WSJ Invites More Ignorant Anti-Bike Zealots to Sully Its Pages

Law professor Frank H. Buckley seems to want to be the next Dororthy Rabinowitz. That is, he wants to gain notoriety by clinging to old and unsafe street designs while, simultaneously, shoring up the Wall Street Journal’s reputation as a bastion of change-averse curmudgeons. Done and done.

Buckley wrote an op-ed in Friday’s Journal about the controversy on Alexandria, Virginia’s King Street — the bustling main street through charming Old Town Alexandria, densely packed with upscale bistros and boutiques — which he prefers to think of as a “main artery, State Highway 7,” neglecting all that makes King Street vibrant and unique. West of Old Town, the city wants to put in a short stretch of bike lane. The plan already makes huge compromises in the name of car supremacy, refusing to post No Standing signs and replacing the lanes with sharrows for short segments.

But this timid step toward designing a safer street isn’t nearly timid enough for Buckley, who argues against the lanes — which will eliminate 37 parking spaces — with this ironclad logic:

As for the residents, we’re really attached to our parking spots. We like to tell our friends to drop by anytime. We don’t want to send our plumbers to park a few blocks over, on streets that are already congested. Not a problem, the city tells us. Just get a special parking permit from city hall for visitors. And what about the occasional party? What do we tell our guests? Ah, the city’s street coordinator said, channeling her inner Marie Antoinette, let them get valet parking.

“Let them die on streets designed exclusively for most dangerous and least efficient mode of transportation,” is Buckley’s far more compassionate credo, then.

So sorry your expensive, urban neighborhood — a classic of colonial design — was built with skinny streets and dense development, Mr. Buckley. Why didn’t the founders have the forethought to set aside enough space for everyone on your street to comfortably accommodate the cars of a dinner party’s worth of people, all at the same time, within blocks of one of the country’s best metro systems?

I don’t have to pick apart every ignorant statement Buckley makes in his story, because The Wash Cycle already did that, with great aplomb. (David Cranor, The Wash Cycle’s low-profile author, also mentions the cringe-worthy tactlessness of calling the loss of 37 parking spaces a battle in “the bike wars,” especially on Veterans Day weekend.)

Buckley isn’t the only writer complaining about the “war on cars” these days. Writing in the right-wing rag The Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell argues this week that cyclists are an unruly and antagonistic bunch of self-righteous road hogs. Caldwell even refers to cyclists as an “ever more powerful lobby,” a reckless and self-righteous group that has “tested the public’s willingness for compromise.” Buckley says the same: “When you see the bike activists in your neighborhood, be warned that they tend not to play nice.” They don’t cling to the potholed and uneven edge of the road! They sometimes ride next to each other! And they’ll yell at you if you almost kill them! (As Daniel Duane noted in the New York Times Saturday, that’s about all that will happen to you if you almost kill — or even if you do kill — a bicyclist.)

In his article, “Drivers Get Rolled,” Caldwell bemoans the fact that our transportation network has been “misbuilt” to encourage car dependency. “It should better accommodate bikers and walkers,” Caldwell laments. “But for now it can’t.”

“Unless you want to cover much more of the country in asphalt,” there’s just no room for bikes, Caldwell says in a fit of blind ignorance.

Here’s the thing: It’s because street space is limited that efficient modes like biking make so much sense.

That’s the problem with Caldwell and Buckley’s view of bike advocacy — they see it as a petty special interest of people who ride bikes. That’s not the point though. Those bike lanes on King Street aren’t so much for today’s bicyclists — they’re for the bicyclists of the future, the people who would bike if they felt comfortable doing it. And Buckley better hope there are more bicyclists in the future.

When there are too many cars for the roads in your town, the problem is that there are too many cars — not that there are too few roads. Eliminating the one sliver of roadway where people are riding bikes is not going to solve motorists’ problems. The people riding bikes are the ones who have found a way to get from point A to point B without creating traffic jams.

