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.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Taking automobility for granted, or not

People have a hard time considering mobility objectively, and "privilege" the position of automobility within the transportation system without being conscious about it.

1.  So there is talk on my neighborhood listserv about where to locate bikesharing stations, and there was/is a thread "recommending" that a station not be located at the library, which is one block from a school and 1.5 blocks from the Takoma Metro Station because "it is in the residential neighborhood, not commercial."

I responded that bikesharing is about "mobility" not "commercial" or "residential" and that the point of mobility is to link a variety of places together, be they commercial, civic, or residential.

That it is about "and-and" not "either-or."

I also made the point that if you say no bikesharing station, I hope you're prepared to remove motor vehicle parking from the abutting streets, along with bus stops around that location (and in the "neighborhood").

2. Which leads always into the debate that "parking" should be free at libraries (this is a constant issue in Montgomery County, as library locations become part of mixed use centers where parking is not free, see "Free library parking may be eliminated" from the Gazette) and sometimes at museums.

I always counter that if you are going to subsidize parking, why aren't you paying for people's cost of transit to get to and from the museum or library?

3. Another example is in the arguments of the anti-BRT commenters in the GGW entry "Suburban Toronto's Viva offers lessons for Montgomery BRT."
Rockville Pike, looking north, which Montgomery planners want to transform into a network of urban villages. 
Rockville Pike, looking north, Montgomery County.  Washington Post photo by Bill O'Leary.

The idea that you can move thousands of people in a dedicated bus lane every hour, but the same lane, used by motor vehicles, would carry about 1,300 vehicles per hour (more or less, depending on the number of curb cuts) is not seen as a matter of efficiently moving more people, but hindering drivers.
Inset from a WWII era GE Streetcar ad about passenger throughput in various types of vehicles
Inset from a WWII era GE Streetcar ad about passenger throughput in various types of vehicles.

I picked up a WWII era GE streetcar ad and it has a table about the number of passengers carried in various types of vehicles and how much space each vehicle takes. During the way, average ridership in a car was much higher than it is today. They figured 3.5 passengers per car. Today it is more typically one person.

But it is very interesting in the number of vehicles required to move a lot of people by bus or streetcar versus how many automobiles.  Plus the automobiles need space for parking when they are not in use.

4. I think about this too with the various "gasoline" rewards promotions by supermarket companies. In our area that's Safeway (which runs the program nationally, and has gas stations out west) and Giant.

Giant has a couple locations that sell gas too, and is opening up one location in Chevy Chase that only sells gas and offers the ability to pick up online grocery orders (see "Peapod by Giant opening first stand-alone pick-up location" from Bethesda Magazine; image from the article). The newest one is in Bethesda. 

(Note that Giant-Eagle, the supermarket chain in Western Pennsylvania, has a dedicated convenience store-gas station division called GetGo.  It carries Giant-Eagle brand goods, among other items.  Kroger also owns a bunch of convenience store chains, with names different from their supermarket chains, such as Turkey Hill.)

Or how Safeway often has a promotion on the weekends where you get a cash discount if you buy $75 of groceries in one transaction. This is a promotion definitely oriented to drivers, who find it easy to transport large purchases.

What about those of us who bike, walk, or take transit to and from the grocery store? And because of this, maybe we shop a little more frequently, and make smaller purchases, below $75, but more than $75 in total. How do automobile-related promotions help us?

At least one supermarket company, Buehler's, seems to recognize the "discrimination" and is offering people the choice of discounts on gas or groceries. See "Bueheler’s Links Grocery, Gas Rewards" from Supermarket News.

Meanwhile, Safeway and Giant checkers are trained to highlight and tell us about the gasoline rewards points that we earned in the transaction, conveniently printed out on the register receipts.  I don't bother pointing out that they are for the most part unusable, at least for me.

