Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
The new year will bring the launch of a streetcar line on D.C.’s H Street and the opening of the long-awaited Metro Silver Line in Northern Virginia. Around the region, transportation projects reflect a desire for less auto-centric living, both in the city and the suburbs. Veteran architect and planner Roger Lewis and local legislator Chris Zimmerman examine how the region will grow and change as our transportation network expands in 2014.
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Chris Zimmerman Member, Arlington County Board (D)
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Christina, Incoming Editor and Chief of Roll call, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, this December has brought good news and bad for landmark transportation projects in the region. In the District of Columbia, the first bright-red streetcar for the new H Street/Benning Road Line rolled onto the tracks last week, with passenger service expected to begin early next year.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIBut, across the river in Virginia, a software snafu is delaying the opening of Metro's new Silver Line in Tysons. Growing interest in urban-style living that doesn't depend on cars is creating a high demand for new modes of transportation across the region, as long-awaited projects come on line and others move closer to completion. But that doesn't mean everyone agrees on where routes should go and how to pay for them. We'll look at how people will get around an increasingly crowded region in 2014 and beyond.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIAnd for that, we have two fabulous guests here in studio with me. Roger Lewis writes the, excuse me, writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post. He's an architect and Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. Thanks for being here.
MR. ROGER LEWISThank you, once again, for inviting me.
BELLANTONIAnd Chris Zimmerman is an Arlington County Board Member and Vice President of Smart Growth America. Thanks.
MR. CHRIS ZIMMERMANGood afternoon.
BELLANTONISo let's start with some new details that are in the Washington Post today about hopes for some expansion of the Metro Line. This is talking about adding some stations, maybe helping capacity by 2040. What does this project look like? How possible is it? We'll start with you Roger.
LEWISWell, this is radio. Unfortunately, I can't show you what this looks like. But, on page, I think, 8 of the Metro section, people can see a map. It's very clear. Essentially, I see it as something -- an idea that's been around a long time. I think it's been -- and Chris can talk a little bit more about specifics -- but the notion is that we need more connectivity and we need to solve some overloading problems that occur in places like Rosslyn and Arlington. I think it's -- they talked in the article about having it maybe by 2040. I would hope it's sooner than that.
LEWISIt gets -- among other things, it gets the Metro to Georgetown, one of the great oversights of the plans for Metro made back 50 years ago, when I had a lot more hair. I think -- so I think it's -- I think the idea's a good one. I think the other thing it does is that is begins to make a lattice out of the network as opposed to just a hub-and-spokes system, because we are not living in a polycentric city. People are moving in all different directions, not just in and out. So I think it's time has come. I just hope it's before 2040.
BELLANTONIAnd, of course paying for it is an issue. Something I'm sure your constituents in Arlington County must want to talk about. What do you think?
ZIMMERMANWell, I certainly agree that the vision that's been laid out, which I think you can see if you go to Amada's (sp?) website. This is something that's been presented around the region in recent weeks. It's certainly one that's very exciting and I agree with Roger that it's A. overdue and B. 2040 is probably a little too far out. The issue, however, that will be -- all the stuff that has to happen before then. And Metro has been advancing a program that they call "Momentum," which is basically the way to get from what we're doing now, which is trying to, you know, restore parts of the system that after, you know 35-40 years, have been wearing out.
ZIMMERMANAnd that's why we're having all these weekends where we don't get the train service we'd like. And, you know, when you get from there, you know, what do you do next? And there are a lot of things that need to happen. And so, you know, this -- what Roger's talking about is a, you know, a vision for where our system could be if we really make significant new capital investments, which I agree we should do. But there are a lot of things that have to happen between now and then. And, if you're going to do them more quickly, then you have to advance all these other projects.
ZIMMERMANAnd you have to advance funding. And, while this has actually been a good year and we could, you know, we're mostly talking about what's coming in the coming year -- the fact is, 2013 was a better year for transportation than we've had in a long time, principally because Virginia and Maryland enacted new transportation finance. New money for transportation projects, that's a really good thing. The bad news is, it's still not enough. We know it's not enough. And so we're going to need other ways to fund things in the years to come. We're not going to get to forget about it for another 25 years.
ZIMMERMANAnd, if we do, then we will never get close to this. So the region does have to talk seriously about how we adequately finance not just new construction, which is ultimately what we want to talk about, but maintaining and operating the system we have.
BELLANTONIWe're going to talk a lot more about it in this hour. Again, I'm in studio with Roger Lewis and Chris Zimmerman. And you can join our conversation by calling us at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Or send a tweet to @kojoshow, and tell us how you plan to use some of Metro's newest expansions, which brings me to my next question. So, one thing we do know is going to be happening is the new Silver Line that's scheduled to open next year in Northern Virginia. So we'll start with Chris Zimmerman. Where will this go? Who are the riders going to be? And what will this do for the system?
