Rockville Pike between the NIH and downtown Rockville is an ugly mess of an edge city. Like Tysons, it has too much density to be truly car friendly, but all the ugliness of suburbia: strip malls set back behind acres of surface parking. This is all connected by a six lane road with speed limits that are too high to be safe for pedestrians. The irony is that unlike Tysons, Rockville Pike already has a Metro line—the busiest line in the Metro system, the Red Line.
Sunday’s Post featured a cover story about early stage plans to redevelop Rockville Pike between Medical Center and downtown Rockville from sprawling shopping centers and giant surface parking lots into a walkable, mixed-use area. I am most impressed that planners in our county (I’m a Montgomery County resident) are realizing the positive economic impacts of a walkable urban environment. They are seeing that an environment that shares resources and conserves energy will look far better on the county’s books as we move forward into the future.
Over at White Flint, plans are even farther along. Montgomery County is working in partnership with the landowners (developers) of the commercial real estate and local citizens in order to create a walkable place around the White Flint Metro. Just like in Wheaton, citizens have seen the successes of neighboring walkable places in Bethesda, Silver Spring, and downtown Rockville, and want some too.
According to the Gazette, the County is working with the community to write a new Sector Plan. Although the process is not as far along as in Wheaton, there are some good ideas coming out of the process. I really like plans modify the existing curvy, wide roads with blocks that are too large for walking. The plan would turn the road infrastructure into a human-scale walkable grid (although with some curvy blocks).
Of course, no one can plan for anything walkable without the usual concerns from the auto-centric viewpoint of traffic and parking. However, the studies predict that there will actually be larger throughput for cars on a decentralized street grid because there will be fewer car trips taken for local needs. For instance, someone who lives in one of the apartments/townhouses will walk to the corner store rather than taking up space on the road. Someone driving from one shopping center to another can take a side street instead of the Pike. And through traffic can take alternate routes around any blockages on the road. Our experience with Bethesda (I’m not counting Silver Spring and Wheaton here because they were both originally built for walkability), and North Arlington has shown there is little net effects on traffic in the long term with these sort of suburban-to-walkable retrofits.
Just like VA-7 in Tysons, planners acknowledge that Rockville Pike is a large road with a lot of through traffic. No one plans to cut back the amount of lanes. However, there are plans to subtly boulevardize it in the urban area, similar to Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. There will be more urban cross streets, buildings that come up to the sidewalk, people walking on the sidewalk, and trees that will say to motorists that they are in a zone where they need to drive more gently.
Times are changing. Plans for car-dependent to walkable urban retrofits seem to be . I know that not everyone agrees with me 100% (and I respect and usually understand the opposing view) but I am looking forward to a more urban future.