Most city planning in the past half-century has been car-centric, with a focus on designing roads that have greater capacity and move cars faster. But as environmental concerns and concepts like “walkable town centers” grow in popularity, cities and suburbs are working to make their transportation planning more pedestrian-friendly. We look at some of the challenges our region faces in balancing the needs of pedestrians and cars.


  • Cheryl Cort Policy Director, Coalition For Smarter Growth
  • David Alpert Founder, Editor-in-Chief, "Greater Greater Washington"
  • Robert Puentes Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution
  • Tom Biesiadny Acting Director of the Department of Transportation for Fairfax County
  • Susan Lihn Owner, “Wake up Little Suzie;" co-chair of the Cleveland Park Business Association


  • 12:06:46

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. After decades of trying to move more cars faster, most American cities are now looking to balance the needs of cars with those of pedestrians and cyclists. It's a trend well on the way around the world. Zurich is deliberately slowing traffic by adding stoplights and desynchronizing traffic signals.

  • 12:07:27

    MR. KOJO NNAMDILondon added congestion fees for driving downtown. Other cities have turned streets into pedestrian malls, the goal being to reduce car traffic and to encourage walking, biking and taking the metro. A number of these ideas are being debated and even put in place here in our region. But as one of the country's most congested traffic regions, making life easier for pedestrians and cyclists can mean making things more difficult for some drivers.

  • 12:07:53

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd planners have a tough job in dividing up scarce road space. Joining us to discuss all of these is Cheryl Cort, policy director of the Coalition For Smarter Growth, a nonprofit focused on transportation and development issues in the D.C. metro area. Cheryl Cort, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:09

    MS. CHERYL CORTThank you.

  • 12:08:10

    NNAMDIAlso with us is David Alpert, founder and editor in chief of the blog Greater Greater Washington. David Alpert, always a pleasure.

  • 12:08:17

    MR. DAVID ALPERTThank you.

  • 12:08:18

    NNAMDIJoining us in studio also is Robert Puentes, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Robert Puentes, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:26

    MR. ROBERT PUENTESThanks for having me.

  • 12:08:27

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Some people say there's a silent majority who feel traffic is much too big a problem in our region to take away car lanes for things like bike lanes. Do you agree? 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Or you can go to our website, Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to

  • 12:08:54

    NNAMDICheryl Cort, complete streets is something of a buzzword in planning and development circles. What does it mean?

  • 12:09:01

    CORTComplete streets means that we're building these public spaces to get around for all the different users, not -- of course, motorists, but also walkers and bicyclists, people riding transit, people who are visiting shops along the way, people with disabilities and wheelchairs. It's about creating a whole place, not just favoring one user over all the other users.

  • 12:09:27

    NNAMDIRobert Puentes, one of the pedestrian-friendly initiatives in D.C. is choosing streets for a so-called road diet. What's that?

  • 12:09:36

    PUENTESWell, road diet is trying to make sure that the network that we put in place isn't designed to just move vehicles through one place as quickly and just rapidly as possible, right. So it's about downsizing these streets, downsizing some roadways in order to accommodate a range of uses, like Cheryl just mentioned.

  • 12:09:58

    PUENTESAnd we're finding that this is not only safer for pedestrians, but there's data from the Federal Highway Administration that shows this is actually safer for the motorists as well. Safety is an enormous issue when it comes to the transportation system, and this is one way to at least ameliorate some of those bigger problems with crashes and other accidents.

  • 12:10:17

    NNAMDIDavid Alpert, what are some of the places that are going to see some changes?

  • 12:10:23

    ALPERTThere are also some good examples of places that we've recently seen changes. One road diet-type change was on 15th Street Northwest, where there's now a great two-way bicycle lane I just was riding on this morning. And that's a good example of where that road was wider than it needed to be to even accommodate people that wanted to drive there.

  • 12:10:43

    ALPERTIt had been widened during the era when we were just demolishing a lot of city neighborhoods to build freeways. They didn't end up building a freeway, fortunately, but they widened that road. And it was too wide, and so now, the road was modified to make it something that was -- still worked for people driving but was also safer for people to bike on, good for walking and so forth.

  • 12:11:10

    NNAMDIU Street, it's my understanding, will also be seeing some changes.

  • 12:11:13

    ALPERTYes. U Street is another one cited for some changes. It's going -- there are some places where the sidewalk is remarkably narrow, where you have maybe two or three feet, and a lot of people are walking there. And so the plan is to widen it only in a few spots in order to make it safe for people to walk as well since, actually, that's what most of the people on U Street are doing.

  • 12:11:34

    ALPERTMost of the people, that are there, are walking from one restaurant to another or, you know, from the Metro or from a place where they might have parked.

  • 12:11:41

    NNAMDIIndeed, I found a new hobby, and that is sitting on Friday afternoons outdoors on U Street just watching the passing parade. It's a whole another form of entertainment. Cheryl, calming traffic is one way that streets are made safer. Most of us think of the speed bump, but there are other ways. What are HAWK lights?

  • 12:11:58

    CORTA HAWK signal is a term for a pedestrian signal that's not a full traffic signal for cars and everybody else. A HAWK signal, actually, is specific to allowing -- to stopping -- to telling vehicles that they need to stop and allow a pedestrian to cross the street.

  • 12:12:16

    NNAMDIOne in my part of town, way up George Avenue, near Walter Reed, there's a signal that comes on only when you press a button, when a pedestrian presses a button, and then it flashes red. And all the cars stop. And then when that pedestrian crosses the street, the traffic moves again. That's a HAWK light?

