Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

WMATA 35th Anniversary and rethinking mobility ... or not

Union Station, Day 1 on the Washington Metro, Railway Age
Union Station, Day 1 on the Washington Metro, Railway Age Magazine, issue of April 12th, 1976. (I found this magazine in 2005 in a used bookstore in Portland, Oregon. Too bad I didn't poke through other copies of the magazine as I am sure there were other goodies.)

I will be writing a few posts over the next couple days on various aspects of transit triggered by the anniversary of WMATA's opening 35 years ago today.

One of the things that WMATA could have done is used the 35th anniversary as a way to begin its repositioning and rebuilding of trust process through the organization of conferences and other activities. And also as a way to capture and harvest the learnings from the various aspects of the system, its operation, and its impact.

They have not done so.

A couple days ago, the Post published a story "Getting to and from new Metro stations," about the future subway stations in Tysons Corner and how they won't have parking lots and structures.

... it will take time before the shopping and employment center redevelops into a mixed-use downtown with a mass of residents who can walk to the stations from home. For now, residents of nearby neighborhoods are accustomed to driving, and there are few firm plans for how people will actually access the stations.

Fairfax County’s challenge lies in identifying the many ways in which McLean, Vienna and Falls Church residents will access the stations on foot, by bicycle and via transit. The goal is “as many options as possible that are alternatives to driving,” said Leonard Wolfenstein, a Fairfax transportation planner.

Some residents pointed out that access should have been integrated into the Metro station planning long ago. “I think this meeting is about five years too late,” said Andrew Gutowski, a real estate developer who is president of his McLean neighborhood homeowners association. “It’s the lack of planning for a continuous and seamless network of alternate transportation,” he said.

Gutowski said his neighborhood has tried unsuccessfully to get the county to build a sidewalk connecting it to downtown McLean, making him dubious about plans for linkage to Tysons.

Concerned residents are right that the planning for this should have started earlier. On the other hand, it's difficult to get people focused on making these kinds of changes in advance of the infrastructure actually opening. (E.g., DC made no accommodations for sidewalk and other improvements before the New York Avenue infill subway station opened. It only occurred to them after the station was opened that something needed to be done.)

The cost of building parking structures to support transit is astronomically expensive, such as the new $26 million parking garage at Glenmont in Montgomery County, which will add spaces for 1,200 cars. See "Glenmont station to increase parking spots for commuters by 67 percent" from the Gazette.

But by not building parking garages, Fairfax County is, in a good way, forcing a more fundamental rethinking of how people will get around in the Greater Tysons Corner area, when they use transit and how they will get around in general.

This is important because we don't want people to drive to transit, we want them to be able to use transit efficiently and effectively without having to drive.

-- Tysons Metrorail Stations Access Management Study
-- Fairfax County Transit Development Plan
-- Tysons Corner Bicycle Master Plan

As an example of rethinking, Mike Licht of Notions Capital sends us an article from the London (UK) Daily Telegraph, "EU to ban cars from cities by 2050: Cars will be banned from London and all other cities across Europe under a draconian EU masterplan to cut CO2 emissions by 60 per cent over the next 40 years," about steps the European Community is taking to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and how that will transform how people get around in cities.

Plus Metro Magazine, a transit trade publication, has a piece about James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, "Web Extra: James Madison U. to limit on-campus vehicles to boost sustainability."

From the article:

Beginning this August, Harrisonburg, Va.-based James Madison University (JMU) will change how students, faculty, staff and community members navigate campus, with the addition of four gates, reconfigured parking lots around portions of the Bluestone area of campus, some bike lane and crosswalk modifications, and the addition of a bus staging area. ...

"The reason why we did this as a university was to support overall efforts for environmental sustainability. The goal over time being reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles on campus, reducing congestion on campus and reducing a lot of the cut-thru traffic on campus," explained Don Egle, JMU's director of public affairs. "Also, I think what we're going to see is the efficiency of the public transportation system increase, because we are reducing a lot of the vehicles on campus, allowing the buses to move more freely and stay on schedule."

Another primary reason, Egle added was JMU's goal of creating a more pedestrian friendly campus, by making it easier for those who either walk or ride their bicycles.

The gated portion of campus will be closed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The gated portion of the campus will be open weeknights after 7 p.m., on weekends, during certain events and during the summer. The new gates on campus, which help control traffic flow, are expected to have little impact on JMU's student body.

"The changes this summer will have a slight impact on some of our faculty and staff," said Egle. "What I mean is they may not be parking right outside their building, but at an adjacent parking lot, for example. But, our students won't see any significant changes in parking, because their lots are located primarily on the perimeter of campus."

Another goal of JMU's program was to cut its overall environmental footprint and increase students' use of the City of Harrisonburg's public transit system.

On March 16th, 2005, I wrote this blog entry, basically about the same topic, with regard to the Virginia Railway Express:

Maybe the Virginia Railway Express and Fredericksburg can learn from Ride On?

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on the success of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE):

"With daily ridership of more than 16,000, the VRE's commuter trains have more than doubled ridership over the past decade as traffic congestion has gotten worse in the Washington area, Dale Zehner told members of Virginians for High Speed Rail at the Science Museum of Virginia. The 'real issue is the demand for service outstrips our supply of seats and parking,' said Zehner, a retired Navy captain who has worked for the commuter railroad since 1995. In Fredericksburg, the VRE's southern terminus, 'We're turning away people because they can't park.'"

Maybe, comparable to the Montgomery County Ride On system, they could consider complementing the heavy rail system with buses designed to get people to stations, and reducing the demand for parking, allowing the commuter railroad to spend more money on rolling stock? By determining critical mass centers of origination for rail trips, bus service could be provided in a relatively low cost fashion.
I meant to, but was unable to attend the presentations last week in Fairfax County about access planning for the new subway stations.

But there is no question that there needs to be a fundamental rethinking about how to get to the stations, how to integrate transit in an automobile-centric place in ways that are transformational, just as how Montgomery County created the RideOn system to move people to and from subway stations once the Red Line opened.

For the 40th Anniversary of the WMATA system, which will really be a 50th anniversary if you think about it, in terms of the planning, design, and construction of the system, there needs to be a multiple day assessment and "lessons learned" conference.

Ideally, it would have people with a variety of perspectives, not just cheerleaders...

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home