ZIMMERMANWell, this is really the most significant event for the Metro rail system since the completion of the system in the early part of the last decade. We finished up in 2001. And then there was that little addition to Largo in Maryland, to bring about the current system of 106 miles and 86 stations. This is a really big extension, because when you're done with the two parts of it, all the way out to Dulles, you're adding something close to a quarter of the track in the system now. So it is a really substantial expansion.
ZIMMERMANWhat's happening this year -- this coming year is half way out there, going out to Wheelie, which is just beyond Tysons Corner. And Tysons as, you know, is often noted, is the biggest concentration of office space outside the core -- outside the beltway. And it has not been served by any kind of rail transit, which is part of the reason it's a nightmare to go in and out of. So this is a very significant regional step. It's very important, but it's really going to take a while for the full benefits to be realized. So the line opening and people beginning to ride will have benefits on day one.
ZIMMERMANBut the long-term benefit is really as Tysons Corner is transformed as development changes. But, immediately, next year, we're going to have a whole lot of people who are going to be able to get in and out of the city in both directions. So they're going to be able to -- from out there -- get into town more conveniently, obviously, with the rail service that's available. But, more significantly, really, is the fact that you'll be able to go out that way to a job that now you can only think about driving to.
ZIMMERMANAnd a lot of people will now have a transit option that they've only dreamed about for more than a generation now.
BELLANTONISpeaking of the length of time -- I've been in Washington for 10 years and have been hearing about this all that time. And it's nice that it might actually be a reality. So, Roger Lewis, columnist for the Washington Post, how important is this expansion in the Silver Line? Are people going to be riding it?
LEWISOh, I think so. I mean, I think this is the moment -- Chris mentioned another one -- I think this is a good moment to explain that there's a kind of synchronous relationship -- actually a very tight relationship between planning transportation and land-use development. And Tysons Corner, which I think the listeners probably know, we've -- Kojo and I have for years talked about it as the poster child for, you know, the worst kind of planning that was done back in the 50s and 60s. You know, we have an unwalkable environment, 1,700 acres.
LEWISI mean, it's -- not only the amount of office space is immense, but it's an immense piece of property, if you will, that the long-range intention is to make it essentially a city, to turn it into a city, a walkable city.
LEWISWith -- and the plan -- it's a very ambitious plan, overlaying a new network of streets and blocks along with the transit. I just -- right now you cannot walk in Tysons Corner. If you go out there to do almost anything, you have to drive. And then when you -- if you have to go from where you have a meeting or whatever to where you eat, you probably have to get in the car again. Go to another part. It's really, truly the poster child for the worst kind of sprawl, unwalkable development. The notion, then, is the Silver Line will be coupled with this very ambitious plan to redevelop Tysons.
LEWISAnd actually there's more stuff beyond that. And ultimately will be connected to other modes of travel, including bicycle and pedestrian modes, that really could make Tysons a great place to be and go. I mean, I think Tysons a good one to talk about just because it is so clearly a place where the infrastructure and transit link closely and will spur and have a great affect on land use and on property values and, for that matter, I'm sure people of Fairfax County are interested in this, it'll produce a lot of new tax revenue. But it'll also require billions to do this.
LEWISAnd it gets back to Chris' point, there are a lot of moving parts to doing all this. So it will take some time and money.
ZIMMERMANIt is a long-term investment. And so, yes, there's upfront costs and infrastructure that you have to, you know, that you have to put in, if you're going to have the benefit. But then the benefit pays off in so many different ways. And I do mean pays off, because it is also, you know, a fiscal reality that you're going to get much more of a return, which, you know, if you're in local government, for instance, you know, your main tax source is property tax. And you realize a whole lot more when the value goes up. And this raises the value so much more substantially.
ZIMMERMANYou know, there are frequently comparisons made between Tysons Corner and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington. And, the fact of the matter is, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has had a comparable amount of office space to Tysons Corner on less than half the land area. It's, you know, on contrast to, you know, Tysons, it's had traffic that is comparatively stable over the period of time in which its added, you know, millions and millions of square feet of office space and residents and retail.
ZIMMERMANAnd the fiscal reality is that the Rosslyn-Ballston, itself, produces something like a third of the tax revenue for Arlington County. And it's a tiny fraction of the County's land area. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and the Blue Line corridor they're planning on sitting in Crystal City, constitutes about a tenth of the land area of Arlington County, which is only 26 square miles, remember. And that 10, 11 percent of land is producing around half the tax revenue for the county. So, you know, Tysons' got a way to go.
ZIMMERMANBut ultimately the payoff for the investment in the rail system and the other investments in infrastructure, particularly pedestrian infrastructure -- sidewalks, places you really can walk -- that means that for generations to come, that area will begin generating a disproportionate amount of tax revenue for Fairfax. And it, you know, can really be a significant impact on the benefit for the entire county, from places far away. I mean, it's a 400-square-mile county. And I have to say, they got a long way to go.
ZIMMERMANAnd, you know, there are a lot of things that, you know, people pick out of -- this should have been done a little better this way. But I do think it should be noted that the leadership in Fairfax, particularly the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, over really the last decade, have stepped up not just to fund this project, but also to make some very difficult, not politically easy decisions about land use that are the key to the success of this. And I believe that their children and grandchildren are going to be recognizing that it was a really smart thing to do.
