Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Recap of Understanding Urbanization Forum, July 22

On July 22, Reston Association and Supervisor Hudgins co-sponsored a forum on urban design and creating walkable communities.  In case you missed it, an overview prepared by RCA Board member Tammi Petrine and Restonian Doug Pew is below.

Introduction of symposium and opening thoughts:

Supervisor Catherine Hudgins:
80+ attendees; goal of evening is to improve walkability in Reston.  About 60 thousand people live in Reston of which 30 thousand (½ ) live, work and play in community.  CH is not concerned with worries about congestion and thinks that there are ways to deal with it.  She thinks that now is opportunity to explore ideas.  She thinks change is good.

RA Acting Executive Director Cate Fulkerson:
Jeff Speck is an advocate of sustainability, walkability and smart growth.  He lectures on this around the country and lives currently in Washington, D.C.  He is currently a huge fan of Coalition for Smarter Growth, a local organization.


Presentation by Jeff Speck

UPDATE:  Mr. Speck's presentation has been placed on the County's Reston Master Planning website.  It is available through this link.  It is a large PDF file. 

“Jeff is a city planner and architectural designer who, through writing, lectures and built work, advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design.”  (from blurb on symposium program.

In addition, he is author of following books: 
Suburban Nation: the Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream
The Smart Growth Manual
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Speck’s opening remarks:
  • As he speaks once per week around nation, walkability is what people are looking for.
  • Demographically of the 100 million households that will be formed in the next 25 years only 12% of families will have children and will look for a big house, a big yard and schools. The biggest market will be young people pre-children and baby boomers that are looking for a retirement lifestyle.
  • New Urbanism: is defined by pedestrian culture.
  • He works with both existing communities such as South Beach in Florida and new communities such as Kentlands in Gaithersburg, MD.  In doing this work, he looks back in history to see which old regional communities closely match current client; Kentlands was modeled after Georgetown in Wash, D.C.
  • In addition to his client work, in his function as Director of Design at the National Endowment for the Arts from 2003 through 2007, he oversaw the Mayor’s Institute on City Design.  In this effort, every 2 months he gathered 8 mayors and 8 design professionals who worked together for 2 ½ days to solve urban design problems.  One Mayor stated that people wouldn’t remember him for balancing the budget but would remember him for adding a park. The mayors wanted to see more people out walking. They concluded that a sustainable city is a walkable city. The resulting solutions are included in his books.
His presentation was a synopsis of the last book according to his comments.
  • “Walkable City” deals with how to get people to walk.
  • Costs of owning a car: 80% is owning the car; 20% is driving the car.  So owning a car means once you own one, driving it more, costs less/mile.  But the costs of driving are unequally shared by taxes for roads paid by drivers and non-drivers alike.
  • Back in the 19th century people lived adjacent to factories that emitted a tremendous amount of fumes causing health problems among the populace.  Some people suggested separating the homes from the factories immediately drastically improving the life span of the people. These people became known as the first planners and were regarded as heroes. This was the start of Euclidean zoning and resulted in separation of large areas of land into single uses such as housing, retail and office.  Despite all you hear about mixed use and smart growth when Jeff goes into a community to plan a new development, he finds that there have been many years of single use development to deal with.
  • There are only 2 tested ways to build neighborhoods, traditional and suburban sprawl.  Traditional is defined as compact, diverse and walkable, Suburban sprawl .is characterized by super sizing and results in large public facilities such as schools and parks located beyond walking distance of residents.
“Walkable City” has four main parts:
1.  Reasons to Walk
2.  Safety: Real and Perceived
3.  Comfort When Walking
4.  Interesting Walk is Imperative.
1. Reasons to Walk
  • Must have a balance of uses
  • Must have diverse mixed uses
  • Prefer traditional neighborhood model vs. urban sprawl model
  • This includes live, work and play in same neighborhood.
  • Comfortable grid of streets helps shorten journeys.
  • Mass transit is needed for a walkable city or region.
  • Walking is much healthier than driving.
2. Safety: Real and Perceived
  • Pedestrian must feel safe and not worry about getting hit by vehicles. Crime is not as big a threat to safety as vehicles.
  • Block size is super important; Portland has great size @ 200’ long vs. Salt Lake City @ 600’.  The longer the block, the wider the street which makes crossings more dangerous.  In California 24 different cities were categorized by block size. As block size doubles the non-highway fatal crashes almost quadruples. Reston Town Center is so good because its block size is smaller. This is a walkable model. Just south of Reston Town Center (between the W&OD Trail and the Dulles Toll Road) you have large blocks making it the driving model.
  • Congestion is a problem caused by planners who build more lanes in anticipation of more traffic.  With increased capacity, comes more traffic as people are then able to live further and further away from jobs which leads to sprawl. This is known as induced demand. Free roads exacerbate this problem. Reducing lanes reduces the accident rate while often maintaining the same vehicle capacity.
