From WAMU: As D.C.’s housing demand rises, developers are getting creative in carving more space out of existing homes. But not everyone is happy about that.
[By Paul Goddin, written for Mobility Lab]
Transportation choice in America is largely a product of where one lives, which is both directly and indirectly dependent upon core values and attitudes.
This is a major finding in TransitCenter’s Who’s on Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey, and it supports the idea that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.
While there is a high demand for quality public transportation nationwide, such infrastructure is often missing in the places where Americans currently live. The findings support the idea that there is an unmet demand for mixed-use, walkable urban places – called WalkUPs, a term coined by Christopher Leinberger, chair of George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis.
Who’s On Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes SurveyFifty-eight percent of respondents to TransitCenter’s survey consider their ideal neighborhood to contain “a mix of houses, shops, and businesses,” though not necessarily located in the urban core. Only 39 percent of the respondents currently live in that ideal type of neighborhood.
Americans, in fact, are much more likely to live in the type of neighborhood they grew up in.
The report is further evidence that Americans are growing out of love with sprawl, and bolsters research performed by Leinberger, who has said that at current rates of production, it will take 20-plus years to satisfy the demand for WalkUPs.
“Traditional cities” such as Washington D.C. and New York City have the greatest share of transit users and commuters, followed by the West Coast cities, where 31 percent of people under 30 use public transit at least once a week.
Americans who reside in mixed-use neighborhoods are far more likely to use public transit than those who live in residential-only (suburban) neighborhoods.
In other words, TransitCenter’s research suggests that most people will abandon their automobiles not when enticed onto public transit, but rather once they move to a mixed-use, urban, environment.
The report finds a connection between core values of Americans – who they are as people – and where they choose to live. Values also inform how they choose to travel.
The values positively correlated with likelihood to take transit include those toward:
- community and urbanism,
- productivity and connection, and
- the environment.
The attitudes positively correlated with likelihood to take transit include:
- a preference for social environments,
- a preference to try new things,
- a desire to be productive while traveling,
- having grown up taking transit (although see here for an interesting juxtaposition in the findings), and
- a dislike for driving.
The greatest indicator of transit usage, though, is neighborhood type. Meeting the pent-up demand for mixed-use neighborhoods, and enticing people to move to them, suggests the report, will have the biggest influence on transit usage.
Regarding this survey, David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, said, “These findings provide concrete evidence of what many of us in the transit field have long suspected: there is a desire for reliable, quality transportation in communities across all regions of the U.S., and among riders of all ages, backgrounds and financial status.”
Bragdon said, “Unfortunately, this desire is largely going unmet, to the detriment of many local economies. To serve – and attract – residents and workforces today and in the future, cities need to unite land use and transit planning to form comprehensive, innovative infrastructures that can support this demand.”
Click here for all our commentary on TransitCenter’s report.
[Written by Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]
A new shared-space residential project by Vornado and WeWork, approved in July by the county board, will be Arlington, Virginia’s first micro-unit project, and could be priced affordably.
The Crystal City project will be a temporary revamp of the vacant Crystal Plaza 6 office building at 2221 South Clark Street, which is scheduled to be redeveloped by 2050.
In the interim, real-estate firm Vornado will spend $40 million on the renovation, with a mid-2015 completion date. WeWork, a New York-based coworking office provider, has signed a 20-year lease on the building.
Experts say coworking signifies structural changes occurring in America’s workforce. Coworking companies are largely located in the urban core, reliant on the vibrancy, walkability and transit options of these areas to lure a hip and influential clientele.
The Crystal City project – dubbed “WeLive” by those familiar with it – will be WeWork’s first foray into the residential market, with a similar project planned for the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.
WeLive will consist of small apartments centered around a two-story-tall common living area. Apartments will contain a bedroom and bathroom, but kitchens and living areas will be communal.
The project will likely emphasize the cutting-edge design and amenities that have distinguished WeWork’s co-working spaces.
With many units between 300 and 360 square feet or less, WeLive will be Arlington County’s first micro-apartment project, located within walking distance of the Crystal City Metro Station, several bus stops and Capital Bikeshare stations.
