Tag Archives: Gaithersburg

Will Tysons halfway plan bolster or doom the future city?

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington brings us this story on the future of Tysons Corner.  Tysons is in many ways the poster-boy for post-war American suburbia.  Even PBS has noted it’s car-dependent, highway-oriented state.  Pedestrians in Tysons are taking their lives into their hands.  The city is made up of single-use office towers, strip shopping centers, tract housing, and parking, parking, parking.  Fortunately, Tysons’ local leaders are aware of the changing market conditions pointing toward mixed use development, and they are trying to fix their city.  Fairfax County has produced Transforming Tysons, a document that is still being revised that will guide more pedestrian-scaled development, focused on Tysons’ four Metro stops and tapering down to the surrounding low-density development.

Traffic engineers don’t believe that the plan will work, and are advocating expanded freeway facilities.  But Washington has ample examples, the District in particular, of how wrong traffic engineers could be.  According to their models, DC couldn’t be built today.  This and other debate has encouraged Planning Commissioner Walter Alcorn to propose that 3/4 of the proposed density be built in the next 20 years instead of building 100% in the next 40 years, as well as eliminating density maximums in favor of having the Board of Supervisors analyze every proposal in turn.  The Sierra Club endorsed Alcorn’s plan, hoping that the shorter time frame will encourage that the necessary transit upgrades to the periphery of the city are built.  The Audubon Society, on the other hand, wants the complete plan.  Stella Koch of Audubon said, “This plan must be implemented as a whole or it falls apart. Without the internal grid of streets, transportation inside of Tysons does not work. Without an integrated network of sidewalks and paths, and inviting shops and storefronts, people do not want to walk to destinations. The Tysons Vision must be implemented as a whole.”

Also agitating the process are landowners in the non-transit-oriented areas.  Many have been waiting on the plan to be finished, and some people are worried that these land owners may just up and build a strip mall instead of waiting for pedestrian-friendly guidelines.  If Alcorn’s plan is implemented, it could hurt the county’s ability to pay for necessary amenities, such as the improved street grid, storm water system, transit, and streetscapes.  The plan also opens up the possibility of the plan being compromised a little bit more for every project.  By doing it all at once, it’s easier for elected officials to do what is right for the largest number and not be swayed by NIMBYs.  Tysons should work to avoid the evenly spread, low density development of nearby failures such as Gaithersburg‘s Science City.  This type of development is hard because instead of trying to build a city from green fields like Washington was, Tysons is trying to build it out of an existing framework of suburban sprawl.  Development happens fast today, and if the leaders of Tysons don’t get this plan figured out quick, they may have a few thousand more acres of strip malls to deal with.

Gaithersbungle, part 6: What else $3.8 billion could buy, more specifically

In the latest of his Gaithersbungle series on Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert gets more specific about his previously mentioned better ways to spend the $3.8 billion that is planning on being spent to widen a stretch of I-270 to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  As part of his story, Alpert produced this map:

And here are his specs on what the map represents:

  • Extension of the Red Line to Germantown. The Red Line would use the I-370 and I-270 right-of-way from Shady Grove to Germantown, then end in an underground station at Germantown Town Center.
  • All-day, bidirectional MARC service to Frederick. A new station near White Flint, to serve the planned, dense, transit-oriented development in that area. And through-routing of MARC trains down at least to King Street.
  • A MARC extension to Hagerstown, using an old and abandoned right-of-way.
  • The Corridor Cities Transitway, using the less circuitous original alignment and an extension to Clarksburg Town Center. With the Red Line, riders from north of Germantown wouldn’t have to ride all the way through the office parks west of Gaithersburg to get to Rockville, Bethesda or DC.
  • A streetcar along Route 355 (Rockville Pike/Hungerford Dr/Frederick Rd) from the White Flint Mall to Gaithersburg. It would stop at the various Metro stations, Montgomery College, Gaithersburg MARC, and Lakeforest Mall before turning west to a new Red Line station and Metropolitan Grove MARC, where it would connect to the CCT.

Something like this would be a wonder to see.  It would show that Maryland, in many ways a very progressive and transit-supportive state, is making a statement about car dependence that would support some of the measures it has taken to face climate change and save sensitive areas like Chesapeake Bay.  It would allow for proper development in these areas while still focusing energy on DC.  I think the proposal that Alpert and friends have created is far superior.

Gaithersbungle, part 5: What you callin’ a city?