  • People drive faster on wider streets.  12’ lanes are too wide; 10’ are 30 mph lanes.
  • Bikes being separated from cars by reducing lanes provide dedicated bike lanes.   Proper street design allows the same amount of traffic to be accommodated despite reduction of lanes. Also known as ‘road diets.”
  • A road diet reduces a road from 4 lanes to 3 lanes with the center lane used for turns. Before a road diet, the 4 lane road is very dangerous because the center lanes, the fast traffic lanes, also become the left turn lanes.  When this occurs, center lane visibility may be blocked by vehicles in the center lane on the other side of the intersection. It is better to skip the center lane and add bike lanes or parking. Road diets are generally found to handle the same vehicle capacity as the 4-lane version with a greatly reduced accident rate.
  • Biking is a huge revolution currently in this country.  If bike lanes are built, people will use them.  IF bike lanes can be separated from vehicle lanes, women and children will increase bike ridership even more. Portland dramatically increased the number of bicyclists from just the same to 15 times the rest of the country by spending 2 million per year on bike lanes
  • Parallel parking makes pedestrians feel safer; puts a line of steel between pedestrians and traffic.
  • Bike lanes located beside curb protected by lane of parallel parking provides absolute best safety for all users; walkers, bikers and drivers.
  • Trees along streets are essential to making pedestrians feel safer. Trees along roadways also make drivers slow down making them safer. 
  • The tighter the corner radius, the safer the street will be; a wide radius encourages cars to travel faster.
  • Tunnels under intersections also encourage faster traffic as well as separate neighborhoods.  Bridging sunken highways with wide bridges that provide space for buildings as well as traffic (air rights?) helps to link neighborhoods together and provide wider walkable ranges.
  • All details matter:  This includes even the height of curbs.  Super tall curbs impede walking.
3.  Comfort When Walking
  • Human requirements for feeling comfortable haven’t changed in thousands of years.
  • The prospect for what a person is walking toward must be obvious.
  • Refuge from danger must be available.
  • Walkers want to feel contained.  Therefore a ratio of 1:1 of vertical to horizontal space is ideal.  A ratio of 1:6 is too big.
  • Current zoning codes are a problem as they are mute as to what is good vs. what exists now.
4.  Interesting Walk is Imperative
  • Walkers want to know that other humans are around.
  • Walkers do not want to be bored.
  • Therefore, hide parking.  5 levels of parking can be hidden by a 3 story building if garage screened properly.
  • Also garages with ground level retail and other uses provide interest for walkers.
  • Hiding the surface parking in the middle of the block will help to keep the walk more interesting.
  • Walkers require interesting facades. Speck encourages city planners to vary architectural styles to do this and eschews blank walls and minimalistic themes.
  • Walkers want architecture that rewards them as they get closer.
Speck stated that he was not employed to work specifically on Reston problems, but that he realized several Reston features that would figure into how to make village and town center areas more walkable. 
  • Reston is way ahead of most other communities because it was master planned.
  • However some sections are definitely suburban (attractive and desirable with curvilinear streets and yards that people want) and would never be termed “walkable” in terms of allowing cars to be abandoned.
  • Pathway system throughout community does promote walking and biking.
  • Town Center and village centers do provide areas that are walkable to some degree.
  • Proximity to transit is a problem/opportunity for walkability but contains problems of how to segue transit to existing development around Metro station areas.
  • Town Center is separated from transit by a section of non-walkable development south of TC including large blocks, wide streets and fast traffic.  In order to correct this, redevelopment of this area is necessary into grid of narrower streets and smaller buildings/blocks.
  • Wiehle is completely unsatisfactory as no residential exists close to station areas and pedestrian/biker access to station is terrible.  Grid of streets is missing and existing streets are too wide/fast.  Walkers are not safe.
  • Most of Reston won’t change and can’t change. Many people will opt for the automotive environment. But there is this opportunity to create a walkable environment between stations that should not be ignored.
Panel Discussion:
Participants: Greg Trimmer of JBG; David Whyte, TOD and street design expert, and Heidi Merkel, Fairfax Co. staff lead for Reston master planning special study.
Greg Trimmer Comments:
  • He favors walkable, mixed use development that promotes biking
  • JBG invests only in TOD development  It has invested in property in proximity to all three Reston Metro station areas.
  • There is a very highly educated workforce in Reston that favors mixed use development.  
  • In the Reston Heights project, JBG has attempted to facilitate easy access to Town Center Metro Station, but current VDOT rules have thwarted every solution proposed.  Luckily Supervisor Hudgins interceded on JBG’s behalf and provided a “slip sheet” which is a special waiver to allow plans to proceed without hold-up until VDOT allows solution.  JBG is willing to pay for solution at future date.