WeWork has not yet established rents for the WeLive project, but the Washington Business Journal has reported that WeWork’s lease from Vornado is a low $24.77 per square foot. Additionally, since building small is an effective way to achieve lower rents, there are hopes within the industry that WeLive rents may increase the stock of affordable housing in the county.
Rouleau told Mobility Lab, “We need to explore new designs in the search for a housing mix to serve employees of varying incomes. To maintain our economic vitality and diversity, we need to create housing affordability in a variety of stripes.”
More than one person interviewed about the WeWork project used the term “experimental” to describe the housing concept, with its decidedly dorm-like feel. “It will be interesting to see who is going to live there,” said Angela Fox of the Crystal City Business Improvement District.
Arlington Board Chairman Jay Fisette has stated that he believes the project will appeal to “entrepreneurs and tech workers.” Fisette’s comment makes sense, as by all accounts Crystal City is attempting to transform itself into a tech hub.
Federal spending cuts continue to affect the entire region, and no Arlington district was as affected as Crystal City by the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) plan, which resulted in a mass exodus of military personnel and contractors from the county. Crystal City’s office vacancy rate was at 21.9 percent in the second quarter of 2014.
Demonstrating that every problem really is an opportunity, Crystal City has been performing a dramatic about-face, repositioning itself as a magnet for growth tech companies, and engaging in placemaking to transform its streets into vibrant, walkable destinations.
Vornado CEO Steven Roth has indicated that the partnership with WeWork will continue in this vein, predicting it will be “transformative” for Crystal City. Roth told the Washington Business Journal regarding the innovative WeWork partnership, “We think that this is an enlightened transaction.”
The WeWork project is made possible, of course, by Arlington’s status as an urban center, its unique positioning relative to Washington D.C., and its world-class transportation options.
Rouleau told Moility Lab, “The WeWorkunits won’t appeal to all, but that’s okay. I’m looking at this design with great excitement and hope.”
—The Silver Line and Ballston
From our friend Martin Di Caro at WAMU comes the attached spot on the Silver Line and Ballston.
[Written by Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]
Why do so many Americans choose to live in the suburbs, despite the increasingly long commute times and lack of community often associated with these places?
Benjamin Ross, a Washington D.C.-based transit activist whose grass-roots lobbying efforts led to the planned Purple Line in Maryland, argues that suburbia has a persistent allure because it is a great “velvet rope” separating those of means from the rest of us.
Status-seeking, Ross says, is the psychological underpinning of suburbanization, leading Americans to seek out the cachet purported by suburbia’s bigger houses, bigger lots, and bigger SUVs. Ross makes a convincing argument to this effect in his new, meticulously-researched book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism.
Regarding status-seeking, Ross writes:
"Suburban construction is not the only sector of the economy where status sells. Nightclubs, like neighborhoods, thrive on exclusivity, and both employ gatekeepers to maintain the desired aura. These functionaries – bouncers, doormen, and planners – bring diverse credentials to their work, but they all have the same task. Their job is to keep the riffraff out while carefully trading off revenue against cachet. The balding hedge fund manager with the taste for champagne gets seated in the VIP section for the same reason the office building is allowed to go up along the interstate."
The problem, of course, is that housing and jobs, unlike nightclubs, ought not be reserved only for those with clout. Yet Ross demonstrates how status-seeking is built into the DNA of suburbia, through the zoning codes and private covenants that enable them.
Dead End details how the legal foundation for modern zoning ordinances lies in a 1927 Supreme Court case, Euclid v. Ambler. In this case, the view of apartment buildings as “lower class” was upheld by the court, which described apartments as a “mere parasite” on the single-family neighborhood. Coupled with private covenants (primarily homeowners associations), which historically did not just impose architectural standards but racial and ethnic restrictions as well, the result is an entire system based on exclusion and favoring single-family housing over all others.
Despite this dubious history, many Americans moved to the suburbs with the best of intentions, seeking safety and security for their families. The suburban oasis has proven to be a mirage, though, says Ross. For example, in present-day suburbia, children do not play throughout the neighborhood. Instead, play dates must be arranged in advance by “helicopter parents.” Walking or biking to school is anathema. The desire for safety has warped into a reality of isolation and disconnectedness.