This is the second of David Alpert’s Gaithersbungle series on Greater Greater Washington that I’ve covered, although the rest are worth looking at, and also the second look at Science City.  Alpert again says that this development on the west side of Gaithersburg, MD, is no city.  He lists a variety of reasons for this conclusion.  First of all, instead of creating land use patterns based on transportation and transit, they are creating them so that all of the biggest land owners can sell their land to developers, regardless of pattern.  Floor-area ratio is another point.  Cities have a high floor-area ratio (FAR), i.e. they have a higher density.  Most places cannot truly be considered urban unless they have a FAR of over 1.5, which unfortunately is the limit at Science City.  Also, even if they were to reach the 1.5 mark, they would have an island of barely-walkable space surrounded by car-dependent suburbs, which diminishes the vitality of that space and makes it just a slightly better version of sprawl.  A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program has been suggested to concentrate development in one part of Science City, making it denser, but the planning department isn’t interested.  Gaitheresburg is already a center for office parks and other sprawl development, and unless they change their point of view, they will be left behind as my generation returns to the cities.

Rapid bus for CCT, say planners

Sebastian Montes brings us this article on plans for a rapid bus route through various Montgomery County communities to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  The line would run from the Shady Grove Metro station through Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg.  The main reasons a bus option was licked over a rail one was because it is flexible, meaning it is easier to abandon if money or politics become unfavorable, and because it’s cheaper than rail.  A number of groups are opposed to the bus decision for a variety of reasons, and I would have to agree with them.  Especially in the DC area where people have gotten so used to having good rail service, fewer people are going to take a bus, no matter how fast, efficient, or cheap.  Bus ridership usually falls short of predictions, whereas rail often exceeds them.  Bus transit rarely fosters TOD, whereas rail is almost a requirement for it.

Americans, especially suburbanites, are not going to ride buses.  Unless an area is already experienced with and used to bus riding, the people will see a bus, no matter how new, as dirty, inefficient, and predominately aimed at poor people.  Trains, whether because they are well-accepted overseas, because the few examples we have are so good, or because they’re just tech-sexy, almost always fair better than buses.  Unless you find a way to use articulated buses or other technologies that share that same tech-sexyness, the bus system will fall short on ridership and won’t encourage TOD.  It is better to spend the extra money upfront and get the good ridership and development than to save money money now and get no return in the future.

A Tale of Two (Segregated) Exurbs

This article from the Daily Kos brings up some good points of discussion.  They start by mentioning the “White Flight” behind suburban development.  From there they go on to compare Leesburg, an exurb that is totally car dependent, to Gaithersburg, which “has a quaint “downtown,” very few cars, lots of walking, and…wait for it…a wonderful sense of community.”  The problem with Gaithersburg, which they misallocate to the design of Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), is that it is just as racially and economically homogeneous as your regular suburb.  In addition to this de-facto segregation, they critisize New Urbanism for being susceptible to gentrification.

First of all, Gaithersburg is mostly suburban.  DPZ only designed Kentlands, a small part of Gaithersburg, so to attribute all of Gaithersburg’s problems to the design of DPZ is not entirely accurate.  Second, gentrification is a big problem.  Part of it is that projects that aren’t really New Urbanist use the title as a buzzword, and developments that are just modified suburbia, which cause more harm than good, make true New Urbanism look bad.  If you look at the Charter, it’s obvious that communities of mixed income and race are a big priority.  There’s also a problem with supply and demand.  Many New Urbanist developments start out affordable, but because there are very few of these developments and because they quickly grow in popularity (demand), prices skyrocket.  This has very much been the case at Daybreak, Utah’s premier New Urbanist community.  Part of housing affordability is having a variety of housing types, from apartments to condos to townhouses to single-family.  Another technique is less design-oriented and more policy-oriented.  Crawford Square, in Pittsburgh‘s Hill District, when it underwent New Urbanist redevelopment, created a policy by which they made sure there was a good balance of units that were for sale, for rent, and rent-controlled, so that anyone on the income spectrum could afford something in the neighborhood.  Despite early fears of gentrification, there have actually been some citizens who have been able to start in rent-controlled units and work their way up to owning their first home.

The moral of this story is that, yes, New Urbanism can encourage gentrification, just like any form of urban redevelopment.  But if dealt with in a smart way, it isn’t necessarily the only outcome.

Sprawl is the only option at the Planning Board

David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington writes this post about the development of “Science City” between Gaithersburg and Rockville, to the Northwest of Washington, DC.  Science City is not a city at all, but just more sprawl and office parks.  They are not currently transit-oriented, or even transit-ready like Kentlands, and have a FAR of about 0.51, in the range that Chris Leinberger calls “neverlands,” areas that are not cities, not country, just depressing.  According to Alpert, if they were really thinking regionally, they would have built to the Northeast of DC, where they would have access to commuter rail, DC’s green line, and the University of Maryland, a well-established university and leader in planning.  They would also have easy access to Baltimore as well as DC instead of being off on their own in an area that will force its workers to drive.  If you live in the DC area, especially in Montgomery County, contact the Planning Board and tell them that you don’t want Science Suburb, you want Science City.