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.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Purple line and the bicycle trail conflict

Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue, Capital Crescent Trail, Bethesda Maryland
Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue, Capital Crescent Trail, Bethesda, Maryland. Photo: Mark Gail, Washington Post.

While I am not the most able person at quantitative analysis, I have basic computation and comparative analytical skills for performing cost-benefit analysis. But even without policy analysis skills, it ought to be pretty apparent what the the optimal decisions should be for with the Purple Line-trail connection in Bethesda.

- ideally the trail and light rail can be combined, but ...
- it's bad decision making to extend the distance that people should be expected to walk to make the connection between light rail and subway
- it's best to promote the highest mode usage for whatever sustainable transportation mode is likely to serve the most people
- more people are likely to ride transit on a daily basis than bike
- more people are likely to ride transit on the Purple Line given that rail-based transit is a known quantity in the DC region and wildly successful nationally--the DC region's subway system is second only to NYC in the U.S. for the total number of riders

I don't see why anyone should be surprised that the Maryland Transit Administration determined that it would be cost-prohibitive to install light rail and keep a bike trail in the tunnel that goes under Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. See "Planners reject proposals to keep trail in Purple Line tunnel" from the Washington Post.

A minimum of 5-7 times more people will use transit each day compared to biking.

Not that I am unsupportive of biking. It's my business after all. But really, my business is about sustainable transportation more generally, and making the right decisions about integrated transportation, focused on achieving the most desired outcome, which is the highest overall reduction of the most car trips through the best possible integration of walking, biking, transit, and quality places, streetscapes, and urban design.

I also believe that a surface crossing for the trail on Wisconsin Avenue can be made to be very good, and will promote biking perhaps more than a tunnel would, by making bicycling very prominent on a heavily used road.

I happened to be in Indianapolis on business earlier in the week, and got a chance to experience the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a "loop trail" serving Downtown and the five cultural districts connecting to it. The Trail will be finished later this year, although most of it is functional now.
ICT_map
The Cultural Trail provides many great examples for how to integrate high quality trail conditions and road crossings in the urban context, especially given that it is a 100% within-Right-of-Way Trail within the traditional street and block network of Downtown Indianapolis.

(Note that what they call Downtown is spread out, about 4 square miles, so there are different land use contexts along various parts of the trail .)

The quotes in the article from "save the trail" people are disingenuous. They don't like the trail, but they would rather have a trail near their houses than the light rail. Their seeming prioritization of the value of the trail is no different from how some people "use" historic preservation regulations to fight against sometimes worthy projects in their neighborhoods, because the process can be [mis]used to make projects much more difficult.

And half the comments so far on the article are pretty stupid too (I hate to be judgmental but I think back to projects I was involved in in the early 1990s, like the early community webproject "Capital Access" and how I spouted high falutin' talk about 'enhancing a community's capacity to learn and grow' and the typical comments on newspaper and blog websites evince attitudes so far from that ideal)--that bus rapid transit would be better, that no one will ride transit, etc. I don't understand why most Post commenters write such drivel.

Another thing to read would be the recent Washcycle post, "Washington Gateway to maximize value of Metropolitan Branch Trail," about how the Washington Gateway development project on New York and Florida Avenues is going to integrate the east side of the project, which abuts the Metropolitan Branch Trail, into the trail, with complementary bicycling-related support facilities. (I have also covered similar ground in this past entry, "NoMA revisited: business planning to develop community" and what I call "edgespaces.")

Street crossing, Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Street crossing, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Trail in the "sidewalk zone" of Virginia Avenue, Fountain Square, Indianapolis Cultural Trail
Trail in the "sidewalk zone" of Virginia Avenue, Fountain Square, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Signage, Indianapolis Cultural Trail, Downtown

These street conditions in Indianapolis are not unlike those in Bethesda.
Street crossing, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Walkers and bikers crossing the street, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Waiting to cross, Indianapolis Cultural Trail

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