5.  Although, some companies are starting to retool their locations for urban consumer segments where people are more likely to walk, use transit, or bicycle versus drive.  7-11 just opened a store in Manhattan's Financial District that has beer on tap, 25 seats in a dining area, with wi-fi coverage, and an "Amazon Locker" for delivery of online purchases.  Clearly, they aren't expecting that most of the patrons will arrive by driving.  See "7-Eleven Breaks the Mold in New York City " from Convenience Store News and "Check Out The High-Tech 7-Eleven That Just Opened In The Financial District" from Business Insider.

6.  It's still a struggle.  Most retailers are still very much car-centric in their planning and expectations for how their customers get around.  For example, in Seattle (like DC), a city with a lot of bicyclists, some business owners are fighting the installation of a cycletrack on a street that fronts their businesses, because of their perception that most of their customers arrive by car.  See "Ravenna business owners raise concerns about proposed cycle track" from KING5 TV.   This neighborhood is immediately north of the University of Washington ("U District") which is a big biking area.

That being said, Seattle has installed the nation's "most European" cycle track on Dexter Avenue.  What makes it "European" or at least Dutch- or Danish-like is that at bus stops, the cycletrack shifts behind the bus shelters and remains continuous, rather than fostering conflict by bringing the bus and the bike together.  I wasn't able to get photos.

7.  Finally, despite all the privileging of the car in people's discussions about mobility issues and supermarket practices, motor vehicle miles traveled per capita continues to decline.  See the AP story "Americans Driving Less as Car Culture Wanes."

There is debate about how much this is due to the recession, although the beginnings of the decline preceded the recession, starting in 2007, having less disposable income, the high cost of automobiles, that car culture is on the decline because cars are less cool (no "four on the floor"), more retail shopping online reducing the "need" to drive to shop, and younger segments of the market are interested in other things, especially focusing on what they can do with their mobile phones.

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent posting Richard- this is the kind of posting GGW seldom does- they do not direct their thinking toward what is clearly wrong and solutions to get around it as you do here. I have a lot of problems with regard to cycling and how drivers are seen as being "over" cyclists and walkers, users of transit. As for the "most European cycle track" I would beg to differ - as most of the cycle tracks I have seen in Europe are sidewalk based and not in roads or streets- we have a long way TO GO HERE in getting past recreational/vehicular cycling as a force in molding our cycle tracks and how we use bicycles. I regularly count cyclists when I ride to work- on the sidewalk- on Independence Avenus every morning and afternoon- it is almost entirely male- it is usually around 10 each direction- some days it gets to 30 in the late afternoons- but I consistently see far more joggers than cyclists. The city has done very little for the eastern side of DC in the way of cycle tracks. They ignore us completely- Capitol Hill is a cycling desert compared to Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan or downtown. Tommy Wells please take note of this.

At 10:05 AM, Anonymous rg said...

Safeway's gas promotion always cracks me up. (I have to laugh because the only other logical reaction is to cry!) They really push it at their Capitol Hill location, which makes little sense in a neighborhood where even car owners probably don't buy all that much gas.

Of course, their Capitol Hill location tells you everything you need to know about the world view of the supposedly intelligent folks at Safeway corporate headquarters. (But then again, what would you expect from a company headquartered in California sprawl?) It boggles my mind that they continue to operate a suburban style store fronted by a vast surface parking lot on what has become very valuable urban land. In a logical world, Safeway's shareholders would insist that Safeway put such valuable urban land to a higher and more profitable use than surface parking. Of course there would be the usual outcry from NIMBY neighbors, but based on current zoning, I think Safeway could by right build a pretty solid mixed use project on that land. Plus, there would be plenty of neighbors, me included, who would be supportive.

As for that vast surface parking lot -- it alone is probably responsible for several fish kills a year. In the summer the asphalt gets so hot that when rain hits it, it steams. Would it kill Safeway to at least plant some trees to shade the damn thing? Seriously, it would probably take 20 blocks of green roofs to offset the runoff from that horrendous surface parking lot.