Cities aren’t going to indulge naysayers like Caldwell and Buckley forever. More and more cities realize that they need to move beyond the cars-only, 1950s-era approach to street design for their own survival. Alexandria is right to install bike lanes. It’s just too bad that they’re going too slow. If Buckley wants to foment NIMBY opposition to the city’s efforts to plan for its future, he’ll certainly have plenty of company. But if he’s lucky, Alexandria will ignore him and continue taking steps toward bike-friendly streets.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey results from 2005 and 2012, the mode share of commuting to work for driving has been falling in Alexandria City, New York City and Los Angeles.

    Alexandria City, Virginia had a commuting mode share for driving (van, truck, car) in 2005 of 72.8%. It fell to 66.8% in 2012.

    The mode share for bicycling increased from 0.5% to 1.5% in that time frame.

    For New York City, the mode share for commuting to work by driving went from 29.7% in 2005 to 27.3% in 2012.

    Bicycling commuting mode share in NYC increased from 0.5% in 2005, to 1.0% in 2012.

    Los Angeles had a commuting mode share for driving in 2005 of 79.5% and in 2012 it fell to 77.3%.

    The bicycle commuting mode share went from 0.6% to 1.0% within those years.

    A percentage of the miles of on-street parking lanes and moving lanes devoted to driving should be reallocated to bicycling in proportion to the increasing mode share of bicycling.

    Cities need to make adjustments to the use of the streets as the preferences for mode of transportation changes.

  • Jeff Price

    I used to live on the stretch of King Street that’s being discussed until March of this year. Its a 45% grade. There were 8 bikes a day that used that stretch of road. How much taxpayer money should be expended to make the ride easier for those 8 people? In the stats Mr. Hindman quotes he puts the number of bike commuters at 1.5 % tops. None of them were my neighbors, so who is going to use this bike lane? Why are we paying for it in lost property rights, lost property value? For what, a certificate? Does money grow on trees where you live?

    How much taxpayer money should be spent? How much inconvenience for the people who live here? So you can say you have a “Bike Friendly” community? Really? have you lost your mind? Perhaps you want to write a check to each of the affected homeowners for the lost property value? I am sure we can work out a reasonable settlement.

    HAND
    -jeff

  • MBDElf

    Well, we let the TEA PARTY speak in public, so these clowns sound ALMOST reasonable by comparison. The only thing is, they’re just as wrong.

    Oil is becoming so precious, FRACKING is the word of the day; EPA mileage figures on $20K cars is only marginally better than in 1979. We have all sorts of ‘safety items’ in cars today, people no longer believe they even have to DRIVE them.

    It’s time we got back to a moral and intellectual center that promotes the belief that “knowledge trumps opinion”, instead of the other way around.

  • MBDElf

    Okay, Jeff, I agree — a 45%-grade road doesn’t need a bike lane, that’s just stupid. But is that an excuse to abandon the whole idea? No.

    And ask me about ‘inconvenience’ when fracking ruins your drinking water, okay? When people are dying of thirst, or being poisoned from toxic water supplies, tell me all about your parking woes, and how you think “your” taxes should be spent.

    OH, and by the way — like to see some certification for your claim of “lost property values”; BUSINESSES don’t see it, why should you?

  • velomonkey

    You know how I know you clearly have ZERO idea of what you are talking about – 45% grade. Repeat: you said the street is at a 45% grade. Mount Washington is the highest peak in all of northeastern American and it’s steepest gradient is 12%. Butt according to Jeff, Mount King st is 45%!!!!!!!!! This means, for a fact, that every feet 100 feet of road it rises an astonishing 450 feet!!!!!!

    Do not listen to anything this guy has to say.

  • Jeff Price

    I lived there. So I actually do know what I am talking about. You are just running your mouth “monkey”. It’s more like a 30 or 40 degree pitch. Sorry the terminology wasn’t up to your simian standards.

    HAND

  • Jeff Price

    If it’s stupid, why isn’t that a good reason to abandon the idea? I don’t understand where you’re going with this.

  • velomonkey

    Um, no. In fact, without question: you do NOT know what you are talking about. In fact, anything you say should be divided by 5, or maybe even 6 or 7 and then somewhere in there might be the truth.