  • 12:12:29

    CORTWell, that's, probably, not technically a HAWK light. A HAWK is where you're putting a new crossing in that's just for pedestrians. What you're talking about is where you have to request the signal at an intersection where pedestrians, actually, legally have the right to cross. And in most intersections in D.C., where there's a lot of pedestrians, we wouldn't really consider appropriate to have to request a crossing.

  • 12:12:51

    CORTIn fact, there's a crossing at Kalorama and 18th Street in the middle of Adams Morgan where they did have a push button which seemed the strangest thing because, in fact, there were more people crossing on foot across...

  • 12:13:02

    NNAMDIThan there were cars.

  • 12:13:02

    CORT...18th street than there were cars. So it seems strange that it wasn't the cars requesting to get a signal to cross 18th Street.

  • 12:13:08

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about how to run cities, especially our urban areas and some suburban areas, in the car versus pedestrian versus biker debate. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Robert, one of the goals of the European cities that are implementing some of these ideas is to reduce emissions from cars. Half of all transportation emissions come from personal cars.

  • 12:13:32

    NNAMDIBut calming traffic and taking away driving lanes can also create congestion. Doesn't that add more to gas consumption and to pollution?

  • 12:13:41

    PUENTESWell, that's, really, a good question. This is -- it's a big country, right? It's a big world. And so the rationale for doing this in different places really depends. I think, again, safety is the number one issue. It's top of mind in many metropolitan areas here in the U.S. Environmental issues, like we've seen in Zurich, like we've seen in some of the European countries, is definitely top of mind.

  • 12:14:01

    PUENTESBut economic issues, I think, are really starting to get much more prevalence here in the U.S. And when we talk about transportation here in this country and we talk about the transportation context, it's always about moving vehicles very quickly and -- or putting people to work, short term kind of construction jobs. But I think what we're finding is that these measures that we've used on traffic congestion, that you referenced, measure one thing.

  • 12:14:24

    PUENTESThey measure mobility. They measure the time you're sitting in traffic. But when we flip that and we're not measuring just mobility, right, and how fast you can get from one place to another, but we start measuring accessibility and how many opportunities you can get to in a certain period of time, it really changes the entire thing. So there's a list that comes out almost every year about which are the most congested metros.

  • 12:14:44

    PUENTESWashington is in the top of the list, famously. Everybody knows about that. Atlanta, Los Angeles, these kind of places. But when you start to look at these accessibility measures, the entire list gets flipped over. And it's a lot of these big sprawling metro areas, particularly in the Southeast, that you have to drive through, that you have to drive long distances.

  • 12:15:01

    PUENTESAnd even though there may not be that much traffic congestion, the economic productivity is much less. Places like Chicago, New York, Washington wind up being much more positive in those kinds of frames. So it's how we think about this. It's how we think about what the values are for the system and, really, what we want the transportation system to accomplish.

  • 12:15:18

    NNAMDICheryl, the reality for a lot of people is that a car is necessary. How do traffic planners deal with the fact that many pedestrian-friendly initiatives do slow traffic?

  • 12:15:28

    CORTWell, I mean, one thing is that the total travel time of a motorist isn't necessarily best measured by how many seconds that vehicle waits at one intersection and then the next intersection, which is, actually, typically how traffic planners plan a network. And, in fact, it is a network. And so it's better to look at larger -- at the whole trip basically. And so just measuring things from intersection to intersection is not necessarily the best approach.

  • 12:15:58

    CORTSo there are ways to balance these things, where we can actually -- just because a vehicle doesn't turn at quite as high a speed as it used to because we've bowled out that corner and squared off that corner so that vehicles slow down, it doesn't mean they're necessarily losing a lot of time on that trip.

  • 12:16:16

    NNAMDIDavid Alpert, is there a danger in assuming that anything that limits cars or impedes car traffic is always a good thing?

  • 12:16:27

    ALPERTI think that when most of us talk about these types of projects, it's not about trying to make things inconvenient to drive. Everyone, as you said in the intro, takes different modes. Not everyone drives, but most people drive sometimes and are on the bus, perhaps, sometimes and -- or bicycling sometimes. I personally do all of those things. These projects are about making a network that works well for everybody.

  • 12:16:54

    ALPERTIf we have, you know, to sort of the example that Cheryl was talking about, there was a debate in Montgomery County in front of Navy Med and NIH, about whether to put in a sort of big highway-style interchange, so people could drive over and under.

  • 12:17:12

    ALPERTAnd the State Highway Administration, which has a lot of people that are, you know, traffic engineers in the classic sense, came to the conclusion that that made absolutely no sense because even if you sped people on that little tiny section of Wisconsin Avenue, you know, then there are traffic lights at the other points. And, of course, it's also very important for people to be able to walk from the Metro to their jobs there or to bike or something like that.

  • 12:17:38

    ALPERTSo when we look at it the wrong way, using these sort of old-fashioned metrics, you end up with kind of rules of thumb that actually don't work, like, you know, just look at where there's a bunch of congestion and that is that's, you know, the place to fix a problem. It needs to be a more holistic look. And you can make things better for everyone without deliberately hurting one group of people, which is not really what anyone is trying to do.

  • 12:18:02

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. Do you think our region is too car focused at the expense of pedestrians and bicyclists or not? 800-433-8850. Here is Mark in Silver Spring, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:19

    MARKThank you. Yes. I live in downtown Silver Spring, and I commute on my bicycle year-round. But I also own a car. And my observation is first positive. And that's that in the last 10 years since I started -- when since I lived here, cycling -- cyclists -- I'm treated much better than I was. I used to be yelled at and honked at. And that still happens the further I get away from the city. But inside the city, it's actually quite nice.

  • 12:18:47

    MARKI would say my one observation, and something that I wonder if your guests can speak about, is that drivers still seemed to be -- they don't seem to know that cyclists actually have a right in the lane sometimes. And so there's this attitude that if I'm not all the way on to the shoulder or, you know, in the grass or whatever it is, that that's wrong for me.