I think the horrendous urban design of that Safeway is a major reason why I prefer to shop at the Harris Teeter two blocks away, despite their higher prices. (That and the friendlier and more efficient cashiers.) At least they put their parking under ground. Of course, they have their own issues re: how they relate to the sidewalk. A few tweaks and they could really open that store up to the sidewalk.

At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RG you are so right about what we call the "deathway" [ inreference to a grisly 1990's era mass shooting which took place on the site during the crack days] it once housed a lovely German bier brewery and bier garten- and had a gorgeous 100 foot tall tower- all of which was torn down for "progress". Of course the CHRS and other reactionary NIMBY groups would fight tooth and nail to preserve parking parking parking and it would sit either abandoned [ as Himes no doubt will sit abandoned due to silly layering] or they will just let it "age in place' and nothing will be done. I am afraid that the Merv Griffin and older boomer types will have to die off before real change can come to the Hill area. I am continuously schocked and amazed by the decrepit mentalities of these old people around where we live- and how car-addicted they really are. yes- a better usage of the safeway/Deathway site is a very good concept .Look to CHRS to impede it- despite it's being outside the " historic district".

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lawyering not layering

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous rg said...

Re: the brewery and biergarten -- I often wish someone would propose building a brewery there to test whether CHRS is really committed to retaining the historic fabric of the neighborhood. My guess: they would oppose, vehemently. They are mostly interested, as you write, in parking. Parking, parking, parking...

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FWIW, it's a bit unfair to compare the HT from the 2000s to the Safeway from the 1980s... But it is a good example of the changing value of real estate and the focus on walkability.

There is no question that HT has been at the forefront of these changes in the DC area.

FWIW/2, I expect that Safeway understands that the Kentucky Avenue store site is even more valuable as part of a mixed use redevelopment.

As you know, after CityVista, they have become better attuned to converting store sites to mixed use.

The redeveloped SW Waterfront store is quite nice. They are underway with rebuilding sites at Petworth and Wheaton. They are moving forward--and like CH they face opposition--with an attempt to rebuild and mixed use-ize their site in the Palisades.

I wouldn't be surprised if long term they would propose something similar for the Piney Branch store. And it would be a no-brainer for the Upper Connecticut Ave. store in Chevy Chase. Although I would expect opposition.

They didn't do a mixed use (other than other retail) with the rebuild of the Georgetown store, which I think was a missed opportunity to add some housing there. I commented about that at the time.

If we walked in to meet with them, bringing Marc Dubell with us (he worked at Lowe Enterprises when they did the CityVista store, and on his own he is doing the project in Petworth, I don't know who is doing the Palisades project), I bet they'd go for a proposal. It'd help to have financing...

Note that I still think that they could open up the stores to the street, which they don't do. The WBJ op-ed on Safeway in the right sidebar and past blog entries covers my thinking about that.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

P.S. Giant has stepped up with mixed use stores on H St., and coming stores as part of the O St. Market on 9th St. in Shaw and the under construction store on Wisconsin Avenue in Cathedral Heights.

However, they should have taken this opportunity to upgrade their stores for the urban market, like HEB's Central Market, Giant-Eagle's Market District, or United Supermarket's "Main Street" banner, and they did not.

I think the narrow selection of goods, choices, and quality-lower priced store brands (although their Nature's Promise store brand compares favorably to Safeway Select, but the standard Giant brand does not) will hurt them in the long run.

But their Turkey sausage is priced $2 less per package than Safeway for the same brand, so I'll keep shopping there, but I buy a much more narrow range of items, because increasingly they don't stock what I want.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous rg said...

Always take my writing with a grain of salt -- it is more snarky and sarcastic than I really am. I think I am aiming, without much success, for humor. I am certain that Safeway is fully aware that they are sitting on some valuable real estate on Kentucky Avenue. And I appreciate that these things are complicated and take time. But when you walk and bike past such such a scar on your neighborhood every day, a little bit of snarky commenting can be cathartic!