ZIMMERMANJust the way in Arlington we say, "Boy, those people that proceeded us in the 60s and 70s -- they sure were smart. And aren't we lucky that they did what they did?" And I, you know, I think we should recognize that there were some courageous decisions made in Fairfax that are going to bring benefits, beginning in 2014, but really in the decades to come.
BELLANTONINot only that, it takes generates to plan all that.
LEWISWell, I think, and he said what I was going to -- I was waiting to see if you were going to make the observation that's so important about Arlington, which is the investment. When the Metro was being designed, it was Arlington that said, "Let's not run the line down the highway. Let's put it, number one, underground, under Wilson, Clarendon. Let's have five stations." There was a huge front-end cost. They knew that it would be decades before this paid off, but that the payoff was coming and now it's there.
LEWISI mean everything -- it's been a win-win all the way around. Even the subdivision, the housing that flanks that corridor, there was a lot of skepticism, as you can imagine, back in those days about having this subway line and the additional density. But the values of all those houses have gone up by a factor of 10, you know?
ZIMMERMANMany, many, many time.
LEWISYou know, and so it's just -- it really was a win-win proposition. But it required foresight. And, as Chris said, thinking about the fact that we, who plan, are not solving necessarily today's problem. We're thinking about the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
ZIMMERMANAnd the other part of this, to bear in mind, you know, as we're looking at this metro proposal that's discussed in the post this morning, quoted as metro's planning chief Shyam Kannan. At every meeting this year I think I've been to in regional transportation meetings, Shyam always says to remember that land use is a transportation strategy. And so, you know, I try to make that everyone's mantra because it really is an important point. We talk about transportation. We talk about highways. We talk about buses. We talk about trains. We talk about bikes, all these things.
ZIMMERMANIt's easy to forget first that transportation is a means not an end. You know, what we really want is to be someplace and we want it to be a place. But it's also not always appreciated that the choices we make about land use actually drive the success or failure and cost of the transportation system, whatever it is we're building. And so I would say land use really should be the first transportation strategy. And that means the kind of things that Roger was talking about, about how we build the places around the transportation structure.
BELLANTONISo tell us, if you're listening, do you plan to use Metro's new Silver Line and how will it change your commute or your routine. Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Give us a Tweet to @kojoshow or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We're going to take a short break and then continue our conversation about transportation. Stay tuned.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni, incoming editor of chief of roll call sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we're talking about transportation projects in the region with Roger Lewis who writes the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post. He's an architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. And Chris Zimmerman who is an Arlington County board member and vice president of Smart Growth America.
BELLANTONISo we've been talking about obviously the expansion of the Silver Line or the new Silver Line for Metro rail but we've also got a delay in completion of the Silver Line. The Airport's Authority is building the extension -- who is building the extension is turning it over to Metro to operate. What's the timeline now, and I will start with you, Roger?
LEWISWell, I -- Chris probably knows it better than I. They -- I think they want to start running the Silver Line in 2014. I don't know the exact month but that's -- it's sooner rather than later. I don't know -- and I'm not familiar with what the glitches are. I assume though they'll get them resolved and get it running fairly soon. And I think it -- everyone should realize that, you know, on day one -- or I should say day ten there are not going to be 80 million people riding it. And it will take time for the ridership to build up.
ZIMMERMANBut I think there's actually going to be quite a great deal of ridership right from the start although, you know, not the full amount that you'll ultimately realize. You know, the actual date when it starts with these things always is a moving target. And, you know, I make a point of never saying what the exact date is because I know that as soon as you say it somebody will have it moved somewhere. And, you know, that's what happens.
ZIMMERMANI remember that when the Orange Line opened to Boston, which happened on December 1, 1979 -- in case you were wondering -- you know, I was a college student at the time. And I remember that my then fiancé, now wife, had an apartment that had a lease that was expiring in October. And that it was an odd expiration -- odd term for the lease because the landlord, of course, had timed it because he wanted to be able to raise rents the day that the station opened in Boston. Well, of course it was subject to some delays. It wound up being December.
ZIMMERMANThat's just one example. I mean, it's a big project, a very, very big mega project. And so there are going to be things that are going to push it around a little bit. And I don't think we should get too wrapped up in that. It will open. It will be running and it will begin delivering benefits that people have been anticipating for decades.
BELLANTONIAnd Dan in Silver Spring is one of those people who says that he will be riding the new Silver Line. Dan, thank you very much for joining us.
DANOne comment before I start my -- what I originally called to say, and it's odd that you should mention about the delay issues. So just like in Silver Spring with the big Sarvane (sp?) Travel Plaza which was -- which I think people probably resisted at first. But as they start to see how it's shaping up and how it was going to serve the area, I think a lot of people warmed up to it. So it was a very big letdown for that to be delayed so many times. And now for it to be almost indefinite because of some issue that can -- that I think, in my opinion, can be solved relatively easily, that, you know, problems that they have with it are things that many construction areas go through, you know, big problems.