  • 12:19:09

    MARKAnd I noticed when I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago that they had signs that actually indicated that cyclists were, you know, were complete citizens on the roadway. And I would say more than lanes. That's what I would like. It's just education. Thank you. I'll listen off the air.

  • 12:19:26

    NNAMDIMark, here's David Alpert. Before the show started, we had a conversation. I grew up in a country in which the rules were very clear. Most people in the city got around on bicycles, and there were quite a few cars also. But both drivers and bicyclists knew exactly what the rules are. They were pretty strictly enforced.

  • 12:19:41

    NNAMDIAnd I think one of the problems here is that a lot of drivers, in particular, and probably some bicyclists, in particular, simply don't know exactly what the rules are, David Alpert.

  • 12:19:51

    ALPERTThat's true. I've actually found when I bicycle around my neighborhood or nearby that drivers will sometimes honk at me if I'm doing the legal thing and not honk if I'm doing an illegal thing. And yet then they'll be a letter in a newspaper that says, you know, bicyclists need to follow the law. And bicyclists should follow the law. But people need to understand what the law is.

  • 12:20:14

    ALPERTIf someone is riding, for example, on a narrow street, and the bicyclist can ride in that one lane -- if there's one lane each way, let's say. This happened to me on 19th Street, north of DuPont. You can ride in the middle of the lane. And people can't drive that fast in that street anyway because it's a very narrow street. But I was getting honked at because people didn't expect that I could do that.

  • 12:20:34

    NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you would like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:01

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on planning involving cars, pedestrians and bicycles. We're talking with David Alpert. He is founder and editor-in-chief of the blog, Greater Greater Washington. Robert Puentes is a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. And Cheryl Cort is the policy director of the Coalition For Smarter Growth. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.

  • 12:23:26

    NNAMDIWe'll start with Al in Washington, D.C. Al, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:23:30

    ALI am. Thanks for taking my call. I live in Columbia Heights in D.C. And I think the DC USA development has done a lot to the area. But the intersection there in front of the Tivoli Theatre and, in general, around there is absolutely crazy and confusing for pedestrians. What are the chances or what do your commentators think about giving up Barnes Dance and install it in that intersection? And I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 12:23:55

    NNAMDICheryl Cort.

  • 12:23:56

    CORTWell, let me first explain what the caller is saying in terms -- what a Barnes Dance is. It, actually, apparently is in -- it's a name of the transportation engineer from D.C. who invented an all-pedestrian crossing phase for an intersection, which means that pedestrians can cross diagonally, in safe time basically, in getting across the intersection. D.C., actually, recently implemented one at 7th and 8th Street, and I think it's working pretty well there.

  • 12:24:20

    CORTIt's not something you want to do unless you have a lot of pedestrians 'cause you got to sit tight through the different phases. I've been in New England towns that have actually had it working for years and years. In terms of that intersection, you know, that intersection -- I moved here in 1988 when there was nothing happening at that intersection, except for a traffic jam maybe.

  • 12:24:40

    CORTAnd so that part of Columbia Heights has always been -- no matter if there was nobody there and hardly any commerce, there were -- it was always a terrible place to drive. So now we have -- it's still a terrible place to drive. And it's actually a great place to be. So I think that that's actually a good suggestion. I don't know the standards for figuring that out, but maybe an all-pedestrian phase would work at that intersection.

  • 12:25:05

    NNAMDIIndeed, there's a lot of pedestrian traffic at that intersection. Joining us now by telephone is Tom Biesiadny. He is the acting director of the Department of Transportation for Fairfax County. Tom Biesiadny, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:25:16

    MR. TOM BIESIADNYThank you for having me.

  • 12:25:17

    NNAMDIPlanners in our region are facing all of these issues in Fairfax, but Tysons Corner redevelopment is remaking a major piece of the county. Tom, how big is the Tysons Corner development?

  • 12:25:28

    BIESIADNYThe Tysons Corner development right now, the current development, is bigger than many of the downtowns throughout the country, such as Miami and Atlanta. And the development is going to increase significantly from there as the new development goes online as the Metro stations open.

  • 12:25:44

    NNAMDIBut the difference with that development is there are a lot of businesses and shops in Tysons Corner, but very few people actually live there. What's the goal for the new Tysons Corner?

  • 12:25:54

    BIESIADNYThe goal is to significantly increase the amount of housing that is provided in -- within Tysons Corner itself, so that people actually can live there. And it will reduce their travel times back and forth to their jobs in Tysons Corner.

  • 12:26:08

    NNAMDIIs transit at the center of the planning?

  • 12:26:11

    BIESIADNYAbsolutely. The densities that the board approved last year, when they approved the comprehensive plan for Tysons, are significant, closer to the stations, and then they taper off as you get further from the station. So the four stations are, in fact, the central focal point of the new Tysons Corner.

  • 12:26:29

    NNAMDIHow is the new development incorporating pedestrian-friendly design?

  • 12:26:34

    BIESIADNYPedestrians are a very important piece of the puzzle because any transit rider is, at some point in their trip, going to be a pedestrian. And one of the things that people have said about Tysons Corner is it isn't very pedestrian-friendly. We are working with the state Department of Transportation to develop a new set of street standards that are different than the statewide standard, which is primarily a suburban standard, and this will be more of an urban standard. And pedestrians are going to be one of the major focuses of that.

  • 12:27:06

    NNAMDIYou're not starting from scratch. There are already thriving businesses there in Tysons Corner. What did those businesses want to see in the final project?