The biggest problem with suburbanization, though, may be the unintended consequence of a segregated, dispersed land-use pattern – better known as sprawl.
Sprawl, the process of separating land uses – houses from offices from shopping – has resulted in a suburban landscape in which even the simplest errand requires a car. It’s no wonder, Ross argues, that Americans have fallen out of love with sprawl, if not with the suburbs themselves.
Ross’s book covers a great deal of ground. There is clearly no love lost between Ross and the suburban land form he deconstructs. He takes on opponents of smart growth as well, recognizing that behind most of their arguments lurks the culturally-biased premise that “the single-family suburb embodies true Americanism, under attack by an alien cultural elite.”
At its core though, Dead End is optimistic. Ross points out that demand for walkable, transit-accessible housing far outweighs the supply. In regions that have strong transit networks – New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among them – the central cities are gaining in population faster than the suburbs.
This is good news for smart-growth advocates, but the supply-demand discrepancy remains an issue. Ross says that in order to address the supply side of the equation, we need:
- additional construction and density in existing walkable, transit-accessible areas, and
- extended transit to create new places that fit this criteria.
Dead End has received praise from publications such as the Washington Post, which noted that the book “casts light on the cultural forces at play in major disputes gripping our region over affordable housing, the ‘war on cars,’ [and] the Columbia Pike streetcar in Arlington.” If the suburbs really are an exclusive, velvet rope-demarcated pattern of development, then like at any party, it’s important to recognize when it is coming to an end. Many Americans are doing just that.
Velvet rope photo by Ahmed Hashim.
[Written by Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]
“Good fences make good neighbors,” Robert Frost wrote in the poem “Mending Wall.”
It is a line that captures the 1914 poem’s themes of boundaries, ownership, and privacy perfectly. But today, 100 years later, fences are becoming more of a quaint notion in an increasingly urbanized world.
According to the United Nations, which has been tracking world urbanization patterns for years, 81 percent of Americans currently live in urban areas. This is a worldwide migration trend as well, with more than half of the world’s population now residing in cities.
If America’s rural and suburban areas are all about the private realm, then our cities are about the public realm; that is, the commons. More people are choosing to live in cities, electing a lifestyle of smaller living spaces, nonexistent yards, and more people in closer proximity.
The fenced-in private yard is giving way to neighborhood parks and sidewalk cafés. The public realm is reasserting itself as a vital place in which residents of cities can socialize, recreate, and politically demonstrate.
“Yet public space, often slow in the making, is easily compromised,” says Thomas Mellins, curator of Open to the Public: Civic Space Now at New York City’s Center for Architecture. “Its creation and maintenance require both patience and vigilance.” In land-poor places such as Manhattan and Arlington, Virginia, the market pressure for conversion of parks into “higher and better” uses is not insignificant. We should approach such ideas with skepticism.
Most people do not realize, however, that the majority of public space in the U.S. consists of streets. According to Planetizen, streets comprise roughly one-third of the land area of an average city. As automobile ownership declines and alternative transportation modes prevail, it makes sense to convert excess street bandwidth into walkable, usable public spaces.
Some cities are doing just this, in empowering displays of civic-mindedness. Charlottesville, Virginia pedestrianized its historic business district into a Downtown Mall before it was fashionable. More recently, New York City partially pedestrianized Times Square… permanently.
Just as nature threatened to take back the space occupied by Frost’s “Mending Wall,” cities too should take back that other, man-made obstacle to community. We’ve done it in small measure with protected bike lanes. Let the reclamation continue.
Photo by Maciek Lulko.
[By Paul Goddin, originally appearing in Mobility Lab]
Chris Eatough, a former professional biker and the director of BikeArlington, envisions an Arlington County where there are more bikes than cars. In order to get there, says Eatough, the county needs to create a connected network of protected bike lanes.
Eatough has spent the last five years helping to guide the county’s transformation into a great place to get around by bike. He spoke about the state of the county’s bike programs at Mobility Lab’s Lunch at the Lab this week.