    The steepest paved road in the world is 35%
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldwin_Street

    But, according to “Jeff” the Price-is-clearly-wrong – Mount St. King street is an astonishing 30 or 40 degree pitch. This means, at a minimum King St, is in fact, the steepest paved road in the entire world!!!!! Come for the torpedo factory, visit the home of George Washington, eat the seafood but stay for the steepest road in the entire world – now with a bike lane!!!!!

    Do not EVER listen to anything this guy says.

  • Hey everybody, can we disagree about topography without getting into personal insults?

  • Andrew

    Demonstrably false. High school trigonometry informs us that slope (grade) is rise/run. The steepest city street in the country is a dead end block that clocks in around 43%.

    Looking at the topography, the overall grade for that entire stretch of King is 1.63%. The steepest grade is 5.2% By comparison there are many heavily used bike lanes in cities like Seattle and San Francisco steeper than 6%.

    Finally, you are completely ignorant to the growing body of economic research over the past decade that shows bike lanes *increase* adjacent property value: http://thisbigcity.net/how-bike-lanes-can-boost-the-economy/

  • Mike Mills

    If the section of Route 7 being discussed is west of the tracks (near Masonic Temple) it is steep regardless of how you measure it. I use it rarely and do not recollect seing a cyclist. If the section is east of the tracks, put the bike lanes along Duke (eastbound) or Princess (westbound). Safer and quicker. If you want to mingle with the cars, pedestrians, buses and shuttles…stay on King. That road sucks no matter what mode you use.

  • Joe R.

    The Caldwell article ran from almost reasonable in some parts to outright ridiculous in others, especially the part about cycling being the province of the 1%. I guess he’s never been in some of the poorer neighborhoods in places like NYC where residents who can’t even afford the subway fare often get around by walking or cycling. I’m personally in the 10% myself as far as income goes-the lowest 10%, not the highest 10%. So much for cycling being a hobby of the wealthy.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. There was a time where society valued, and was guided by, the knowledge of experts on various subjects. Nowadays public policy is guided by polls. If the people want something, no matter how stupid or misguided that something is, the politicians are only too happy to oblige. One of my favorites was when people were screaming at the President to “do something about gas prices”, as if that were even in his power.

    And it works the other way as well. If something is sorely needed but some vocal members of the general public feel it isn’t, then it doesn’t get built. NIMBYism is at an all time high. At some point politicians and society in general must get a backbone. If something is good overall for society, it should be implemented even if it inconveniences some people.

    On the subject in question, we’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. We’re talking about bike lanes here. Bike lanes! A bike lane on a street shouldn’t be any more controversial than putting in a sidewalk or a water main.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s a little lesson in how public space, which is what streets are, works in a democracy. Nothing is sacrosanct. Just because someone may have had the convenience of a free curbside parking spot in front of their residence for the last 30 years doesn’t mean they’ll have that spot forever. If the government entity in charge of the streets (typically the local DOT) decides that there is a better use of that space than automobile parking, then guess what? You lose the parking spot-whether it’s for a wider sidewalk, planters, a park, or yes, a bike lane. That’s how it works. It also works the other way. Should at some future time cycling drop off to near zero, the local DOT could repurpose bike lanes for something else. Nothing is forever, nothing is sacrosanct.

    Your argument about property values is off the charts ludicrous. There’s no clause in any mortgage agreement which says that property values will never fall. The entire property values will fall thing has been used to oppose denser development in places where there is a high demand for residences. It’s been used to oppose mass transit. It’s now being used to oppose bike lanes. Even assuming that the things in question really do make property values fall (and evidence suggests the opposite), that’s not a valid excuse not to build them. Property values rise and fall all the time. It happened in 2008 when some people who overpaid for their properties were left underwater. Despite what the real estate industry loves to tell people, real estate isn’t an investment, and housing prices aren’t going to inexorably rise at double digits forever. In fact, historically average housing prices will keep pace with inflation. It’s not up to the government to compensate anyone if their property values drop. There never was or will be any guarantee that property values will always rise. In fact, the housing bubble never quite fully deflated yet. I expect housing prices to drop another 50% in the next few years.