  • 12:27:14

    BIESIADNYWell, many of those businesses are in the process of submitting redevelopment plans, so that they can reorient their businesses towards those four Metrorail stations.

  • 12:27:27

    NNAMDIWhat were their concerns about parking?

  • 12:27:30

    BIESIADNYWell, parking is obviously a concern. But we do hope that we will have a significant mode share from transit. And, in fact, we're asking businesses as they come in to redevelop, to put in place transportation-to-man management plans that reduce the amount of parking that's needed for their development.

  • 12:27:49

    NNAMDIRoute 7 is one of the major roads that runs through Tysons Corner. What's the plan for Route 7?

  • 12:27:55

    BIESIADNYRoute 7 is going to be an urban boulevard, urban low-speed boulevard. It will still move traffic through Tysons and in and out of Tysons, but it also will be -- the Metrorail stations will be in the center of -- two of them will be in the center of Route 7. And we will have pedestrian connections to both sides of Route 7 to the development that will occur there.

  • 12:28:18

    NNAMDIMy understanding that Route 7 service roads are going to be eliminated and that you'll add a travel lane in each direction?

  • 12:28:24

    BIESIADNYThat's correct.

  • 12:28:25

    NNAMDIWhat about pedestrians?

  • 12:28:27

    BIESIADNYWell, the pedestrians -- the pedestrian crossings will be a very important piece of the redevelopment of Route 7. We will have -- the center median is where the stations will be located, and then we'll be upgrading the pedestrian crossings to get from both sides into the station. There'll also be bridges to either side of Route 7 for the pedestrians.

  • 12:28:52

    NNAMDIWhen do you anticipate that this redevelopment will be complete?

  • 12:28:55

    BIESIADNYWell, the comprehensive plan is looking at a horizon of about 50 years -- 40 years right now through 2050. The first redevelopment case is going to be coming to the board of supervisors in September. The rail opens in 2013. And so our hope is that you'll begin to see redevelopment about that time.

  • 12:29:15

    NNAMDITom Biesiadny is the acting director of the Department of Transportation for Fairfax County. Tom, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:29:22

    BIESIADNYThank you for having me.

  • 12:29:23

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about how we can organize cars, pedestrians and bicycles so that, well, we can all get along. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have a comment or question. Robert Puentes, how are the challenges in places like Tysons Corner and in the suburbs different from those in cities?

  • 12:29:42

    PUENTESIt's different in some ways, and it's actually similar in other ways. We just talked about the -- it was the 8th Street toward the Columbia Heights example. Retrofitting the existing network to accommodate this range of uses is always going to be a challenge, again, whether it's in -- at the Tivoli Theater downtown or whether that's out in Tysons Corner.

  • 12:30:00

    PUENTESBut this is, I think, one of the big challenges that we're going to be facing, not just here in this Metro, but in Metros across the country when we try to remake the suburbs to the realities of the 21st century. A lot of these places, again, have their roots in the 1940s, the 1950s. But trying to update those, again, to the new economic model to reflect our demographic changes, to reflect some of these environmental concerns, all this is going to be really difficult in many, many places.

  • 12:30:25

    PUENTESBut I think we're making tremendous progress. And the Tysons Corner example is a tremendously important example of just how to do this and how transformative that investment is going to be, not just for Tysons Corner or the surrounding area, but for this entire metropolitan area. This is one of the key economic engines.

  • 12:30:41

    PUENTESAnd so trying to figure how to make Tysons Corner, which accommodates -- I think it's -- 70,000 cars or more in a day that are going past us, it's not going to be, as Tom mentioned, a lot faster necessarily to get through Tysons. But you're going to be able to do a lot more. You're going to be able to live there. You're going to be able to work there.

  • 12:30:57

    PUENTESYou're going to be able shop there, and you're going to be able to access much more opportunity than you can right now. That's the way we need to be thinking about these places for the future.

  • 12:31:05

    NNAMDIEric, in Fairfax, Va., does that answer your question?

  • 12:31:10

    ERICWell, I didn't hear the first part of it. I was talking to your assistant. But what I'm trying to figure out is what are we going to do with Route 7 coming into Tysons Corner? We got a two-lane road coming down there. And you got all the build-up of density (word?), you know, it...

  • 12:31:26

    NNAMDIWell, you know what, Eric, Tom Biesiadny, it's my understanding, is still on the phone, and he can respond to you. Tom Biesiadny, did you hear Eric's question?

  • 12:31:33

    BIESIADNYYes, I did.

  • 12:31:34

    NNAMDIPlease go ahead and respond.

  • 12:31:36

    BIESIADNYMy understanding, he was asking about Tysons being two lanes outside of Tysons Corner and leading into Tysons Corner. There are some plans that we are working on to widen parts of Route 7 outside Tysons Corner. But at this point, we're really focusing on the improvements within Tysons Corner to make sure that people can move around within Tysons Corner.

  • 12:32:03

    NNAMDIEric, does that now answer your question?

  • 12:32:06

    ERICWell, I mean, that's fine, except that you're going to have more and more people trying to get to Tysons Corner to do all this stuff, plus you're going to have the people living there. If you're increasing the people living there, they want to get out on the weekends. And you have the major road leaving there is Route 7, you know, and it's a two-lane road that was built back in the late '60s, early '70s.

  • 12:32:27

    NNAMDIPutting in two extra lanes.

  • 12:32:30


  • 12:32:30


  • 12:32:31

    NNAMDIThey're putting in two extra lanes, Eric.

  • 12:32:34

    ERICNot outside the toll road, they're not. They have a plan that was built -- designed back in the '80s or '90s to add a third lane. Adding a third lane won't do anything, except make more of a parking lot. What we need to do is make either express lanes or bus lanes or HOV lanes. I mean, that's what I'm trying find out. Is any of that in the plans or in the design? They just got $30 million...