Eatough said that while Arlington’s leadership position in bicycling was forged by the creation of Capital Bikeshare, “Arlington is now falling a little bit behind as other communities roll out protected bike lanes more quickly.”
Protected bike lanes, also referred to as cycle tracks, are “like sidewalks for bikes,” according to People for Bikes. These bike lanes are often painted green and are segregated from automobile traffic by planters, pylons, curbs, parked cars, and, in the case of San Francisco, cactuses. While protected bike lanes have doubled in number nationwide since 2011, Arlington only recently opened its first protected bike lane this week in the Pentagon City neighborhood.
These lanes are integral to getting more people to choose bike instead of other modes. A Portland Office of Transportation study shows that 60 percent of potential cyclists are interested in bicycling but concerned over issues such as safety. A big way to address the concerns of this “interested but concerned” population cohort is by creating segregated lanes for bicyclists.
While installation of these lanes would admittedly result in a small reduction in on-street parking, said Eatough, “A small number of objections should not prevent change that benefits everybody.”
The benefits these lanes provide are tangible, and not just relegated to bicyclists. A study in New York showed that protected bike lanes decreased injuries to all street users by 56 percent. A Portland study showed that 96 percent of people feel safer on a street with a protected bike lane.
Protected bike lanes, as part of a complete-streets policy, are effective placemaking tools as well. These lanes can transform a street or neighborhood into a destination rather than just a place to travel through. In Washington D.C., for instance, 83 percent of residents in the vicinity of the 15th Street NW protected green bike lane consider it a valuable neighborhood asset.
BikeArlington, a program of Arlington County Commuter Services, is engaged in encouraging more people to bike more often. Eatough’s last day as BikeArlington director is August 28. He is leaving to become Howard County, Maryland’s first-ever bike and pedestrian coordinator.
[By Paul Goddin, originally appearing in Mobility Lab]
Washington D.C. is the most walkable metropolitan area in the U.S., according to a report by George Washington University and Smart Growth America.
The District’s number-one ranking has surprised some, prompting them to ask how D.C. was able to surpass places such as New York City, which not only contains one of the best subway systems in the world but also that epitome of walkability known as Manhattan. (See the full rankings below.)
The secret to Washington’s walkability – according to the report entitled Foot Traffic Ahead – is its suburbs.
The term “walkable suburb” may sound like a misnomer, but Chris Leinberger, the report’s author, contends that it is not. Many of America’s traditionally car-dominated suburbs are being transformed into walkable urban places (or WalkUPs), says Leinberger.
While the Washington metropolitan area contains many walkable places already (think Old Town Alexandria in Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland), it’s the transformation of D.C.’s suburbs into WalkUPs that’s particularly striking. Tysons is but one example.
Walkability is indeed a regional goal. This is the entire point of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) regional activity centers project, intended to guide growth in the Washington area.
Sophie Mintier, a regional planner on the COG project, told Mobility Lab, “The activity centers are compact, mixed-used neighborhoods – or emerging communities that are planned for compact development – that place an emphasis on walkability. Focusing development in these locations is a way to accommodate growth more efficiently and create livable places.”
New York’s number-two ranking, according to Leinberger, is because pedestrian friendliness in that area is mostly relegated to the central city. Leinberger told Mobility Lab, “Ninety-two percent of New York’s walkability is confined to the island of Manhattan. And Manhattan, at 23 square miles, is just .3 percent of the land area of the New York metropolitan area.”
One person unsurprised by the report is Lauren Hassel, promotions manager of WalkArlington. Hassel points out that Arlington achieved a Gold-Level Walk Friendly Community rating a year before the District.
Walkable urban places, according to Leingerger, are the new frontier. “If you don’t understand [places such as] Arlington, then you don’t understand where the suburbs are going in this country,” Leinberger said.
Regarding the transformation of the D.C. suburbs into walkable urban places, Mintier said, “There are certainly challenges to achieving this kind of development, especially in more auto-oriented places, but we are seeing an increasing shift toward walkability and complete-streets approaches in the local planning of COG’s member jurisdictions.”
Miniature Times Square photo by Jason Kong.