DANBut nonetheless, it seems like it's something that can be resolved but it's a political problem at this point. Anyway, my main thing is that I called for was, yes, the Silver Line -- I will gladly ride it. And one of the reasons that I'll ride it is because I think it's going to have an impact on -- it can have a growing impact on air travel because now it puts Dulles and National and potentially DWI in better competition with people that don't have to have cars or rely necessarily on taxis.
DANThe missing legs to this are rail transportation or normal transportation to DWI but that would be the last link to make those three airports competitive with one another. And I think then you would really see an impact on the air travel from this area because the prices -- they would have to compete on a more equitable basis on the prices of flights to some degree. It'd have to come down some because people that wouldn't even need a car wouldn't even need to take taxis. All of a sudden you'd have this massive influx. People could say, where am I going to and I have three choices that I can -- and they're all pretty much an even playing field to choose from any of the three.
BELLANTONIThanks for your...
DANAnd that's my feeling.
BELLANTONI...thanks for your thoughts, Dan. Appreciate you calling. So could have massive ripple effects in the region, and not just air travel as well.
ZIMMERMANAbsolutely. I mean, a change like this is going to have impacts on the way people, you know, arrange their days, the places they choose to work. But ultimately the places that people locate businesses and begin -- you know, that's why I say, the real impact is when development is affected because a rail line is a magnet for development. It will draw development close to it. And the real value is in that close proximity.
ZIMMERMANThere was a report that was out a week or so ago that documented this and showed that, you know, within a quarter mile of a metro station, there's a tremendous increase in value. And so it's -- you know, it's not just are you within sight of a metro station, are you a mile from a metro station? The first quarter mile is so valuable. And that's really illustrated by another fact that was reported recently, which is that in the Washington metropolitan area now of something like 5 million square feet of office space under construction, 84 percent of it is not just near a metro station. It's within one-quarter mile of a metro station.
ZIMMERMANThat's where the market is and that's essentially the walkable distances to the station and to other things around it. And that's really where the future is. And you're going to start seeing that happen in places where we haven't had rail stations before.
LEWISActually, I'm even more optimistic. I think the quarter mile is sort of the current standard of thinking and planning in this culture -- in the American culture that we've known. But if that -- if the walkable communities near metro stations are also attractive, if the streetscapes and if the amenities are -- we know from London and Paris and other places people walk more than a quarter of a mile. And that the -- so the quarter of a mile which is really not a very -- that's only...
BELLANTONI...a few blocks.
LEWIS...that's only 1300', people will walk -- will go farther than -- will walk more than a quarter of a mile, if the walk itself is a pleasant walk, if it's illuminated at night. I mean, there are a bunch of conditions that can extend the value -- this real estate benefit that Chris is talking about, to beyond a quarter of a mile. We could be talking about a third of a mile. And of course in Paris people think nothing of walking, you know, the better part of a kilometer to get to a metro station.
ZIMMERMANThat's certainly true but the reason for that is -- you know, is worth taking a look at. As I know you are very well aware, the Paris -- you know, the structure of Paris and their transit system is rather different than ours. They have, you know, a matrix, a lattice across the city so that in fact you're seldom much more than a quarter mile from a metro station in Paris anywhere you are. So, yes, they'll walk more than a quarter mile but part of that is because I have all the benefits of the quarter mile circle around each of those stations that run into each other.
ZIMMERMANAnd, you know, therefore you get a walking environment that goes on and on. So I might go a little bit farther, I might go a little bit farther. And I know that if I'm tired I'm never that far from a station. It will take me anywhere else. And, you know, that's the difference between having one station kind of isolated by itself and having, you know, that sort of connection among them in a real kind of matrix. Until we have something like that, we need to pay attention to the land that is most valuable, which is going to be that of which is most -- in closest proximity to the station.
LEWISYeah, and I'm only talking about the radius. I mean, I still think that the radius that we use, even with the isolated stations, is dependent on the nature of the development around that station.
ZIMMERMANThat's (word?) true.
LEWISSo that's -- I think it's -- I think your point is well taken. What we're going to end up with, I think, 30, 40 years from now is a multi model system. We're going to have all kinds of ways of moving other than heavy rail. So people should keep that in mind. I mean, the notion of -- you know, the Purple Line is light rail. They're talking about trolleys along the Columbia Pike -- street cars along the Columbia Pike, etcetera.
BELLANTONIAnd we're going to get to all of that. And I just wanted to point out there's a recent George Mason study that says just one in seven people in this region are using public transit. And Clayton in Fairfax is one of them who sounds like is going to be driving instead of the new Silver Line? Thanks for calling, Clayton.
CLAYTONYes. I will be driving instead of using public transportation. And that is in spite of the fact that the office that I drive to every morning is right by one of those new Silver Line stations. And I live in Alexandria where there are multiple metro stations. But like one of the commenters had pointed out, we don't have a lattice system. And so taking a bus to a station, then taking that station into the city to transfer to another line to then take all the way out to Fairfax County to where my office is along the Silver Line would just take me too long. And I have tried this type of a commute when I worked in other areas in Fairfax. And it is just not palatable to me.