  • 12:33:00

    NNAMDITom Biesiadny, any of that in the plans or the design?

  • 12:33:03

    BIESIADNYWell, the design is just beginning underway. And there will be a number of different options that are looked at. But in terms of moving people in and out of Tysons, we also want to focus on the multi-billion dollar investment in the rail system. And that is intended to provide options for people to get in and out of Tysons.

  • 12:33:22

    NNAMDIEric, thank you for your call. Robert Puentes.

  • 12:33:23

    PUENTESWell, I think the caller's exactly right, though. And we need to be thinking about a range of different improvements. I think the worst thing that we could possibly do is to widen the road going into Tysons, having it narrowed in Tysons and then widen it when we get back out of Tysons. All that is going to do is result in bottlenecks on both sides. And we know that this is a -- it's a system. It's a network of roads.

  • 12:33:43

    PUENTESAnd we think through Route 7, you know, it's -- you can widen it. Then you get to Tysons. It's smaller. Then you widen it again. Then you get to a place like Falls Church, which -- where the road is going to be narrowed again. This is not the way to be thinking about this as a holistic network. So the caller is exactly right. You've got to think about different options, HOV lanes, HOT lanes, transit alternatives.

  • 12:34:00

    PUENTESThe transit is not just going to be the railway network. It is an enormous investment. It's definitely going to help. But we have bus networks. We have all the things we've talked about here today that we've got to think as part of the system.

  • 12:34:10

    NNAMDIIndeed, Cheryl Cort, most older suburbs were built with car convenience in mind with strip malls and spread out housing. How do you make an existing suburb more livable and walkable?

  • 12:34:21

    CORTWell, there's a lot of kind of moribund parking lots and strip malls: Richmond Highway in Fairfax County, for instance, Marlboro Pike in Prince George's County, Rockville Pike in Montgomery County. There's actually a lot of opportunity. In fact, if you go on Rockville Pike now, you can see this happening, where they're building on parking lots and putting in housing where a strip mall was sitting near the, say, Twinbrook Metro Station, for instance.

  • 12:34:50

    CORTAnd so this is actually a great example of retrofitting these commercial corridors that really have -- that we could run great bus service to complement the existing Metro Rail Service along Rockville Pike and really create a mixed use, walkable place with existing transit and enhanced transit.

  • 12:35:07

    NNAMDIDavid Alpert, there are some successful examples in our area. Bethesda and Silver Spring come to mind. What are your observations about what they did to become walkable centers?

  • 12:35:17

    ALPERTAll of those places have done a few things. They've taken good advantage of the street networks that they had. And in the discussion about Route 7, you know, one thing that's important to keep in mind, that Tysons just -- is doing -- is trying to do is to build more of a network of roads, so that there isn't just one major road. When you have -- you know, in Downtown D.C., there isn't one huge road through Downtown that everyone drives on.

  • 12:35:41

    ALPERTThat's far too wide to cross on foot. People are driving or biking or walking on different roads. And if Tysons can build that network, then you don't have to depend on any one road inside of it for people to use for any mode. In Bethesda and Silver Spring have the benefit of being older suburbs that actually did have a nice network to them originally, and they are trying to kind of connect some spots where there was -- were gaps in the network.

  • 12:36:12

    NNAMDIHere is Suzanne in Arlington, Va. Suzanne, your turn.

  • 12:36:18

    SUZANNEI wanted to tell you my husband's experience of 15 years of being a bike commuter between Arlington and D.C. He was such a serious commuter that he had a $5,000 custom-made titanium bike. And one day when he was riding down Lee highway, heading east towards the District on the sidewalk, which is permitted there, a woman turning right on red hit him with such force that he broke the windshield and ended up on the ground, landing on his head.

  • 12:36:49

    SUZANNEWe contacted the county board and Jay Fisette, who is an avid bike rider, immediately by email. And within 48 hours, they had installed a, no right turn on red, sign at the intersection because we pointed out to them the legal liability for the county if they didn't prohibit those sorts of transaction. But one of the difficulties is that many of these, no right turn on red, signs say, when pedestrians are present.

  • 12:37:18

    SUZANNEAnd if you're a biker, you're coming along at a much faster speed. And it would be much better if these signs just had an absolute prohibition for no right turn on red in intersections, which are frequently used by bikers, and that's nearly every busy intersection in Arlington.

  • 12:37:35

    NNAMDII'm old enough to remember when there was no right turn on red anywhere, as a matter of fact, Suzanne. Suzanne, you seem to be advocating that in -- particularly in these areas, that we return to that. Is that what you're saying?

  • 12:37:47

    SUZANNEWell, I'm saying that in intersections which are on busy streets, where you do have bikers, that they need to be taken into consideration because they are going...

  • 12:37:56

    NNAMDINo right turn on red, period.

  • 12:37:59

    SUZANNEWell, especially if it's a hilly situation.

  • 12:38:02


  • 12:38:03

    SUZANNEThere are bikers going to be coming down at 20 miles an hour. You know, a pedestrian, we can all see. They walk kind of slowly. They're faster than (unintelligible).

  • 12:38:09

    NNAMDIDid you and your husband talk to Jay Fisette about that?

  • 12:38:12

    SUZANNEYes. Well, he has.

  • 12:38:14

    NNAMDIOkay. Good. Well, see, you got a response from your elected official, which is, I guess, what everybody wants. Right, David Alpert?

  • 12:38:20

    ALPERTThat's right. I mean, you know, biggest part, though, of bike safety -- I must say there are places where no right turn on red is good. But there are always going to be places where a bicyclist and a driver might be encountering each other. Maybe they're going the same direction, and the driver wants to turn right. That is sometimes called a right hook, or, you know, maybe they are coming across to each other. I'm not sure which one was the case here.

