Tuesday, November 30, 2010

what's up the pike: you could be my silver springs . . .

You Could Be My Silver Springs

I came home last weekend and saw this at the construction site for the new Silver Spring Library. Tsk tsk.

- In case you missed it over Thanksgiving weekend (or your turkey/travel hangover): we looked at how a lack of student housing encourages underage drinking in College Park, discovered that Veterans Plaza has the same furniture as a famous new urban park, and reluctantly visited the new Burtonsville Giant.

- The National Capital Pinball Museum is now actually located in the National Capital and opens in Georgetown this weekend. Until recently, the museum operated out of curator and Colesville resident David Silverman's basement.

- Colesville Patch reports that a newly-vacant T-Mobile store in the Colesville Center shopping center will stay empty for a while. Oh, and now former State Senator Rona Kramer is the president of her family's business, Kramer Enterprises, which owns the shopping center. (Brother and state delegate Ben Kramer, meanwhile, developed and owns shopping centers in Norbeck and Cloverly).

- Developer B.F. Saul has posted their re-cap of meetings on the future of downtown Wheaton, which they've basically been given the keys to redevelop, says Wheaton Calling, who worries they aren't taking everyone's concerns into consideration.

- I can't get over this photo of the "bee guy" from the Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade last week. With a satisfied grin, matching boots, and tray of Starbucks coffee, he makes my day every time I click on this picture.

- Metro is working on a map of high-frequency buses that come at least four an hour (which should mean every fifteen minutes, but that may or may not be the case). Note that Silver Spring and East County are relatively well-served by frequent bus routes compared to the rest of the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, with buses running along Georgia Avenue, University Boulevard, Veirs Mill Road and Colesville Road as far north as White Oak. If you're curious what to think about the map, or already know what to think and have your two cents to give, drop them at Greater Greater Washington or Human Transit, probably the best professional transit blog being written right now.

Monday, November 29, 2010

more reasons for more student housing in college park

One of the main arguments on Rethink College Park for more student housing in downtown College Park is that there simply aren't enough people in the area to support all of the stores, bars and restaurants in the area. College Park's three-block business district is a revolving door of store closings, where new retail options open with great fanfare and close within a few months. So it's not surprising to me what Mark Srour, who owns local bar Cornerstone Grill and Loft, told the Diamondback about what some bars do to survive here:

McKeldin Hall
Students camp outside McKeldin Library in 2007 to protest the lack of housing in College Park.

"Here we are today; the building's sitting stagnant. A great clothing store like Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Old Navy — somebody like that would be a great fit for that building," Srour said. "It's just too big of a place to have a bar because, unfortunately, you have to let all the underage people in just to survive. That's why that building is kind of cursed, I guess. It's just too big."

He's talking about Thirsty Turtle, which lost its liquor license last month due to a stabbing and a reputation for serving underage customers. As I wrote last month, Turtle and other bars in College Park need people within walking distance to get business. When the majority of those people are under 21, you're not going to discriminate.

Of course, even if the building that once housed Thirsty Turtle was turned into an Urban Outfitters or another clothing store, it might still have a difficult time staying open. There just aren't enough people living in downtown College Park to make it work, and the area isn't enough of a destination to draw shoppers who'd arrive by car. You need more people to justify the retail, and more retail to make the area a destination.

Having more stuff to do is a goal I'm sure everyone in College Park supports, whether you're a student, a permanent resident, on the University administration or the City Council. Unfortunately, they may not all agree that more student housing is the first step to getting there.

veterans plaza = silver spring's high line?

What does downtown Silver Spring's Veterans Plaza and the High Line in New York have in common? I was looking through my photos yesterday and I noticed one big similarity:

Tables and Skaters, Veterans Plaza

Tables And Chairs On High Line

I don't know if there's some big street-furniture company that manufactures green tables and chairs, but clearly they must get a lot of business. So the next time you're enjoying the sweet, sanitized sound of silence in Veterans Plaza, imagine yourself instead on the gritty-but-gentrifying streets of New York's Meatpacking District.