  • MBDElf

    Are you just focused on the 45% section, or the whole idea of new bike lanes? THAT’S the difference; if you’re swatting the whole program, then that’s objectionable. If it’s just that one spot, then we’re good. #Clarity.

  • baklazhan

    This street is officially recorded as 17.5 degrees (31.5%): http://goo.gl/maps/XPTvr

    So yours is about twice as steep, eh? Must be quite a tourist attraction.

  • NoeValleyJim

    First they ignore you.
    Then they laugh at you.
    Then they fight you.
    Then you win.
    -Ghandi

  • Froggie

    Section in question is west of Russell Rd (so west of the tracks). True, it may not seem like many bikes, but something too many people are wrapping themselves around is that count of 8 bicyclists was made over only a 2 hour period, so it stands to reason that there are more bicyclists a day than 8. Furthermore, even if there were only 8 bikes a day, that’s more bicyclists than people parking in the existing on-street parking (which the city counted to be only 3 a day on average).

    Also, the “if you build it they will come” mantra can apply here, as these King St bike lanes would tie into the bike lanes the city recently put on Janneys Ln.

  • buckley’s neighbor

    As an avid biker, runner, and neighbor of Buckley, I disagree with his argument but *agree* with his conclusion that bike lanes (as proposed) is a bad idea.

    First, let’s look at the data…

    1. With the exception of 1-2 houses on this stretch of road, they *all* have driveways, so the argument of losing parking is silly. Moreover, some of these neighbors that have multiple cars already park on the side streets.

    2. The grade on king street is such that it’s dangerous no matter which direction you go on.

    3. Few motorists respect the speed limits, traffic lights, and the fact that it’s only one lane. I’ve come within inches of being hit on numerous occasions (while on the SIDEWALKS) by cars passing other cars on the right, where they make their own lane by driving over the proposed bike lane path/parking spots. The frequency of this is such that I now avoid king street at all costs.

    4. The sidewalks are narrow and already dangerous for bikers & pedestrians. I fail to see how paint on the ground will curb any of the dangerous behavior from motorists, or add safety to anyone. Especially when an already narrow sidewalk comes with brush on one side and speeding vehicles on the other.

    Here’s what I think we should be discussing instead – widening the sidewalks. It’ll add a significant measure of safety to the pedestrians; give bikers a safe place to ride those few blocks; create a barrier between motorists and everyone else. It won’t make it fast for bikers (sorry), but it’ll make it safe for everyone.

  • Jonathan Krall

    What taxpayer money? They repaved the street and are now putting down stripes. It costs the same to stripe bike lanes versus laying down stripes for the old, largely unused, parking lane.

  • Jonathan Krall

    This section of King St was chosen for bike lanes because there are no parallel routes and because it lies just west of the King St Metrorail Station, where bicycle parking has recently been upgraded. People already ride on King St (Google street view shows a cyclist on that part of King) and it is very reasonable to expect more bicycling once the lanes go in.

    The sad thing is that, when they do put the lanes in, people who use them to ride to the King St station will be counted by the Census as taking transit to commute to work rather than bicycling. In the DC area, our Metro stations are crowded with bicycles and very few of those cyclists are counted by the Census as anything other than transit riders. If we want a well-informed debate, we need better data.

  • Jonathan Krall

    ” I’ve come within inches of being hit on numerous occasions (while on the SIDEWALKS) by cars passing other cars”

    It is well known that drivers do not look at sidewalks. This is why sidewalk riding is so dangerous–drivers do not expect anyone to enter crosswalks faster than walking speeds and drivers do not see them until they are in the crosswalk. Crash data verifies this problem.

    Where drivers do look is on the roads. It is hardly a stretch to imagine that most drivers will drive less aggressively when there is a cyclist nearby on the road in a bike lane. I ride all the time and see this polite driving often. It is only a few crazy drivers that harass cyclists. The rest do pretty well.

  • CyclistinAlexandria

    You have no idea what you are talking about. If the street were a 30 or 40% gradient, cars wouldn’t be able to make it up there. They certainly wouldn’t be able to generate enough torque to get up to 40mph on the hill and that’s not even considering the buses!

  • Joe R.