  • 12:38:44

    ALPERTBut the most important thing is to have more drivers be aware of where bicyclists might be and just being on the lookout. You know, when I turn into the alley near my house, I know bicyclists might be coming up beside me. And so I look. And the more people bicycle, the more drivers also start to become accustomed to looking for people bicycling.

  • 12:39:05

    NNAMDIOn the matter of rules, let's go to Anne in Arlington, Va. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:39:12

    ANNEThanks, Kojo. My -- I have a comment and a question that is similar to Suzanne's. I live in the Boston area. I have two middle school aged daughters and some dogs. And we frequently drive and walk in the Boston, Clarendon and Virginia Square area. And I was -- while I love the area, it's quite stressful on to be out and about.

  • 12:39:36

    ANNEWe experience, on a regular basis, anywhere from aggressive drivers to flat-out road rage when I'm just being a cautious driver and actually obeying the traffic laws. For example, if I'm parallel parking, I've had people actually go into road rage because I've delayed them for -- momentarily. So that's just one example.

  • 12:40:02

    ANNEIn walking, another example would be, until the cones were put up with the signs that indicate that, at the designated crosswalks, the pedestrians have the right-of-way, we could stand there five minutes or more having to wait for long breaks in traffic. So my question then is, what can the -- clearly, I don't have the resources to be able to solve a problem this big in my area.

  • 12:40:32

    ANNESo what could be done by the city to try to address the problem of the aggression and road rage and the need for education? But then, also as a citizen in the area and a resident, what can I do to help in that process?

  • 12:40:48

    NNAMDII think you -- when you emphasize the need for education, people need to understand exactly what the rules are and how we are all supposed to abide by those rules. And as we said earlier, there seems to be a lack of clarity about these things, Cheryl Cort. What do you do?

  • 12:41:02

    CORTWell, in fact, what's interesting about this is that the city of Seattle has much better behaviors, actually, by all travelers. And it's built up over time. It's been a long-term effort by the city to promote safe behaviors by motorists, by bicycles, by walkers, and so they have -- actually have a very orderly city. And there are efforts to do some of that in the Washington, D.C. region. We have the StreetSmart campaign.

  • 12:41:30

    CORTWe have a number of regional campaigns related to awareness. There's actually a lot of bus advertising. You can see the advertisers on -- advertisements on busses and bus shelters. So there is an effort in the region to do that. I know that D.C. does stings for getting cars to yield to a pedestrian who's in a crosswalk.

  • 12:41:50

    CORTJust from a personal perspective, I would say that being an assertive pedestrian, making -- getting the attention of that driver and saying that, actually, I have the right-of-way to make this street crossing is what I think that everybody kind of needs to do in order to help to build awareness or proper behavior by all the users of this right-of-way.

  • 12:42:13

    NNAMDII thought there was less traffic congestion in Seattle because everybody was busy sitting in Starbucks. But that's a whole another story.

  • 12:42:19

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation and take a look at parking and the kinds of issues that are raised by parking. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. Send email to, a tweet @kojoshow, or simply go to our website and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:43

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. We are talking with Robert Puentes. He is a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of the blog, Greater Greater Washington, and Cheryl Cort is the policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which is a nonprofit that focuses on transportation and development issues in the Washington metropolitan area.

  • 12:45:07

    NNAMDIDavid, parking is a hot-button issue everywhere, including here in D.C. And sometimes it's a trade-off -- sidewalks for parking spaces. Adams Morgan is looking at replacing the rather unusual angled back-in parking configuration they have with a wider sidewalk. What would that mean for the number of parking spaces available there?

  • 12:45:27

    ALPERTThe number will decrease slightly in Adams Morgan. But the reason that that makes a lot of sense is that, by far, more space will be created for people walking. And people walking vastly outnumbers people driving. So the street re-design will make sure that drivers can still reach Adams Morgan, but that the public space is being divvied up, essentially, in proportion to how much people are trying to use it.

  • 12:45:54

    ALPERTWhen your sidewalk is extremely crowded to the point of, you know, people spilling off into the street and, you know, then you have some cars that really are sitting empty most of the time, it makes sense to try to balance that out.

  • 12:46:06

    NNAMDIThere's a parking debate in the Cleveland Park neighborhood right now. What's going on there?

  • 12:46:11

    ALPERTCleveland Park, in the 1960s, had two wide sidewalks on either side of Connecticut Avenue. And they decided to take one of those sidewalks and make most of it a service lane for people to drive in. The idea at the time was that the wave of the future is that everybody would always drive to stores. Nobody would walk to anything.

  • 12:46:32

    ALPERTAnd if you look at sort of videos of, you know, by Disney or somebody kind of imagining the future at that time, it was sort of like "The Jetsons." You know, everyone's going around in their air car, and then it just goes right into their office. And, you know, they never walk anywhere. We realized that that's really not the kind of communities that people want.

  • 12:46:49

    ALPERTAnd folks in Cleveland Park value having the kind of place where you can -- they can walk from their houses to those stores. But the stores on one side now can't have outdoor sidewalks. The sidewalk is very narrow. People have to walk in the service lane. People with disabilities can't navigate it. So they're looking into whether to go back to the old configuration.

  • 12:47:07

    NNAMDIGot a perspective of a local business on this. Joining us now by phone is Susan Lihn, owner of a shop called Wake up Little Suzie. There, I sang it, and I'm glad. She's also the co-chair of the Cleveland Park Business Association and a resident of Cleveland Park. Susan Lihn, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:47:24

    MS. SUSAN LIHNThank you for having me.

  • 12:47:25

    NNAMDISusan, how long have you run a shop in Cleveland Park?

