel. From the look on his face, he knows that has his work cut out for him as the agency tries to bring some measure of rationality to the city’s tangle of parking regulations. We all want to be able to park wherever we want, for as long as we want, and we want it to be free. But we might as well wish for a world of free and infinitely available ice cream. We can’t have it, and we give up a lot by trying to get there.

Sustainable transportation consultant Jeff Tumlin presented in Richmond and DC

I missed both presentations earlier this week by Jeff Tumlin, one of the nation’s leading sustainable transportation planners as a consultant at Nelson-Nygaard, and author of Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities. On Monday, he presented to the Partnership for Smart Growth in Richmond, to about 80 attendees, including a couple of City Council members and the city’s bike and pedestrian planner. The Richmond.com website, affiliated with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, published a thorough summary of the talk, “10 Things Every City Can Do for Sustainable Transportation.”

Getting Parking Right

Getting Parking Right

Parking policy guru Jeff Tumlin will outline sixteen ways to tailor parking policies to meet parking demand while reducing some of the negative effects of current policies. D.C. Department of Transportation’s Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe will present the city’s latest thinking on how to take the lessons learned from around the country to craft parking policies that support community goals. Join us to learn about best practices and what D.C. government is planning to do to get parking right.

Montgomery scales back dedicated lanes on BRT

On the heels of a report suggesting Montgomery County’s Bus Rapid Transit plans are too ambitious, county planners are recommending reducing the number of lines and using dedicated bus lanes across a smaller portion of the system.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

They presented these recommendations last night at a forum hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, “The Next Generation of Transit,” which discussed how the county needs to expand its transit network.

Geoff Anderson from Smart Growth America talked about the social, economic and environmental benefits of public transit and compact, walkable development, while County Councilmember Roger Berliner discussed how transit is integral to attracting young people and entrepreneurs to the county. Mike Madden, project manager for the Maryland Transit Administration, offered a quick update on the Purple Line.

However, the biggest news came from Larry Cole, transportation planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department. Cole presented the latest recommendations for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, which would become part of a master plan for future transit expansion.

The county has been studying BRT since 2008, though a recently-released study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, considered to be international experts on BRT, argues that it may not work in all parts of the county.

Planners looked at current land use and travel habits, along with changes proposed in the county’s existing plans, and compared different scenarios for building BRT. They found that while a larger system would draw more riders and reduce driving, physical and economic constraints made a smaller network more feasible.

BRT corridors Montgomery County planners currently recommend. Click here to see their proposal from last November.

The approximate corridors ITDP recommends.The Planning Department’s latest proposal is for a 79-mile network with two phases. It would have 8 routes, on Route 355, Colesville Road/Columbia Pike, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Randolph Road, Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard, and the North Bethesda Transitway. It’s a smaller system than previous proposals, but it’s still more than the 4-route system ITDP favors.

Buses would run in mixed traffic on many corridors just as they do today. Last November, Cole suggested that in order to give buses their own dedicated lanes, considered a must-have for successful BRT, space may need to be taken from cars.

Buses would have dedicated lanes in the median on all of Route 355 between Friendship Heights and Clarksburg, where it will support the redevelopment of White Flint and other areas along the corridor, along with portions of Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, and Columbia Pike. Combined, these sections make up 31 miles of the system.

On other roads, like Veirs Mill Road and Randolph Road, buses would travel in a single-lane median that would change directions based on rush hour traffic, in “managed lanes” where buses would have some priority over other vehicles, or in mixed traffic.

Cole cited “difficult operational issues” for places where buses wouldn’t get their own lanes, such as Columbia Pike and Colesville Road south of Lockwood Drive in Silver Spring. Though the corridor has six lanes and is home to some of the most heavily-used bus routes in suburban Maryland, homeowners in Four Corners have expressed opposition to taking away lanes from cars at several public meetings, including this one.

Instead, Lockwood Drive, a two-lane road roughly parallel to Columbia Pike and lined with apartment buildings, would be widened to give buses their own lanes, though it doesn’t go all the way to downtown Silver Spring.

“Is the desire [for transit on Colesville and Columbia] there? Yes,” said Cole. “Is the ridership high enough to justify taking a lane? Yes. When we looked at how that would actually work, we decided we needed additional study.”

Buses would run in mixed traffic on Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.Though Montgomery County’s Bus Rapid Transit plans are being trimmed down, they’re moving in the right direction. ITDP recommended that the county focus on areas where transit use is already high, which the 8 routes as proposed do cover. It’s also good to focus on the right solution for the right area, allowing limited resources to be spent where they’re most needed.

At the same time, we can’t fall prey to “BRT creep,” when BRT systems gradually get watered down throughout the design process to the point where they stop being significant steps forward for transit. County planners need to take a stand even when there’s some opposition.

It’s good that they’ve stood by dedicated lanes on Route 355 even in areas like downtown Bethesda and White Flint where space may have be taken from cars, but it’s disappointing that they’ve chosen not to endorse doing the same on equally-constrained Georgia Avenue or Colesville Road in Silver Spring.

Transit is most effective when it can give riders a reliable commute, and buses simply can’t do that when they’re stuck in traffic with everyone else. And without reliable transit, our region’s growth and prosperity is at risk.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, echoed these concerns at the meeting. “We have to make some hard choices,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a better way to grow. If we do it without adding transit and without adding more walkable neighborhoods, we will just die in our traffic.”