Friday, November 26, 2010

thanksgiving and the burtonsville giant

I'm thankful that, on the worst driving day of the year, I made it from West Philadelphia to Silver Spring in two hours and fifteen minutes. I'm thankful for my family, my friends and my boyfriend, my ongoing education, and the tofurkey I am going to eat today. And I'm also regretfully thankful for Chris Jones, developer of the new Burtonsville Town Square shopping center and home to the new Burtonsville Giant, located across the street from the old one. You see, I forgot to bring deodorant with me from Philadelphia, and I found myself standing in the doorway of the new supermarket wonderland that just opened in Chris Jones' shopping center.

Inside the New Burtonsville Giant

So big. So yellow. So much stuff. (A whole aisle of bulk candy and nuts!) And, on the night before Thanksgiving, surprisingly empty. Perhaps that's because there's so much room.

Smith Island Cakes at Burtonsville Giant

As always, the way to my heart is through my stomach, and I must admit I fell in love with Chris Jones when I discovered this case of yummy Smith Island cakes inside Giant. For those who don't know, the Smith Island Cake is Maryland's official state dessert, made from eight to fifteen layers of cake with icing between. These cakes come from the Original Smith Island Cake Company - not to be confused with the Smith Island Baking Company, founded by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Murphy.

I pressed on through the store to buy the deodorant, and on a whim, a pint of Gifford's Ice Cream. I thought about how, three years ago, I could eat this for free, and I did for a long time. Now the store I worked in is closed forever, and I'm going to a Giant across the street from a Giant. Plus ├ža change. (I know this may not be an appropriate use of that phrase, but I thought it a fitting end to this paragraph.)

'Burtonsville Community Center'

Lastly, there's this space in the store, called the Burtonsville Community Center. It's no town square, though. The one-way windows are kind of creepy - shouldn't a community space be more open than that? I joked to my friend who I was shopping with that this will be where the Burtonsville Mafia meets to make deals in secret.

The supermarkets I can shop at in West Philadelphia tend to be small, pricey and over-stocked, so I've become more appreciative of the fancy suburban grocers I grew up with. I'd come back to the Giant at Burtonsville Town Square - but, on the other hand, they still don't have a beer and wine aisle like the one in White Oak, which is a major factor in my grocery-buying decisions. I'm still not keen on Chris Jones, and I would've rather he never brought his take on "progress" to Burtonsville, but I have to admit I'm slowly, very slowly, warming up to it..

Monday, November 22, 2010

hans riemer hires adam pagnucco as chief of staff

During the first several weeks I worked for Councilmember Leventhal, curious council staffers would appear in my cubicle, just to see if I was real. "So, you're the famous Dan Reed?" they'd ask. "Well, I hope you're not going to write anything about me on your blog." I spent the rest of my year there wondering if I had earned my coworkers' trust, and I think I had, so long as Just Up The Pike was unconcerned with the gossip at 100 Maryland Avenue.

Of course, someone who is interested in that is Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch, who got his start writing for this very blog over four years ago. It's tremendously anti-climactic to write about him stepping down from MPW again after he sort-of quit back in June but, lo and behold, here is stepping down for real because he has an actual job - as newly-elected Councilmember Hans Riemer's Chief of Staff:

But now it’s time to get back to reality, and that includes employment. I am going to be incoming Council Member Hans Riemer’s Chief of Staff. Hans and I have been friends for years and we agree on the issues, but there’s more to it than that. Hans is part of the next generation of county leadership, which also includes Craig Rice, many of our state legislators, the Young Guns and a new group of civic activists. I know most of them and I have great confidence in their ability to take our county and our state to a better place. I’d like to do my part to help. Hans is one of the best of them, so working for him is a can’t-miss opportunity.

That said, there is no way – NO WAY – I can be both a legislative staffer and a political blogger. It could never work and we all know that. That’s why this time my departure is for real.

No way you can staff and blog at the same time? Funny you say that, Adam. (How does that explain your blog-mate, Chevy Chase mayor David Lublin?) But in leaving his blog to work at the County Council, you prove yourself a much smarter person than I'll ever be. Hopefully, it'll save you a lot of grief from your new coworkers. (Staffers of the Montgomery County Council: I'd watch my back in case a new, anonymous political blogger appears on the horizon. You know, one with a name like "Padam Agnucco" or something.