BELLANTONIThanks for your call, Clayton, Appreciate it.
ZIMMERMANClearly it's not going to work for everybody. And, you know, yeah, we -- the better the system gets, the more people will find it useful. There will be those for whom it's still not advantageous but there're going to be a lot of people who do. And every one of those is somebody who's taking a car off the street, so that's a good thing. This ties in though very much to the conversation we were just having.
ZIMMERMANAnd, you know, I'd say that the other things that Roger was eluding to are actually part of the answer to that question. Because, for instance, when you add things like street cars, not just somewhere but actually connected up with these places that we already have metro sector (sp?) , if you have a metro sector and you go beyond that and you have say a streetcar line that connects to it, you're extending the walk zone in effect. You know, you're driving more pedestrianization in effect. And that will ultimately have an effect on the development pattern a little farther away.
ZIMMERMANAnd so you'll increase the zone in which you can capture people who will find it advantageous to use the transit system.
BELLANTONII was lucky enough to be in Zurich recently. And I was so impressed by their system. You know, took a light rail to the train where you could get on and go in any direction you wanted anyplace very quickly and efficiently. So let's take it into Washington, D.C. and get to these streetcars that we're talking about. So this is coming online next year. It's the H Street Benning Road Street carline. Where will these streetcars go, Roger Lewis, and who is likely to ride those?
LEWISWell, you've answered the question, H Street. The H Street line, which again we think is going to be running in 2014, is in my opinion less of a consequential transportation strategy. It will move some people but its real benefit -- or its greatest benefit I think in many ways is again the land use real estate value contribution that it makes. I mean, when you -- first off, when you put in fixed rail, the people who own real estate, who develop real estate near that line like the fact that they know it's fixed, it's stable, it's always going to be there.
LEWISI think that the line will connect to Union Station. I mean, it goes to the north side of Union Station. And some people may be aware that there's a very ambitious plan to redevelop the entire, not only the air rights over the tracks at Union Station with some fairly high-density development...
BELLANTONILike housing development?
LEWISWell, I think it's mixed use. I mean, everything is mixed use now. I mean, the whole -- part of this gets back to Chris' point. There is a land use strategy that couples with transportation, you can't separate them. They're symbiotic. That was the word I was looking for earlier. So the notion is to make it possible for people to actually enter Union Station to get to the train -- not only the Amtrak stuff but all the other stuff there from the north side, not just the south side. Well, this is transformative. You've got the H Street trolley line running along H Street. People will be using that to move east-west.
LEWISPeople coming in from Maryland from the north will get in -- right now if you come from the north, you have to go south to the...
BELLANTONIAlmost to the capital and come back around.
LEWIS...and then turn around and come back. So anyway, that whole area is going to be changed. And by the way, the smart people won't drive a car around there. I mean, when that stuff's all under construction, you'll want to use transit or bike or walk. But the H Street line is going to be a connector with the larger network at Union Station and will of course move people east along H Street. And H Street has been developing very fast, rapidly in response to that.
BELLANTONII meet people all the time who say, I take the Metro everywhere but I've never gotten on the bus. And, you know, I happen to love the bus but it is, it's not something that everybody rides. So how much is that a part of any future development plans in this urban planning that we've been talking about?
ZIMMERMANWell, bus is an important part of the overall transportation network. And integrating the different systems like bus and rail is one of the keys to success. It is true that, number one, there are people who are just real reluctant to ride bus. You know, some of that is because of, you know, in fact the ride on the bus is not as good as the ride on rail and it's never going to be. You know, some of that is image and that kind of thing. But a lot of it is practical problems.
ZIMMERMANBut -- it's a lot harder for people to know where the bus goes, when it comes and goes. They don't know, you know, what -- it's a confusing system. So a lot of efforts have been made to try and make it easier to understand. And that does prove to have benefits. The D.C. circulator is an example of that. Our bus system in Arlington -- you know, there are others where there's an attempt to define really easy-to-understand routes that run at frequent service where people can get the idea, okay this connects this point, you know, back and forth and connects up to other things. And that does have a benefit to ridership.
ZIMMERMANThere are other things we haven't done as much of in this region, in particular providing dedicated right of way for buses. We need a lot more bus lanes, lanes that mean that if you're on a bus you get through traffic as opposed to being stuck in it, which is, you know, a major factor for people in deciding, well you know, if I got on Metro I expect it's going to go there even if it's rush hour. But if I'm, you know, in a car I don't know and if I'm in a bus I'm in the same traffic with the car. And I might as well be listening to my radio in the car.
ZIMMERMANBut if we could get on a bus and know that it's going to go past the traffic as is the case in many cities around the world, then I think you'd attract a lot more riders.
BELLANTONIAnd Montgomery County, Md. is doing a bus rapid transit project where they're basically dramatically expanding it. And we have Bobby from Silver Spring who has a question about that, and I think will go to Roger. Hi, Bobbie. Thanks for joining us.
