Tuesday, July 28, 2009

happiness = fewer car trips

Monumental Fountain, Brambleton Town Center
Brambleton is a planned community - er, town - in Loudoun County, Virginia still in varying stages of completion. In other words, you can drive down a gleaming boulevard lined with smart suburban Colonials, make a wrong turn, and end up down an unpaved road with ruts big enough that you probably could fall through them to China.

With monumental rock sculptures and a movie theatre that would look at home in medieval Germany, their town center would shut up anyone who dared call Downtown Silver Spring "fake." But the advertising for it does have the right idea in mind: "to achieve happiness, minimize the time spent in your minivan," it says. It's a powerful thing to say in an area where there really is no other way to get around than by car.

In Brambleton Town Center, you can buy groceries, mail a package, or visit a dentist. But you can also do dinner and a movie with a drink afterwards. It's part strip-mall, part Bethesda Row, all with free, ample parking. (Only a large, national developer could build four-story parking garages that sit empty all the time and not charge anything to use them.) Not only is that mix convenient for locals (being able to run errands and spend leisure time in the same place) but it's more profitable for retailers (more reasons to come there mean more foot traffic) and safer (having activities that occur at different times mean more "eyes on the street" throughout the day).

Transit in East County is fairly comprehensive and well-used as a result, but not everyone can or wants to ride the bus to do everything they need to do. Likewise, those who are reliant on public transportation don't want to spend their entire day making bus transfers. Encouraging a more diverse mix of uses in places like Burtonsville or White Oak mean fewer car trips, better sales for local businesses, and safer neighborhoods. We'd do well to look at Brambleton Town Center as an example for how to renovate our older shopping centers.

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