Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm
If I were to think of the ideal circumstances for being able to live without "having" to own a car it would include the following:
- living about 3/4 mile maximum from a subway station, but 1 mile is acceptable (a 15 to 20 minute walk;
- living no more than six blocks from a decent bus line (frequent service to key destinations), a 1/4 mile (3 blocks) is better (this is the distance that RideOn shoots for in Montgomery County);
- living within 1.5 miles of a full line grocery store, preferably with direct transit service (interestingly WMATA doesn't list grocery stores on their maps);
- living within 1.0 mile of a decent neighborhood commercial district, including pharmacy, hardware, some restaurants that you are happy to patronize more than once, and some other shops including, ideally barber shop/hair salon, dry cleaners, and a post office;
- availability of car sharing vehicles (at the subway station, in the commercial district) within 1 mile radius, including "home cars" such as from Zipcar (for me there are 8 cars around Takoma and there are more cars available between my house and either Fort Totten or Petworth Metro--a close enough bicycle ride);
- transit benefits from work that you don't have to pay for (ideally);
- relatively cheap fares compared to WMATA (a WMATA monthly pass costs $230 for unlimited bus and rail transit; the cost of a monthly pass in NYC, with some restrictions, is $102--it's going up though; in San Francisco a monthly pass costs $64 or for $10 more it includes rides between the in-city BART stations; in Chicago, $100, plus it includes rides on the suburban bus service--note that none of these prices include access to commuter rail;
- BEST OF ALL would be to live less than 3 miles from work and walking or biking would be possible (the guy I mentioned in another blog entry who lives in Adams Morgan works in Chinatown-Gallery Place) without having to use transit much at all. (But up to 6 miles is absolutely easily do-able by bike, and frankly farther. I happily ride up to about 12 miles for meetings.)
- plus some access to other convenience and specialty retail within the community via trip chaining (e.g., if you work Downtown it's easy to go to Macy's or reaching DC/USA and Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target is pretty easy from much of the city).
Below is a map of Upper Northwest DC, showing 1 mile radius distances from the Takoma, Petworth, and Fort Totten stations on the eastern side (east of Georgia Avenue) and Friendship Heights, Tenleytown and Van Ness stations west of Connecticut Avenue.
As you can see, large swathes of Upper Northwest--Ward 3 and Ward 4--lie more than 1 mile away from a subway station and from a decent commercial district, although they probably have bus service, but it may not be be frequent--the buses on 16th Street now are about the highest used in the Metrobus system, although this includes Maryland riders.
Although if you add the catchment area for the Silver Spring station, which is located some distance from the DC-MD border, decidedly within Maryland, the tip top of the Northwest quadrant has access to frequent high capacity fixed rail transit service.
But it can be a bit difficult to walk that distance given the circuitous street patterns that can exist there. (This mostly wouldn't be a problem for bicyclists.)
While depending on circumstances, the possibility of bike + transit + walking + car sharing would allow for car-light living in other parts of Ward 3 and Ward 4, it can be less likely for a variety of reasons, ranging from the spatial organization of neighborhoods (the road network), the fact that people in this area have larger houses-larger families compared to other parts of the city, etc.
Still, compare the accessibility to subway service in Capitol Hill, which for this case will we define to be from Florida Avenue NE on the north to the Anacostia River on the south, with North and South Capitol Street as the western border, and RFK as the eastern border.
By this definition, there is just a tiny sliver, around the eastern end of H Street NE, that lies just outside of one mile walking distance to one of the area's seven subway stations: NoMA; Union Station; Capitol South; Navy Yard; Stadium-Armory; Potomac Avenue; and Eastern Market.
It's not like the part of Upper Northwest west of Rock Creek Park doesn't have great accessibility to transit. They have five subway stations: Woodley Park; Cleveland Park; Van Ness; Tenleytown; and Friendship Heights. And they have high frequency bus service on Wisconsin Avenue, along with other bus service, less frequent, on Connecticut Avenue and in other places.
Still, as I thought during testimony about "parking" at City Council in early December, probably Ward 3 needs a different kind of complementary transit service, something like what RideOn does in Montgomery County (albeit only in those areas served by the subway), where they aim to take people to and from subway stations primarily and secondarily between activity centers in the greater transit shed of the subway system, by locating bus lines and bus stops so that no one has to walk more than 1/4 mile to a bus stop.
That might make a difference in the willingness of residents in that area to begin thinking differently about sustainable transportation as a legitimate paradigm and way to live your life and get around the city.
In any case, they are not at the forefront of rethinking traditional mobility paradigms.