BOBBIEHi. Good afternoon and thanks to both of you for dealing with transportation and transit. I'm kind of curious about how development actually creates transit. There's a huge plan underway for the eastern part of the county for up to 23 million square feet of development, which is twice the size of Silver Spring. And they're going to be depending on bus rapid transit to make that possible. So it's a kind of chicken and egg situation because the roads out here are failing. And I'm kind of curious about at what point does transit actually become the tail that kind of wags the dog.
BELLANTONIThanks for your thoughts, Bobbie. Roger Lewis.
LEWISWell, in Maryland -- well, in Montgomery County, let me be specific, you know, there's -- the policy in Montgomery County is you have to demonstrate sufficient infrastructure to support a development. I mean, the notion -- the ideal -- and this is true, I think, in Arlington and other -- I mean, the ideal is that you phase development so that the phasing of infrastructure and development go along together, that, you know, you want -- that's the ideal. It's almost never achieved. Generally -- not always, generally development precedes infrastructure, especially transit, although we've been talking about exceptions. To some extent the Silver Line is that.
LEWISI think -- when you said the eastern part of the county, did you really mean the northwestern -- up off of 270? Isn't that the area you were talking about?
BOBBIENo. What I'm talking about is the White Oak area...
LEWISThe White Oak, okay, which I'm less familiar with. Well -- but, I mean, I think the -- essentially the goal should be to get a fairly good match between capacity -- mobility capacity and development intensity and the mix. And that has a lot to do with the mixing of uses and the road network. What we have is we have a history where we've essentially -- the automobile has been the dominate planner. We're trying to shift that paradigm, to sue an often used phrase. You know, we're trying to make people start thinking that, well, there are alternatives besides always get in your car to do everything.
LEWISIf the number of vehicle trips per day per household or per job can be reduced from 10 to 8 or 8 to 6, that has an immense impact on the road network. That would eliminate a lot of congestion. So I think the notion the county planners -- and this is true of many jurisdictions, not just Montgomery County -- they're trying to figure out the right mix of development, the phasing of development, the density, and infrastructure investment so that you get a reasonable balance in a reasonable amount of time.
ZIMMERMANAnother way to get at the question is -- if the question is basically does a transportation investment drive development, the answer is yes. But the way we've been doing that up to now, as Roger was eluding to, was by subsidizing the heck out of a road system and thereby changing the economics of land at far flung places, which then turns out to actually cost a lot of money and be difficult to maintain. A transit investment makes it possible to drive development in a different way, you know, in a more compact pattern, where things are closer together and which we actually have a lot of other savings.
ZIMMERMANI don't really think a bus investment is likely to have a huge impact on development, but you may need the bus investment if you're going to accommodate the development at all.
BELLANTONIWe're going to keep taking your calls. You can get in touch at 800-433-8850. Send a tweet to @kojoshow or email email@example.com. And we will continue our conversation about transportation right after the break. Stay with us.
BELLANTONIWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I’m Christina Bellantoni, incoming editor and chief of Roll Call. And we're talking about the transportation infrastructure in Washington and all kinds of projects. And we've got lots and lots of emails and calls that we're going to get to. I'm very lucky to be joined in the studio by Roger Lewis, who writes the "Shaping the City" column for the Washington Post, and Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Arlington County Board and vice president of Smart Growth America.
BELLANTONISo let's take a look at some of our tweets and emails. We have people saying that they are excited for Metro access to Dulles Airport. This is from Bev, in Annandale. She's thrilled. "Other world capitals have easy public transport to their airports. I actually navigated those in Moscow and Tokyo with no foreign language skills." So she's very happy. And then we have some questions about the so-called Purple line. So Sabine emails and Vaklav emails, "Are there plans for connecting the line that would make it possible to ride from, say, Bethesda to Silver Spring without going through D.C.?"
BELLANTONISo what is happening with that Purple line? And let's start with you, Roger Lewis.
LEWISWell, the Purple line, I'm somewhat familiar with it. It's being planned. It's going to be several billion dollars. It will connect Bethesda to Silver Spring. It keeps going…
ZIMMERMANAnd over to Prince George's County.
LEWISAnd over to Prince George's County. So it's essentially…
BELLANTONIOne of those lattice that we're talking about?
LEWISIt's moving and it's crossing Metro lines, you know, heavy rail lines. So it is, in effect, starting to create this web or this lattice that we were talking about, enabling people to move more efficiently.
ZIMMERMANThe vision for, you know, decades really, has been of something that would be circumferential, that would connect up all those lines, you know, more or less parallel the Beltway. For a variety of reasons, in particular the imperative on the Virginia side for the Silver line. Maryland is the part that's been pursuing that and so, you know, that project, which is farthest along is essentially connecting the Montgomery County metro centers over to those in Prince George's County. And now we're beginning to get the kind of planning that includes the Associated Land Use Planning around those.