  • 12:47:28

    LIHNAlmost 20 years.

  • 12:47:30

    NNAMDIHow did the proposal to remove the service lane come about, as far as you know?

  • 12:47:35

    LIHNI believe that someone started a petition.

  • 12:47:39

    NNAMDIWell, what do think removing the service lane and the parking would mean for your business, Wake Up Little Suzie?

  • 12:47:46

    NNAMDII think that it would have a very severe impact on my business as it would on most of the businesses in Cleveland Park. The problem in Cleveland Park is that they're -- we're very low density. There really is nowhere to park. There are no parking garages. And people do drive.

  • 12:48:11

    NNAMDIWhere do your customers come from?

  • 12:48:13

    LIHNMy customers and, I would say, a lot of the customers that come here do come from the neighborhood. But people come, really, from all over the city. I have customers that come to me from Virginia, from Maryland, as do a lot of the restaurants here.

  • 12:48:29

    NNAMDICan your business survive or thrive with just your neighborhood or local customers?

  • 12:48:35

    LIHNNo. Absolutely not.

  • 12:48:37

    NNAMDIAnd are there alternatives to the parking that's available in the service lane?

  • 12:48:43

    LIHNAlternative -- there really is no other place to park. We are a very short and small neighborhood. If you take away the service lane parking, it would probably push cars into the neighborhoods, which are going to then impact people parking at their houses.

  • 12:49:04

    NNAMDIThere's a Metro stop about a block away. Does that help at all?

  • 12:49:08

    LIHNWell, it helps. But, I mean, I think the reality is, like it or not, some people drive their cars. And they're going to continue to drive their cars. And here in our little block, we have a lot of service-oriented businesses. We have a dry cleaner. We have a lamp repair. We have a vacuum and sewing machine repair.

  • 12:49:29

    LIHNIn some of these instances, people have to somehow get their item to these places, and walking it isn't necessarily something that's going to work for them.

  • 12:49:39

    NNAMDIWell, one of the issues, as I understand it, is that the sidewalk on that side of the street is particularly narrow. And there are other pedestrian safety issues on that block, aren't there?

  • 12:49:51

    LIHNI would say that the safety issues would be, for everybody, jaywalking and running across Connecticut Avenue.

  • 12:49:58


  • 12:49:58

    LIHNSeriously, much more so than what goes on in the service lane. I -- you know, yes, the sidewalk is narrower here. And it's much more congested on this side of the street. And even though that is the case, this is the busier, more thriving side of the street.

  • 12:50:18

    NNAMDISo you don't want to see that sidewalk go?

  • 12:50:21

    LIHNI don't want to see the...

  • 12:50:22

    NNAMDIOr the parking go.

  • 12:50:23

    LIHNI don't want to see the parking go. I mean, without the parking, a lot of these businesses and the restaurants will be in serious jeopardy. There's nowhere else for people to go to put their car in this neighborhood.

  • 12:50:36

    NNAMDISusan Lihn is the owner of a shop called Wake Up Little Suzie and co-chair of the Cleveland Park Business Association. Susan Lihn, thank you for joining us and sharing your concerns with us.

  • 12:50:45

    LIHNThank you for inviting me. Thank you very much.

  • 12:50:47

    NNAMDIIn Cleveland Park, there's a Metro stop, as I mentioned, a half a block away or so. Yet for some people, that's not a realistic option. Here's an excerpt from a comment posted on the City Paper article about this issue. Quoting here, "Every time I think about what it cost to put my family on the subway -- three kids, my wife, an old parent, not to mention a 15-minute walk to the subway and lugging a stroller and all other supplies -- I cringe.

  • 12:51:09

    NNAMDI"And in the time it would all take, especially with all the unscheduled track maintenance, I'd frequent one-third of the businesses in a day, I'm already paying for a vehicle, which I need to get everyone where they need to be at their various stages in life and for work in D.C. and Virginia. I love the city and like to have walking and biking options, but making it ever harder to drive is bull."

  • 12:51:31

    NNAMDIDavid, the assumption many people have is that by making it harder to drive, it will make biking Metro or walking more appealing. Is it really that simple, though?

  • 12:51:42

    ALPERTAs we talked about before, that's really not -- the goal is to deliberately make it harder to drive. The question is, what's the best use of public space? If you -- there was a famous photo that's been done in a number of cities, where they took a whole block-full of cars, and they were all not moving. And that was one photo. And then the next one, they took all of those people out of the cars and they stood on the sidewalk. And they all fit in a very, very small bit of the sidewalk.

  • 12:52:06

    ALPERTAnd then another one, they were all on a bus, and they were all on one single bus. And the whole rest of the street, you know, maybe a three-lane street a block long was totally empty. And so we see these cars, and they take up a lot of room. And so it's easy to start to think, well, you know, there's a lot of -- there are all of these people driving. And there are a fair number of people driving. But, actually, the people that are driving are taking up more space than other people.

  • 12:52:31

    ALPERTAnd so when we're looking at how to best make a neighborhood work, we need to figure out, how do we keep accommodating people driving, but also make sure that we're not squeezing everybody else into too little space for them. In the case of Cleveland Park -- should I talk about Cleveland Park? I mean...

  • 12:52:47

    NNAMDIYeah, 'cause we have another business owner on the line. Go ahead.

  • 12:52:49

    ALPERTYou know, I think a great analogy to this is what was done in Barracks Row near Eastern Market. There, they instituted a performance parking system where the meters now are programmed to encourage people to spend -- or basically to make it cheaper for people to spend a small amount of time and go to -- drive there for five minutes or 15 minutes or something like that. But then it's more expensive, or there are limits if they want to stay for a long time.