    Even most peds would have trouble on a 30% or 40% gradient. Incidentally, since Jeff said a 30 or 40 degree pitch, that would actually be equivalent to 50% or 64% gradient. A 4-wheel drive vehicle would have trouble on a slope like that. Gradients much over about 20% are seldom used unless there’s no alternative. I’ve never heard of any street with a gradient much over 40%.

    I checked the street in question on Google Earth. The average gradient is under 2%. Some parts are steeper but still well under 10%. Most cyclists can deal with grades up to 10% if they have low enough gearing. I can climb a 10% gradient in a 39-23 gear at about 8 to 10 mph. Tough but certainly not a showstopper.

  • buckley’s neighbor

    Jon, the incidences I was referring to were when I was going parallel with traffic, and not perpendicular (with cars turning). The only difference I’m suggesting we evaluate is elevating the bike path to become an extension of the sidewalk. Nice, wide sidewalks with room for peds & bikers.

  • Jonathan Krall

    And that would be dangerous for reasons I’ve just stated (sidewalk bicycling is dangerous and should be discouraged). I know this is counter-intuitive, but many aspects of traffic safety are. For years engineers widened traffic lanes to make them “safer” and drivers just sped up, producing the opposite result.

  • Kevin Love

    The headline should be:
    “WSJ Invites More Ignorant Anti-Bike Zealots to Begrime Its Pages”

  • CyclistinAlexandria

    I’ve ridden up that street a few times and can say with 100% certainty that the pitch is nowhere near what Mr. Price claims. It’s not even that hard a climb on a bike to be honest. I’ve ridden up the hill with some guys much older than I and we all did OK.

  • Mike Mills

    When there are too many cars for the roads in your town, the problem is that there are too many cars — not that there are too few roads.

    Is this logic true then…

    When there are too many riders on the Orange line, the problem is that there are too many passengers–not that there are too few trains.

  • Kellie Meehan

    Mr. Krall,

    I live in the area, just off King St and the homes along King St. do not
    “all have driveways that hold at least 2 cars”.

    These
    homes were built in the 1920’s and 30’s., some earlier, and some later, most
    have space for 1 small car, a few may have a bigger parking area.

    This
    isn’t like Quaker Lane or Seminary Road where the homes have 2+ car driveways
    and garages and where there is no off street parking.

    It
    is more like Braddock Road near Scroggins, where the homes have 1 small space
    of off street parking and the residents use the street spaces as primary
    parking.

    (The
    city’s count of parking space usage isn’t an accurate count – when City staff
    took the count there were two homes that were empty and for sale, one resident
    had just passed away and the home was empty, and one home was a rental, that
    was empty. I believe one home is still for sale and is unoccupied.)

    Another
    portion of this stretch of King St. is actually the back of homes on North View
    Terrace. Those residents don’t use the “on street” parking spaces on King
    St. regularly because that is at the back of their homes and isn’t easily
    accessible, and just like most residents of Alexandria, they park on the street
    in front of their home.

    The
    homes along the other side of King St. have an alley with some off street
    parking. Some of the homes have enough space to handle 2 cars, some have
    a space for 1 car, some don’t have a space at all and park on the street in the
    neighborhood or at the end of the alley.

    The
    parking lane along King Street helps serve as a buffer for the residents to get
    into and out of their driveways because King St. is such a busy road, they need
    that buffer to slowly inch out of the driveway to get into King St. without
    being plowed into by the traffic.

    The
    residents of the homes along one side of King do not have a way to park in the
    neighborhood on the other side of King (where it is already crowded).
    The homes are not near a cross walk and some are not near a cross street to
    access the neighborhood.

    The
    homes along King St. have elderly residents, small children, families, couples,
    and so on. We have many residents who cycle to and from work, into DC and
    Old Town, many who walk to the Metro, and use public transportation.
    Basically a neighborhood like the rest of the city of Alexandria,
    diverse.

    So
    now I hope that you have a clearer picture of the neighborhood.

    I
    think that the issue isn’t really bikes vs. parking. or bikes vs. elitist
    residents, or the like, which you have contended.