ZIMMERMANAnd that's potentially very significant. The simple answer to the question is yes, it will connect the two ends of the Red line.
BELLANTONIAnd more emails are being sent firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea, lives in Reston, and is very eager for the Silver line to get going. She says, "Each time I do the drive from Reston into D.C. I fantasize about riding the Silver line. I cannot wait." And Jason, is also eager. He says, "I currently drive one hour from Sterling to Vienna, Va. to catch the Orange line to work, the Silver line stop at Reston will allow me to drive 15 minutes to the train, give me several hours of my life back."
BELLANTONIThat does bring up an interesting question about the parking lots because there's been a little bit of criticism about the way those are structured for the Silver Line. So Chris Zimmerman, how do we see this shaping up?
ZIMMERMANWell, I think it's important to understand that when you structure a rail line, if you want to get commuters, people who are going to drive to the station, you really want them more or less at the ends. Otherwise it doesn't make sense to have them driving past the train farther in. That's part of the reason you're setting up the train line. So you want to catch them on the outside. At the same time, for the most part, to make the best use of the investment in the rail system, you need mixed-use development around the station. And that means that it's not going to be a good place to be catching cars.
ZIMMERMANCars wind up taking up a lot of space -- storage of cars. And what happens with so much of our system because it has been this hub and spoke that was, to a large degree, a commuter system on the outer ends is that the most valuable real estate is full of garages and parking lots. And that has a number of consequences. One of which is that the stations are used in one direction. You know, they're loaded up in the morning with people going in and then they come out in the evening, but you don't have two-way traffic. And it's like you're wasting half the station and running empty trains in the other direction.
ZIMMERMANSo, you know, to get away from that you have mixed-use development. So there are people coming and going. That's one of the big differences, say, the first Orange line stations from Roslyn to Ballston and those that go farther out. What is being done with the Silver line in Fairfax is essentially to prepare for that future development and to encourage the kind of use of the stations in both directions, that really are the maximum use of the real estate, but also are most efficient for using the rail line. So people will be able to get on, but the goal should be to capture them farther out on the line, ideally at the end.
LEWISWell, I think that one of the things that we've talked about on this program and I've written about several times in the newspaper, is the fact that Washington is not well on its way to being a polycentric metropolitan area. And, you know, we talked about Tysons Corner. I mean in 30 or 40 years the movements will be all over the place. The people will be going in many different directions because there will be these origins and destinations dispersed across the Metropolitan landscape. The hub and spoke model will just not any longer be valid. It just won't be the way people move.
LEWISAnd that's what's driving current thinking about mobility, about transportation planning, is the recognition that -- that's why I think the Purple line, which, by the way, is inside the Beltway. You know the Purple line is running…
LEWIS…just inside the Beltway. Whereas outside the Beltway, they built, you know, the Intercounty Connector, which is a toll road. I think those are the beginnings of what we talked about earlier, which is recognizing that we have a polycentric metropolitan area, that people need to be able to move and we should encourage them to move for many reasons, in all directions. And that achieves the kind of dispersal you want for optimizing mobility. And it creates more value. I mean that that gets back to why it's so important to look at land use and densification and optimization of value in places where you can travel without necessarily depending on a car and parking the car and a big garage.
ZIMMERMANBut for that to work -- and it's important qualification to what you're saying, Roger, is polycentric has to mean many centers. And they actually have to be centers. So for a long time the notion was that we're just spreading out all over the place and we just spread all our activities and the places we live and everything kind of equally all over a region. And then you have Los Angeles or Houston or unfortunately much of suburban Washington and it doesn't work. So while I agree that it won't just be about going downtown, it will be about increasing the points of concentration and activity centers all around the region that are the walkable places you were describing.
ZIMMERMANAnd that is a change in the way we have been doing things…
LEWISAnd that is the plan.
ZIMMERMAN…in this region and elsewhere in this country.
LEWISThat is what's being, I mean, that's certainly my experience in dealing with the various counties around here and the states. That they are trying to create centers. I mean the White Flint redevelopment, the development going on out 270 that is very much the notion of creating a center.
BELLANTONIAnd getting back to our conversation just a few moments ago about the H Street streetcar. We should just clarify that it's not actually going to Union Station now, but these expansion plans are that it could happen. What's the timeline on that?
LEWISAnd in fact people should realize that it, too, is part of a master plan network. There's a streetcar network planned for D.C.
ZIMMERMANTwenty-two miles and then 37 miles.
LEWISWhich is extensive. So again, what we're going to be seeing for the next few decades is segments getting built and extended and interconnected.
ZIMMERMANYeah, and in northern Virginia we'll have the initial segments that run from Skyline and Fairfax, through Columbia Pike to Pentagon City through to Crystal City and Potomac Yards. And that's the initial opening, which will connect a bunch of different metro centers and activity centers. And then that will grow, in all likelihood, to a larger network connecting up other places.
BELLANTONIAnd we had an email from Boyd, asking that specifically, you know, "Will the H Street streetcar connect to the Columbia Pike line and then will the lines use the same technology?"