It is indeed unfair to compare the HT with the Safeway. The latter comes from an era when cities where hemorrhaging population and where grateful for any development regardless of urban design quality. Taking an optimistic stance, I guess the HT, whatever its flaws, symbolizes how far cities have come since the nadir of the 80s and 90s.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The latest PIRG report hasn't changed by mind; cherry picking dates (economy actually topped up around 2005-06, and then moved into crisis, then recenssion). Biggest factor of course is whille we've been inching up for the last 6 years there is a still a huge gap.*

Also, the peak oil site is closing. there are lots of reasons but no question we're not hearing much of the peakers right now.

In terms of the grocery rewards program, it just shows how marginal urban stores are to big chains. Sorry.

* there is a powerful argument that $4 gas triggered the crisis. Not sure it is a "cause" but no question that drive till you qualify breaks down with $4 gasoline.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In 1991 I lived for a few months at D and 15th SE? (Given that I didn't cook much back then, I bought a lot of processed food for myself at that store.)

FWIW, I was just in Seattle and we were staying on "Capitol Hill" and we were about 5 short blocks from the Safeway there.

It too has a parking lot and the building probably dates to the 1980s and it isn't mixed use at all.

But the store inside was pretty excellent. A great array of products.

And I imagine that it will move towards a mixed use paradigm soon enough. (It will be a few blocks from the Capitol Hill Sound Transit light rail station.)

Since Safeway has just sold their most profitable division, Safeway Canada, they are probably going to have to be more focused about monetizing the value of their existing locations.

Just think if Cerberus would figure out that element of the leveraged buyout of supermarket chains...

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

p.s. since we talk about SLC on those rare occasions when we meet in person, if you get out there, you definitely have to go to the Harmon's City Creek store. It is a supermarket that kicks total a**. There is no non-Whole Foods store like it around here...

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

my bet is that Safeway wants to redevelop the Kentucky Avenue site eventually- and I also expect shapr opposition from the usual suspects. This is true and not snarky or sarcastic at all

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I have commented here before, I'm very happy to see bike lanes and bike infrastructure proliferate around DC.

As a daily pedestrian, what I don't like is witnessing and experiencing the bad behavior of bikers with the same sense of entitlement for which they chastise automobile drivers--and there has been an explosion of this behavior and attidtude in my neighborhood. And it has gotten worse, not better, now that GWU is back in session.

It is, in fact, illegal under DC regs to be biking on sidewalks below M Street NW and there is a good reason for that. It is dangerous for both pedestrians and bikers.

With the exception of the IMF and the World Bank complexes, there is almost no support for outdoor bike parking and bikes are locked and strapped all over the place--on trees, tree boxes, light poles, signposts, stair railings, etc.

As you and I have discussed here, there should be some sort of licensing ID for bicycles. Then, after the city (and the university) greatly improves the bike parking and info campaigns, there should be enforcement and fines (which should be plowed back into cycling).

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually I am all in favor of sidewalk cycling- but on dedicated tracks. I cycle on sidewalks because it is unsafe to bicycle with cars in DC and I am not a bike racer and I ride at a slower pace. My bicycles are heavier than most , with metal baskets, and I use loud bells and always warn people I am nearby. I also do not like crazy cyclists- and these are almost always vehicular cyclists- and usually men or young guys. They do crazy things and behave out of line. With a more normalized cycling culture that focuses more on women and normal people we can expect more cycling on sidewalk bike tracks as they have Europe- and with solwer speeds and a more relaxed mentality. Cycling for recreation has peaked in the USA and except for a select few, vehicular cycling will never get a mass of adherents. We must consider other methods. Gettin gpeople out of cars is a start- but making cycling safe for women and those unwilling to kill themselves[ and others as EE points out rightly] is hugely important.

At 1:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

EE -- I agree with what you say, as long as you sign off on the "Idaho Stop."