  • 12:53:16

    ALPERTYou know, if I'm parking somewhere on a street and I leave my car all day, I'm one person. And I'm taking up that space for a long time. But if it's more of a five-minute or 15-minute type of thing, for these kinds of businesses that the Wake Up Little Suzie proprietor was discussing, if it involves service or it involves bringing some goods to or from the store, really...

  • 12:53:35

    NNAMDIYou'll need all day long.

  • 12:53:36

    ALPERTWe can get -- yeah, and the stores can actually get a lot more people in and out if people are moving their cars. Right now, there aren't that kind of restrictions for a lot of the blocks in Cleveland Park.

  • 12:53:43

    NNAMDIHere is Carrie in Washington who identifies as a business owner in Cleveland Park. Carrie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:53:49

    CARRIEThanks, Kojo. Thanks for having me on. I enjoy your program. I own a business in Cleveland Park, and it's actually a real estate firm. So I'm fairly connected to what's happening as far as the businesses in this area. And if our goal is to promote small businesses, then restaurants will thrive with a wider sidewalk area. But the run-in, run-out businesses will not be successful if you're having them park, you know, blocks away to lug their dry cleaning to the mid-block right there.

  • 12:54:18

    NNAMDIWhat do you think about what David Alpert suggests?

  • 12:54:20

    CARRIEWell, I think that the idea of the wide sidewalk is actually in place across the street from the service lane, and it is not in use. In fact, the businesses on that side of the street -- Starbucks couldn't even survive there because they did not have parking available to those commercial spaces.

  • 12:54:38

    NNAMDII'm running out of time very quickly, Carrie. But what you're saying, essentially, is that parking is absolutely necessary for those businesses to survive.

  • 12:54:44

    CARRIEIf you're going to keep a small business community in Cleveland Park, absolutely. Connecticut Avenue is a thoroughfare, not just a destination spot.

  • 12:54:50

    NNAMDIThat's true. Allow me to go to Cheryl Cort. Cheryl, we don't know if the businesses in Cleveland Park will be hurt by replacing those 26 parking spaces with a wider sidewalk. But we do know that people do demand convenient parking. Is there a solution?

  • 12:55:03

    CORTWell, I mean, it's going back to this point about how to manage these limited resources in a more effective and efficient way. I mean, for instance, if you have employees at a store who come and pull in at 6:30 p.m. and park their car for the rest of the evening, that's not a very efficiently used space. And that happens all over business districts in the District of Columbia, for sure, and probably in most business districts across the region.

  • 12:55:24

    CORTAnd so I think it's -- we need to optimize limited resources in a way that's really going to support small businesses, give them some of the parking asset that -- access that they need while also addressing these other sort of broader quality of the community kinds of concerns.

  • 12:55:40

    NNAMDIRobert Puentes, we talked about planning and used terms like high-density and pedestrian-friendly, but these issues are very personal for people, as you've just heard. And most people, in fact, are not just pedestrians or not just cyclists.

  • 12:55:54

    PUENTESYeah, this is exactly, I think, the point and the theme of the show, I think, you've had here today. I mean, we shouldn't be talking about either/or. And -- but the problem in this country, in this region, we've done that for a long time. It's only been one kind of mode of transport that we've accommodated, mostly a single-occupant vehicle, and most of that is having -- is manifesting itself out in the suburbs.

  • 12:56:12

    PUENTESSo -- whereas the European example you mentioned earlier, they have actually minimum parking standards. So you're only allowed to build a certain amount of parking for certain developments.

  • 12:56:22

    PUENTESIn many suburban areas here in this region and other places, we have -- or the other way around. So we have maximum -- we have minimum parking standards here. So, as a developer, you have to build a certain amount of parking, even though a lot of the private business owners are starting to push back and say, that's way too expensive, and we'd rather invest that in the buildings as opposed to in the parking.

  • 12:56:44

    PUENTESSo it's -- there's two sides to this coin. It matters in neighborhoods like Cleveland Park, very different than it does in other places. But there's certainly not one unique answer.

  • 12:56:54

    NNAMDIAs I said, we're almost out of time, but we have time for this email from Mike in D.C. "How do your panelists propose to pay for this, moving forward? At the federal level, 25 percent of user fees, gas taxes are already diverted to transit and pedestrian projects while the roads are deteriorating and $1 trillion is needed to bring us up to a state of good repair. This is all great.

  • 12:57:12

    NNAMDI"But we can't use any more federal gas tax funds on these projects, especially when Congress is talking about 35 percent cuts to transportation for next year. Another income source is needed." Bicycle tax perhaps, David Alpert or Cheryl Cort?

  • 12:57:25

    CORTWell, first of all, you know, we agree that our whole transportation system has really focused on building more and more capacity for vehicles, which is both extremely expensive and neglects to maintain our existing roads and bridges. And so, first and foremost, we need to go back and make sure that we're investing in our existing infrastructure before we're building a lot of new infrastructure. And that's -- I mean, I'd say that that's one of the most important points.

  • 12:57:52

    NNAMDIBicycle tax?

  • 12:57:53

    ALPERTAnd, you know, that I -- that's definitely not necessary. The bicycle projects actually are some of the least expensive. I mean, that 15th Street bike lane we talked about at the beginning costs virtually nothing compared to building a new road or even widening one.

  • 12:58:07

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of the blog, Greater Greater Washington. David, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:13

    ALPERTThank you very much.

  • 12:58:14

    NNAMDIRobert Puentes is a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. Robert, good to see you again.

  • 12:58:20

    PUENTESAlways a pleasure.

  • 12:58:21

    NNAMDICheryl Cort is the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Cheryl Cort, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:25

    CORTThanks, Kojo.

  • 12:58:26

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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