ZIMMERMANWell, I think long term there's clearly the potential for a connection over, you know, a rebuilt bridge and there's already talk about potentially rebuilt rail bridge. And for at least 10 years there have been conversations between folks in the District and folks in Arlington about, you know, wanting that to be a possibility. So we're away from that happening or for even the decisions that are related to that, but that thinking is there, that it would be great if we could connect them up ultimately.
BELLANTONIAnd we've had somebody on the line, Sydie, for a few moments, live in Ashburn. Thanks for calling and thanks for hanging on there. Your questions are about how far we're going to expand our transportation network?
SYDIEYes. I currently recently moved from Fairfax to Ashburn. And I drive from Ashburn currently to Fairfax. And I'm definitely looking forward to the Silver line, but also, my question again is the bus system. I mean out here in Loudoun County I don't see any busses running. And in the evening, I mean, the traffic is just horrible, you know. So I was just wondering what sort of prospects in terms of development for the connection of these two? And also the delays, would that be because of the first one -- the delays, are we expecting that this is going even take twice the time expected?
BELLANTONIThank you for your call. Appreciate it. Chris Zimmerman?
ZIMMERMANYeah, I'd like to address the regional bus question. Yesterday, at the Transportation Planning Board, which is the Washington Regional Transportation Planning Agency, there was a report on bus-on-shoulder, which is a concept that has not been much used in this region, but is used very extensively in some other places, such as in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota where they have a couple hundred miles of what are shoulders on highways that have been transformed into bus ways for when traffic is, you know, is most dense and tied up, which again allows the busses then to maintain schedule, to go past that traffic and to give people farther out a reliable way to travel.
ZIMMERMANWe're looking at that in this region now, and in particular Virginia Department of Transportation is going to be beginning a pilot project 2014 -- one of the things that happens next year -- on I-66. I should say that the one place we do have bus-on-shoulder is on the Dulles access road, coming in from the airport. But then you get to I-66 and you're back in the traffic. They're going to begin taking advantage of some of the opportunities to provide that shoulder lane for the bus to go past traffic. And there's a larger plan, with a little bit of investment that could extend that.
ZIMMERMANUltimately, if you have a network that takes you from the highway onto local streets, with local bus lane we can create a situation in which even people, you know, much farther out can count on a way to get through traffic at the most busy times. We're finding that even stuck in traffic people are trying to get on busses in places like Loudoun County. If the, you know, if the county could afford more busses they'd have even more riders. But it's the constraints on the system that limit the ability to use it. It's not that we have to talk people into doing it, frankly.
ZIMMERMANAnd if we're able to do something that actually improves the performance in those areas, I think we'll have tremendous increases in ridership. I'd like to finally say, you know, that you cited a statistic in the beginning that said, you know, only 7 percent of the people in the region are using public transportation.
BELLANTONIOne in seven, that's from George Mason.
ZIMMERMANOr one in seven, right. Which is very misleading because, of course, that includes in a region of five million people, over a very large distance, most of which has no transit service. When you look at the parts that actually have transit service, ridership is in fact very high. And outside of New York City, there may be no place in the country in which there is a higher share of public transportation usage.
BELLANTONIHow high is it?
ZIMMERMANThere are numbers in the area from the American Community survey of something like 32, 33 percent for commute trips. Basically it's directly related to the access to transit. When people have transit, it turns out they choose to use it and they use it in very high numbers. When they don't have it, they use it in zero numbers.
BELLANTONIAnd, you know, we didn't get time to point all this out, but there's also all kinds of studies that show your quality of life is better when you're using public transportation and when you're walking…
BELLANTONI…you're happier, more enjoyment. You have some final thoughts, Roger Lewis?
LEWISWell, I think it's worth noting -- I live in D.C. And I just had a meeting a few days ago with a young architect who doesn't own a car. There are people moving into place -- and I think this is true in Arlington and D.C. in particular. There are people, mostly the younger generation, millennials and then some, who are actually not buying cars. They are able to live, certainly in Washington and Arlington, there are places you can live now in this metropolitan area where you don't need a car. There's a development about to go up on Wisconsin Avenue, near where the studios of WAMU used to be, that apartment buildings are being built with no car parking.
LEWISThe notion being it's going to be marketed to people who are willing to agree not to have a car. So I think we could have a whole other program about sort of behavioral shifts…
LEWIS…that are occurring that, again, have an effect on land-use policy and planning and transportation infrastructure policy.
BELLANTONIYeah, well, that is a good place to leave it. I'm going to say thank you very much to our two guests. Roger Lewis, who writes the "Shaping the City," column for the Washington Post. He's an architect and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland College Park. And Chris Zimmerman, member of the Arlington County Board and vice president of Smart Growth America. Thank you both so much for a really interesting and engaging conversation. Our phone lines were burning up. We had so many emails. This was a really great segment. So thanks very much and happy holidays to you both.
LEWISSame to you. It's been a pleasure.
BELLANTONII'm Christina Bellantoni. I've been sitting in for "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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