That being said, the Idaho Stop doesn't authorize wanton behavior, but responsible riding that allows running stop signs and traffic signals _when there is no oncoming traffic_ or _when there are significant gaps in oncoming traffic_.

To move to the Idaho Stop law, we'd have to have big time training. I'm happy with a registration/biking endorsement on the traditional motor vehicle drivers license.

I've been meaning to try to write an op ed about this for The Current, but I think I missed my time of opportunity /cause I was traveling.

The basic idea is the physics advantages of biking are crippled with having to stop at lights and stop signs all the time, because it takes us cyclists awhile to get up to speed (especially if we are "duffers"). To force stopping at every light and sign when traffic doesn't warrant it eliminates much of the value of biking and the time competitiveness it can provide for trips at varying distances under 5 miles.

It reminds me of when cars first started being adopted, and one city had a rule that the car had to be preceded by a walking flagman warning people that the car was coming... while I don't agree with how the mobility paradigm now favors vehicles over pedestrians (and bicyclists and transit users), I think that takes things a bit far.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

charlie -- obviously, once again, you are right about the city vs. the suburbs as markets for groceries... Probably a significant number of even city dwellers drive.

I know that I get shocked responses here in Upper NW when I suggest that it is possible to grocery shop via bicycle. (That being said I may trip chain when I have access to a car...)

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... the new 360 H Street apartment building with a Giant Supermarket on the ground floor has a dedicated elevator to the Supermarket.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

for a long time I have gotten my groceries on my bicycles- I have many baskets and have ample cargo space- this has gotten me a lot of funny looks which I just ignore. However I have noticed in the past 5 years or so more and more bicycles and people actually getting groceries at Kentucky Avenue Deathway. I always try to think to say something encouraging whenever I see someone doing this. Sadly, their bike rack is configured for racing bikes and not for cargo carrying bicycles. We need this kind of change here, too. As for the Idaho stop- I am not against it- but in general I am very much against vehicular cycling and what it entails and how it has been pushed as the "normal" in this country. I hate much of th epropaganda I read from these people- and I stopped commenting on other sites because of the outright hostility against my more Inclusive Cycling standpoints. Aggressive racers and recreationalist cyclists dominate the discussions both online and in planning.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous rg said...

I have heard about Harmon's. We definitely do not have anything like that here. I just spent 10 days in Missoula MT and they have excellent neighborhood grocery stores, unlike anything we have in DC.

I especially like Pattee Creek Market:

and The Good Food Store:

The first is on the edge of town where the grid gives way to some sprawl and the latter is close to downtown. I wish I could recreate Pattee Creek Market in my neighborhood.

I always kick myself for not taking more pictures to share with you when I take these trips. I am especially kicking myself this time because Missoula owns DC when it comes to traffic calming. They have bulb outs and bike lanes everywhere and a lot of the 4-way intersections in residential neighborhoods have been turned into roundabouts. I did get a couple of roundabout photos, which I will email to you this weekend. (They are on my home computer.) I see no reason, except for undue deference to drivers and /or laziness on the part of DDOT, why we can't do the same here. Also, DDOT's excuse that curb bulbouts require re-engineering of the street because of drainage is bogus. Missoula simply builds the bulb out with a lower portion to allow water to continue to drain along the curb to the gutter. This picture from Google streetsview kind of shows what I am talking about. (BTW, the locally-owned bakery on that corner is awesome. As good as anything we have here in the "big" city. All of the local supermarkets carry their bread.)

Also, I didn't get all the details, but Missoula just approved accessory dwelling units after what was clearly (from the newspapers)a contentious debate. I think it spawned a NIMBY mayoral candidate, who had already had some yard signs, mostly in the more suburban sprawly parts of town. I did not focus on it too much -- I was more focused on hiking and visiting friends.

At 2:28 PM, Anonymous rg said...