    I
    think what this comes down to is that the road is not safe as it is and that it
    is heavily congested most of the day and night.

    King
    St. was never built for nor meant to handle the amount of traffic that currently
    use it. (I remember before the 1970’s when trucks were banned on this
    portion of King St.)

    I
    bet most people don’t know that the speed limit is 25 on this part of King St.
    That is a residential, neighborhood, speed limit. This is a
    residential neighborhood used as a major artery into and out of Old Town.

    Of
    course not very many vehicles actually go 25 miles an hour and I don’t believe
    adding bike lanes or buffer lanes will do anything to slow traffic down.

    Those
    of us that live in the area and witness the congestion, deal with the traffic
    as we try to get into and out of our neighborhood, witness the number of
    serious accidents, see the police set up radar and hand out tickets, count the
    large number of buses and trucks that use this street, and hear the number of
    emergency vehicles that traverse King St. regularly; we wonder why would
    anyone want to add bikes to an already dangerous road. Even if you add
    designated lanes, it’s a dangerous road that is too narrow.

    If
    you ask most people in and around Alexandria about cycling on King St. their response
    is “why would anyone want to do it, it’s too narrow and too steep”.

    If
    you watch the cyclists that currently use King St. (there aren’t as many
    as you and BPAC contend on this stretch of the road – there may be 11 an hour
    near the King St. Metro or near TC Williams H.S. but there are not 11 cyclists
    an hour at the traffic light at Highland St.), most will tell you they go down
    Walnut to connect to Commonwealth or Mt. Vernon Avenue. They do this
    because Walnut doesn’t have traffic, it’s a residential street that dead ends
    at King Street. And Commonwealth and Mt.
    Vernon are wider and have the room for bike lanes, parking and motor vehicles,
    giving every mode of transportation ample space.

    I
    understand the need to connect and have access for cyclists throughout
    Alexandria and I am all for getting cars off the roads and getting people
    cycling, walking and taking mass transit, but King St. just isn’t the street
    for bicycle lanes.

  • murphstahoe

    a 45% grade?

    I live in San Francisco and we have a few streets that have 30% gradients. Once a year, a few intrepid souls may try to climb those roads, usually with special bikes that allow them to summit those crazy hills. The roads are paved with concrete set in forms, because it is too steep for asphalt.

    Yet in Alexandria 8 cyclists per day ride up a 45% grade! You are made of tough stuff! Or you have no idea what you are talking about. I vote the latter.

  • murphstahoe

    Good point. We should put in more bike lanes so people will bike all the way to work.

  • buckley’s neighbor

    Just to be clear, you’re saying that keeping the bike lane space as just a bike lane is ‘safe’ but raising it by a few inches and incorporating it to create a wider sidewalk is ‘dangerous’?

    I’m getting the feeling you just like to argue with strangers on the internet.

  • Jonathan Krall

    Not “safe”, safer. I’m just trying to make streets safer for people who want to ride bicycles. Here is an article on it: http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/urban-sports/safer-to-bike-on-sidewalk2.htm

    Here is a quote from the article: “Perhaps counter-intuitively, though, the greatest cycling danger on the
    sidewalk is cars. Drivers, like pedestrians, aren’t expecting bikes to be there.”

  • Jonathan Krall

    Ms Meahan and All,

    My own response to this letter along with two other cogent responses can be found in the comment thread to this DC-area blog post: http://www.thewashcycle.com/2013/11/fox-butterfield-is-that-you.html

    I invite you to have a look.

    Jonathan

  • Laura Sesana

    Tanya, great piece. I quoted you in my piece in the Communities section of The Washington Times. I’d love to hear your feedback http://bit.ly/HPrO5h

  • There is a serious fraction of the “bicycle advocacy” movement that is a special interest movement. For example, People for Bikes is an “astroturf” organization of the bike biz. But I have to laugh at the WSJ’s whining about loss of parking spaces. Is the WSJ asking for free public handouts to residents, i.e., the ability to park their cars in public space for free? Why not instead sell parking for what the market will bear? A bike lane is a travel lane,and open to the general public rather than being a free giveaway at taxpayer expense to residents.

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