Planners are currently working on a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which they will present to the Planning Board in March. In May, the board will hold public hearings before taking a vote later this spring. If the Planning Board and later the County Council approve, the county will start doing more detailed studies in addition to preliminary engineering for the Bus Rapid Transit network.

Photos courtesy of Dan Reed.

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Move to moveDC Saturday, and more on the calendar

Are you going to moveDC? This Saturday is the moveDC Idea Exchange, the big kickoff to DDOT’s big effort to create a comprehensive transportation plan. Plus, there are 2 forums on the future of transportation in Montgomery County next week.

Photo by Read G on Flickr.

The Idea Exchange includes an open “transportation fair” all day, from 9:30 am to 3 pm at the MLK Library at 9th and G, NW. The booths, open all day, include family-friendly activities as well as more serious transportation discussion.

Mayor Vincent Gray, Councilmember Mary Cheh, and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy will talk at 10:30, and then there will be a panel with Anita Hairston of Reconnecting America, author Chris Leinberger, and Slate’s Matthew Yglesias at 11.

If you take Metro, be aware of track work on the Red and Orange Lines north/west of Grosvenor and Ballston and north/east of NoMA and Stadium-Armory. DDOT is also setting up more temporary bike racks to handle the extra bike parking demand. Finally, Anacostia Waterfront Initiative officials and consultant CH2M Hill have set up a 25-lane racetrack oval. No, not really that last one.

For Montgomery County residents, there are 2 great opportunities to talk about transportation’s future next week (and in the same spot!) The Action Committee for Transit’s monthly meeting features WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan talking about the Metro “Momentum” strategic plan. That’s Tuesday, February 12, 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Place.

Wednesday, The Coalition for Smarter Growth is holding a forum on the “next generation of transit.” How can the county accommodate 200,000 new residents and 100,000 jobs in the next 20 years? It will take investments in Metro, the Purple Line, and bus rapid transit.

Geoff Anderson, head of Smart Growth America, and Councilmember Roger Berliner will speak about the future of Montgomery County, and there will be presentations on transit projects in the pipeline. The forum is Wednesday, February 13, 6-8 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center, still One Veterans Plaza. RSVP here.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, the Piedmont Environmental Council is holding a public meeting to talk about the McDonnell Administration’s push for an Outer Beltway through Loudoun and Prince William. It’s Monday, February 11, 6:30-9 pm at John Champe High School, 41535 Sacred Mountain Street, Aldie, VA.

Also, a film about plastic bags is screening Sunday in Hyattsville; John Muller is giving another tour of Frederick Douglass’s Anacostia February 23; and the Anacostia Watershed Society is holding a “Green Roof Networking Happy Hour on Tuesday, February 26.

Photo courtesy of Read G on Flickr

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what’s up the pike: rising rents, falling buses

Bus Stuck In Rut, Silver Spring Metro

– The beleaguered Silver Spring Transit Center just can’t catch a break: yesterday, a Metrobus got stuck in a hole outside the transit center on Colesville Road. Workers had been digging there on Wednesday and covered the hole with metal panels, which then gave way. According to commenters on JUTP‘s Facebook page, the bus was removed and the hole blocked to other traffic. (Also check out our Facebook page for commenters’ hilarious responses to the incident.)

– The blog We Love DC has an interesting heat map showing rental rates across Greater Washington (at least, around the Capital Beltway.) Not surprisingly, the region’s highest rents can be found in Northwest DC, Arlington and Bethesda, though it’s interesting that even as rents increase in downtown Silver Spring, it’s still cheaper than many other parts of the region – including Takoma Park, oddly enough.

– Our friends at BethesdaNow report that Montgomery County is putting together a “nighttime economy” initiative to encourage more evening activity in the area with the hopes it’ll draw and retain more young adults. Nightlife has been an ongoing issue in Silver Spring, whether due to about crime or the viability of businesses that depend on evening traffic, and I’m glad the county’s taking a look at it. (I also hear they’re putting together a Nightlife Economy Task Force, and if they’re looking for folks to sit on it, they know where to find me.)

– If you’re interested in transit and development issues in Silver Spring, there are three big meetings next week, two of which are on the same night.

On Tuesday, the Action Committee for Transit hosts its monthly meeting with speaker Shyam Kannan, managing director of planning for WMATA. He’ll be talking about Momentum, Metro’s long-range plan for growth and investment. That meeting’s at 7:30pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street.

On Wednesday, the Coalition for Smarter Growth hosts a talk on Montgomery County’s “Next Generation of Transit” with speakers Geoff Anderson of Smart Growth America and District 1 (that’s Bethesda and Potomac) Councilmember Roger Berliner. That’ll be from 6pm to 8pm, also at the Civic Building.

And when you’re done with that, head across the hall to a presentation from the Tower Companies, owners of The Blairs, about their plans to redevelop the massive 1960’s-era apartment complex and shopping center across the street from the Silver Spring Metro station. I’ve briefly spoken to representatives from the developer and have plans to meet with them next week, and the little I’ve heard suggests this project could be a very big deal. The presentation will be at 7:30pm at the Civic Building, because of course that’s where it is.

Photos courtesy of Dan Reed

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Coalition for Smarter Growth joins fight for transit dollars in Montgomery County

D.C.-based nonprofit the Coalition for Smarter Growth has joined the cause for transportation dollars to build the Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit system, both of which supporters say would ease congestion in Bethesda, BethesdaNow.com reported.

The nonprofit, which until now has dealt largely with Northern Virginia transportation and sprawl issues, has turned its attention to Montgomery County and will host an event on Feb. 13 at the Silver Spring Civic Building focused on the area.

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