David Whyte Comments:
  • There are a few pockets around the village centers that may undergo change but most of the area will remain unchanged.  
  • Streets in Reston need to regulate usage.
  • Through traffic by out-of-area commuters has to be curtailed.
  • This can be done be re-designing streetscapes.

Heidi Merkel Comments:
  • Reston is undergoing an evolution in form around metro stations.
  • The ½ mile radius for increased allowable density around the metro stations will not extend south of Sunrise Valley Drive.
  • Goals around the stations are diversity of housing, environmental stewardship, and making sure green natural areas are integrated into the area.
  • This includes planning parks, plazas and meeting spaces.
  • VDOT has had an epiphany regarding street design and has designated Fairfax County as the prototype area to experiment with new street designs.
  • Urban Design Standards are very, very specific about what is required around each transit station area.
  • Zoning will be tool to get it done.
  • Goal is to “live, work and play” without getting into a car.
  • Village centers in Reston already have a strong walkable connectivity.

Questions and Answers: 

  •  Q. With single narrow traffic lanes how do you handle double parked delivery trucks that block traffic?
  • A. This is a management problem primarily.  Parking delivery zones need to be established in each block. Also delivery time periods may be established.
  • Q. Lives within 3 blocks of grocery store but does not choose to walk to store in bad weather.
    A. Can’t control the weather. Some people may choose to walk in bad weather but driving 3 blocks is not likely to cause traffic congestion.
  • Q. Notice that building construction near Reston Parkway comes first. Traffic mitigation comes second.  What are plans to change this? (audience applause)
    A. Hoping to provide more housing in this area. Also, people who take the Metro may stop driving to work.
    A2. Most of the traffic is not going to the new building.  Adding a lane will simply move the congestion further away.  Also, shouldn’t have to subsidize through traffic.
  • Q. Question on bicycle planning.
    A. There are a lot of different markets for bicyclists. In general, they are trying to separate bicycles from pedestrians. In the case of Reston Parkway over the Toll Road it is unsafe for bicycles to ride through an interchange. The bicycle lanes will be placed off the roadway for their safety.
  • Q. In Europe people walk their dogs in the streets and inside and outside of buildings. What provisions are being made for dogs?
    A. There are plans to add dog parks in the transit areas. The point was made that there are more American households with dogs than with children.
  • Q. Considering sameness, how do you think this will work with the Design Review Board?
    A. Rather than rules, the answer is to have a multitude of designers.
  • Q. Will the zoning code be changed to incorporate form-based development?
    A. Don’t plan to do this. There is more concern about usage rather than form.
  • Q. How do you plan to handle traffic trying to reach the 3700 car parking garage for Metro (2,300 public, 1,400 for center employees)?
    A. Improving pedestrian and bicycling facilities. Hope to get some relief from Reston Station Boulevard. Phase 2 will help in 10 years. Roads will not be narrowed near Wiehle station. There will be problems that can’t be solved for several years.

Ken Plum

Reston is among the most successful planned communities in the country. Businesses compete to come here, and there will be growth with the addition of metro. That leaves us with a challenge. Look at Arlington and notice that they left traditional family housing intact while doing a phenomenal job of transit oriented development. How we take advantage of this opportunity, through good planning, will make change work for us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment