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, January 15, 2013

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.
Upper Northwest DC subway station, 1 mile catchment areas
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.)
Adding the Silver Spring catchment area of Upper Northwest DC
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.
Subway transit station catchment area of Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
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.
Western leg, Red line subway, Washington DC
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.

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At 3:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These people are rich or well-off yuppies and older car-centric boomers who would seldom set foot on metro because it is beneath them- they are too upper crust. You are being too logical in trying to make clear or to justify their irrationality and snobbery.

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, as disaffected as I can be, obviously I hope that you're not right and I am.

At 5:46 PM, Anonymous Carin said...

I am usually not the one out there defending the worst of the W3 NIMBYs, but I do think Richard is on to something about the need to think about paratransit/complementary systems differently in different parts of the city.

I work with (and am related to) a whole bunch of the car-centric W3 types. I have not met one of them who thinks Metro is beneath her (except in the most literal sense, of course). The question is where one can reasonably go by transit and how one will get to the transit node. To take an example: my mother lives near the Wisc. Ave. end of Cleveland Park. She can still drive and can still live on her own, but she can't walk under her own steam for more than 2-3 blocks. By Richard's calculation, she is well within the walkshed for the Cleveland Park metro, but the chances that she would make it on foot down the 3/4 mile hill to Connecticut - much less up again! - are nil. The calculus for her, and her friends and neighbors of the same age, is quite different than for someone who is hale and hearty and trying to decide how to commute downtown.

Mom's life is built around a community of friends of the same age in similarly un-dense parts of the city who are also retired. Their transportation decisions are about how and where to visit each other, with shopping, library, and doctor visits built into that round. For the moment, the possibility of using their own cars is what allows them to check up on each other, help each other out, and generally maintain the support network that we hope people will foster in our city neighborhoods.

I have been thinking about what a supplementary transit system to support this constituency would look like. It's a design problem. I've often thought that a golf-cart version of bikeshare would go a long way towards alleviating the anxieties of seniors of limited mobility. If they could hop in a little motorized cart to go up and down W3's lovely hills to its great groceries and restaurants, a very significant number of car trips and a whole lot of parking hassles might be alleviated. We might even be able to get rid of that silly parking lane on Connecticut Ave. Just think of a system of granny-carts that could range between, say, the long-awaited Giant on Wisconsin, the Cleveland Park, Van Ness, and Tenley metros, and Glover Park, and which, like Car2go, could be parked on neighborhood streets. It would be even better if they could be bright, bike-share red.

At 6:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

fwiw, I took note of this when I first saw it:

2. you mentioned hills in Cleveland Park and I was thinking of Porter Street when I was writing. I worked it during the 2000 census and riding up it was a total b****.

3. I should have mentioned the older aged as a separate issue. In the other piece, where I mentioned as #3 the guy I was sitting next to, whose wife has mobility issues, obviously I understand why people "need" cars, paratransit services, etc. and don't begrudge them this one bit. (I do think they should probably pay for metered parking though and everyone should pay more for RPP).

I too wonder how long I will be able to bike as I get older (if I live past 54--my father and uncle died at that age--hopefully I can bike into my 70s; Jan Gehl and his wife do, but it's flat for them).

4. in my transit planning paper/presentation, one of my subnetwork categories is intra-neighborhood transit. And the concept there is to move people to and from transit stations, stops and activity centers within the neighborhood, the model being Tempe's Orbit service.

That's the type of service that probably ought to be considered for the more distant parts of W3/W4 and even in W7 and W8 maybe.

Although the other element that I am interested in too is taxi collectif as in Montreal. I never rode it but I'd like to have tested it. Anyway, that's an element too.

I mentioned it at the Dec. 2012 hearing and CM Cheh mentioned that such services, including jitneys, were what she was thinking of as it related to some of the elements of the taxi "reform" legislation.

At 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

these are all good measures- but they do not replace the long time habits of walking as a way of life- or Richard's cycling- which should make him healthier and longer-lived as it generally keeps one in shape. My own father, who grew up in DC, lived to be 88- and for most of his senior years he had no car - he walked everywhere- this seems to be the case with many who live longer- they are more active. Older folks who did not grow up in a traditional walking culture are definitely challenged- as are women in our culture- who do not bicycle for the most part. Go overseas and in places like Germany and Holland women make up the majority of cyclers. There is nothing stopping us from this only mindsets. If they can do it so can we. I do not buy into the notion that it is somehow "against our culture". But it does certainly help one to grow up in it if walking was how you were raised.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Xtreme English said...

Your post describes where I live only problem is that i would LOVE to ride my bike downtown (exactly 6 miles), but i don't feel that i see or hear well enough to be sharing the street with the 4-wheelers.

I think I agree with Anonymous about the attitudes among NW's upper crust re metro rail but especially metro bus! They drive everywhere because they can and they want to. And if you are past a certain age, you can bet one of the first questions older people ask you is "do you drive?" The car culture is firmly embedded in this country. I won't go back to the Midwest because of this. Sure it's cheaper there, but at what a cost!

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

xtreme English you are among people like myself in your fear of "sharing the road" on a bicycle with car traffic- we will simply NEVER get a critical mass of cycling in the city or country as long as we push cycling as a sport and as something that only men in combat gear can get involved with- cycling has to be protected from auto traffic in separated sidewalk infrastructure as it is across northern Europe- we simply will not learn here in the Anglo countries which are all dominated by car thinking planners- almost all of whom are men or female atheletic cyclists and not regular people using a bicycle as primary transportation. In my own experience I had to custom fit bicycles because for decades no one would sell a cruiser or a bike with baskets , kickstands, or fenders and you had to resort to stooping forward and destroying your back on a "mountain " or similar type of cycling atrocity nobody in the rest of the world uses. We need to change here and we can start by getting the bike racers and male bicycle athletes out of the planning departments. And dont get me started on those rich elite NW folks who never walk anywhere...

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a senior who walks most places and uses the circulator for doctors appointments the one suggestion I make is to add more public seating along routes to activity centers. I can and do walk further when I know there is a park or place to sit and rest for a short time .

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

anon@2:51 -- you're absolutely right of course. Years ago in New Orleans, I was talking to someone who had recently visited DC with his mother. He said that he bought a folding chair and brought it around with them so that she could sit.

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of Richard's thesis is spot on. However, many of the people complaining about the proposals live well within the walksheds and would simply never use mass transit.

For those who live outside the shaded green areas, they see the new rules as an attach on their ability to park within the green areas. The opposition to the zoning proposals thus center more on parking issues than zoning issues.

Also, the areas in question are served by smaller metro buses that feed the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights metro stations, so there is already such service available.

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This still has ridiculously high thresholds that presume all residents are able-bodied enough to be able to walk at least 6 blocks or a mile. And it continues the poorly planned Metro paradigm of presuming that buses should shuttle people to/from subways instead of designing more direct routes. This is not a product of having grown up in suburbia. I have lived in several cities around the world with excellent public transportation systems, which typically require walks of less than 2 blocks and waits of less than 10 minutes at all times of the day. DC is a very long way away from having a world-class public transportation system.

At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who lives outside the "green" circles, I would love to have better transit options.

But the buses that run near me at best get to Farragut North or go to Tenley/Friendship Heights.

For some people this may work, but as a practical matter, neither is useful for commuting further downtown. I have tried, but bus+metro takes over an hour, whereas a car takes less than 1/2 hour to locations on, say Pennsylvania Ave or the Hill.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted a link to this post to the Chevy Chase listserv. Here is the one post I got in response. Seems like this reinforces the notion that you will have to pry her dead, cold fingers off her car steering wheel:

Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:34 am (PST) . Posted by: "susan_conklin" susan_conklin The thought it provoked in me is that his acceptability standards for what constitutes decent public transportation have ridiculously high distance thresholds that erroneously presume everyone is able-bodied enough to be able to walk at least 3-6 blocks or a mile and that everyone is physically able to bike or walk to work if they live at least 3 miles away. He also continues with the current flawed theme of a system that is centered around subway stations and fails to note that this system results in much longer transit times than would more direct and less circuitous bus routes directly to parts of the city that people actually need to get to. He also fails to note that the infrequency of buses in many parts of our area has a huge negative impact on ridership - if one can drive to where they need to go in less time than it takes waiting for a bus to arrive, why would anyone in their right mind ever take a bus? And it says nothing about the fact that few stores in DC deliver heavy/bulky purchases as other public transit-centric cities do. Ever try to get a 40 lb. bag of dog food or eight 40 lb. bags of garden soil home on a bus or a subway when there is no nearby car sharing service with cars that can fit these things?

In short, it seems to me that his entire thesis relies far to much on all residents being young, able-bodied people who have the time to shop daily in small quantities and who only ever need to go someplace close to a subway station or who could realistically bike or use a tiny car sharing service to meet their needs. Our city is much more diverse than this and such a one-size-fits- all prescription is highly flawed. I have already given Metro my feedback multiple times.

Susan Conklin

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel like the issues of the elderly and disabled are important but it annoys me if they are used to deflect from the main point. Based on a little research about 85% of the DC population is under the age of 65 (2009 numbers). I've seen average disability rates of about 10% in the district. Obviously there is going to be a lot of overlap, but even assuming there is none at least 75% of the population should be in more than good enough health to take public transit.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While people have the right to live wherever they want, I would think most people who have mobility issues would choose to live in areas where amenities are relatively easy to access. Living in a single family home, remote from transit or a gallon of milk seems short-sighted.

At the same time, you can't both complain that access to amenities is poor while also opposing new development that facilitates such access. Here in lies the main dichotomy of the upper Northwest complainers.

They don't want new development, they don't to increase density, they don't want easier access to amenities, and they want to be able to park in other people's neighborhoods so they can access the same.

And then they wonder why government officials and professionals in planning and transportation tend to mute these irrational voices.

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the best option open for W3 would be to build up and densify all of these areas, and build new transit links where feasable- and push out the single family detached homes and car users - they are dinsaurs anyway- in the long term scheme of things anyway

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Carin said...