Whoops, forgot the link:

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes- credits for cycling to the grocery store would be awesome- or if proof could be offered to show you took transit or even walked instead of driving-after all- the store has to pay property taxes on that honking monster parking lot and anything that could lessen the need for such an expense SHOULD be the way to go but obviously this has escaped the attention of those who run the bese businesses. Just how could such a credit system work? Gasoline is easy to market or to deal with- but could you get - say- added credits on your metro smart card? Another thing- I cannot tell you the shocked reactions I often get from grocery store check out folks when they ask if I need "help to take the stuff to the car"- they are often dumbstruck that someone would take a bicycle to get groceries !!!

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Idaho Stop, maybe above M Street NW in my neck of the woods, but even without it currently there is a lot of insane bike rider behavior going on, especially during peak times like rush hours and lunch hours.

There is a CaBi bike station down the street from my building, which is the middle of the block between E and F Streets. Invariably during the weekday mornings, as hundreds of GW students stream down the street in the same direction to get to class, several nitwits (both male and female) are flying down the same very narrow sidewalk (until it broadens south of my building), rushing to return their CaBi bikes to the dock. They are on the sidewalk because the actual street traffic is one-way north and they're too lazy to bike the south-moving streets a block over on either side. Frankly, I'm tired of feeling that I need to be on guard to walk down the street safely.

My hope is that some "creative class" member invents an easily-scanned microchip or similar device containing discreet registration numbers--a bike "license/registration" that is purchased just like a car's and required to operate a bike on public streets and sidewalks (in certain areas).

It could be a manufacturer's requirement since they probably already have some sort of VIN on the bike, and it should be easily scannable (like on-the-fly) so that scofflaws are identifiable with related software applications.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

rg -- funny thing. Suzanne has relatives in Missoula. We were supposed to get there last year, but we changed our trip's itinerary to spend more time in Boise. We were gonna drive from Walla Walla to Missoula, just to stay overnight and drive back to SLC.

So it could be next year that we actually make it there. (I've never been to Montana.)

Boise is also very cool.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

anon -- fwiw, I don't see how supermarkets can afford those gas credits as it is. They only make a few cents per dollar of sales overall. So giving up lots of money to a gas station makes no sense.

Plus, gasoline retailers make very little money either. Mostly, they make money on the convenience store goods, and not the gas--gas is just an excuse to get people to buy other stuff.

It didn't used to be that way but it works that way now.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

EE -- and I think that the CPSC should make putting front and back lights on bikes mandatory, at least for "city bikes/hybrids" most likely to be ridden in the city. I also think you could make the back light have a turn signal in it.

WRT what you're talking about, RFID is already used kind of the way you describe for parking garages for monthly pass holders.

At 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Richard has pointed out here many times, when we got the Trader Joe's into the Columbia Condos in the West End, we had to add a million dollar sweetener to the deal [this was back in 2002] to make it happen because TJ's management did not have any experience with the small size of the store, the urban consumer market nor an urban location.

Even with the opening of the Whole Foods at Washington Circle last year, TJ's continues to have record sales at the West End location, seven years after opening. It, too, has a dedicated elevator for the residences above and has just recently expanded (again) its bike racks out front.

My only gripe is the DC Economic Partnership which continues to take credit for TJ's presence in DC. That is complete nonsense--DCEP had nothing to do with it.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

EE -- one weird thing about TJ's is that given the success of the store, they haven't expanded in the city (I guess they are going to do a store at 14th and U next year).

When I travel, of course I check out the supermarket landscape, and increasingly you find TJ's in very urban places. Like Fisherman's Wharf in SF, I think on Market Street in Philadelphia, I just saw one on the main drag (can't remember the name of the street) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, of course in 2005, the store in the Nob Hill neighborhood in Portland, etc.

I wonder if it wasn't that they were uncomfortable with urban locations, at least on the West Coast--which is their home, just not comfortable with urban locations on the East Coast?


Post a Comment

<< Home