To respond to various comments above:

I echo the many comments above in wishing for a more web-like network of bus routes, especially E-W, rather than a system that's just designed to funnel people to Metro and thence downtown.

On seniors living closer to services: Obviously a huge benefit of the proposed zoning changes will be allowing more types of housing options in existing neighborhoods, plus encouraging the kind of density that will support more delivery services and the like. However, think about what it means to an aging resident to be told it's silly for them to live in the house they've lived in for the last 30, 40, 50 years. Long-term stable neighborhoods that are livable and accessible for people at every stage of life should be our goal. That means getting both appropriate transit solutions and housing options to where people live. We need to encourage W3 not to make itself into a transit-free NIMBY ghetto.

Finally, it's unhelpful to think of "the disabled" as only those who are officially registered as such, and who are sufficiently disabled to require separate paratransit services. Let's think in terms of universal design for multimodal transit, people.

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I am 52 f*ng years old. That's not young necessarily. I think about aging all the time. I recognize that my mobility will decrease as I continue to age.

Frankly, in moving from our last place to this point, I was particularly conscious of our new house being one step up to the porch and one additional step to the door vs. 6 to 8 feet up from the sidewalk to a landing and then up a few feet on the porch.

All those things I f*ing think about all the time, probably more than she does.

And since 2003 at least I have been advocating for transportation demand management planning to include package delivery, including in the ANC4B report on the Walmart large tract review application.

DDOT continues to blow it off.

here are the specific recommendations from the ANC report:

8. Walmart should provide a shuttle service between their store and the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro Station.

9. Walmart should offer delivery services for all transactions totaling at least $50.

10. Walmart should make home delivery services a routine and standard part of their service
offering in urban/center city store locations, not just at the Georgia Avenue location, but in all the stores in DC, and in other urban markets across the United States.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt Carin's points, it's true that people don't want to move when they get older. OTOH, that's why neighborhoods decline over time (e.g. many DC neighborhoodsfor many many years). As people age they spend less, they go out less, etc. Local retail begins to fail. Schools have fewer students. etc. This is what Rollin Stanley was talking about wrt MoCo.

Again though Susan Conklin misses the point (from the other blog entry) that she truly doesn't understand her self interest.

The point of all this isn't to make everyone bike+walk+transit+car share. It's to encourage this as much as possible.

By doing so it reduces the total amount of automobile traffic and reduces the demand for scarce parking spaces (car storage) in the public space.

She should want that, if she understood basic concepts of space, volume, and congestion.

Otherwise in a social darwinian world, as much as the older people want to drive, they'll be outspanned by other drivers who are younger, faster, and have more money.

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like it is getting worse, too. We lost the N8 route a year or so ago, after a few years of decreasing service, and that used to do a decent job of getting parts of the Spring Valley/AU Park/Glover Park to Tenleytown and Van Ness.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

2 things.

1. to the person who sent the link to the Chevy Chase e-list. My understanding is that Susan Conklin is 51 years old. I am 52 years old.

She is no less able to partake of sustainable transpo than I am, although I have been riding transportationally since around 1990, so I have a little more experience doing it. Likely I live in spatial conditions comparable to hers.

2. Anyway, a big part of belief in mobility is more about rigidity. I discussed not in this entry but in the 5 stories one, about how 51% of all US trips are 3 miles or less, and how an add'l 13% of trips are 3-5 miles.

A significant number--not all--of these trips can be captured by sustainable modes.

Including bicycles. Including bicycles by older people.


Not every trip. But many more.

And that's what we are talking about in terms of reducing car dependency and automobility.

2. With regard to the points like about the N8, etc., someone else at the Dec. hearing also pointed out to me that the N8 bus was particularly good for connecting people to other places in W3, even if the ridership wasn't as high as WMATA liked.

It is that kind of service that needs to be provided in terms of what I call network breadth, depth, level of quality and level of service in general. And if the numbers don't meet WMATA metrics, then DC needs to step up and subsidize the bus, to promote ward-specific mobility objectives.

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

sorry, forgot the e.g. link:

I talked to these people not quite 7 years ago. The guy retired and bicycled everywhere. After awhile he recognized that by bicycling by himself he excluded his wife. So they bought a tandem and began riding together. They live by Potomac Ave. Metro and regularly rode to Downtown 9 to the then extant YWCA to swim, etc. At that time they were looking forward to the opening of the Trader Joes, to which they intended to bike.

2. In Balt. County the Ateaze Senior Center has an active bike club which does hard core biking on weekends, with rides up to 30 miles. (I don't ride those kinds of distances myself.)

3. And years ago the Philly Inquirer had an article about a bike club at a retirement community in Greater Philadelphia.

I don't need a bike club, like in examples 3 and 2. I have only a minor interest in recreational biking. I prefer utilitarian biking, that is biking for transportation.

Yes as people get older, more people will want access to cars. OTOH, some will be more infirm and shouldn't be driving. OTOH/2, biking, walking, transit, buggies and other alternative devices (cf earlier in the thread) can assist in maintaining people's independence.

PS here is a year 2000 article from the Post about "Senior Cycling."

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