That said, Adam Pagnucco helped this blog become what it was and I have long turned to him for advice, though I'd say there's a lot to be learned "on the inside," for him as it was for me. There may be a learning curve, but I'm sure he'll serve Councilmember Riemer and the residents of Montgomery County well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Three Men Outside Wheaton Station
Our friend Sara at Wheaton Calling has a lovely write-up of last night's meeting on the redevelopment of downtown Wheaton hosted by B.F. Saul. The developer was picked by Montgomery County and WMATA to build over the Metro station bus bays, on a 8.2-acre site bounded by Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road and Reedie Drive. At the meeting, residents and businesspeople were rounded up into tables and asked to list things they wanted to see in the redevelopment, and there appeared to be consensus for preserving small businesses, traffic calming, and getting more people on the streets.

My favorite quote, however, would have to be this one:

I had to laugh at the chart they showed for what community groups they are getting input from. The list included several local blogs, including Just Up the Pike, Good Eatin in Wheaton, and the Talk of Wheaton, but NO mention of Wheaton Calling. Where's the love, B.F. Saul???

We love you too, B.F. Saul! Hope you do something about your shopping center in White Oak soon. Have you actually seen that place in the past ten years? The only things it's got going for it is a beer and wine store and a very strange homage to the painter Magritte.

Anyway: the developer is also eyeing several other properties in downtown Wheaton, including Parking Lot 13 at the corner of Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive, which has been proposed as the site of a town square. Will Wheaton get its own version of Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring? Or does B.F. Saul have other ideas? Friend of JUTP Chip Py was at the meeting and told me that the developer's representatives were unresponsive when asked about their commitment to providing public space in their project.

In other news: Walmart will open four stores in the District within the next two years, says the Post. One of them will be in Brightwood at the corner of Georgia and Missouri avenues, barely two and a half miles from downtown Silver Spring, which actually makes it East County news as well. Can't help but be nervous about the proposal, but not because it's any threat to shops in downtown Silver Spring, none of which sell briefs and $1,000 TVs under the same roof, as far as I know. But a big box-with-parking isn't the most appropriate use for a site on a major city street that could have streetcars running down it. If they do bring a store to Brightwood, hopefully they can make it fit into a nice mixed-use complex like what was originally proposed for that location.

Like B.F. Saul, Walmart already has a nifty website to get people on board. Did you know that "the benefits of Walmart escape most of the Washington, D.C., population"? I didn't know we were so deprived!

guest blog: the problem with the burtonsville giant

While handling constituent correspondence for Councilmember Leventhal last year, I learned that the best response is often (though not always) a speedy one. That's why I was happy to find this response to yesterday's post on the new Burtonsville Giant from District 14 Delegate-Elect Eric Luedtke, who represents Damascus, Olney and Burtonsville. In the following guest post, Luedtke expresses concerns about the grocery store's recent move.

Burtonsville Town Square (former Burtonsville Shopping Center)
Giant moved last week to the new Burtonsville Town Square, pictured above, from across the street.

As a newly elected politician, I find myself the focus of criticism fairly often now. It’s not often, however, that I find myself nodding along. There is a lot of truth in what Dan wrote about the Giant reopening in their new location in Burtonsville Town Square. It’s not a new amenity, it’s not really much progress, and its best feature is that it updates a store that was built in the era of Flock of Seagulls and the Cosby Show.

So it may have been overstated when I said in my remarks that the opening was the first step in Burtonsville’s revitalization. Is it a positive thing to have a newly renovated, nicer store? Certainly. Is it going to lead to some renaissance in the Burtonsville area? Probably not.

In fact, Giant is doing significant harm. Leaving their previous location presented a challenge, one which an experienced property owner like Edens & Avant (the owners of Burtonsville Crossing) should have been able to solve. Except that the Giant’s old lease gives it veto power over any new anchor store in the old location, and Giant is using that power to reject any potential competitor.

I respect Giant and their need to run a profit. I do not respect them placing a stranglehold on Burtonsville in order to maintain a monopoly. Among the thousands of doors I knocked on this summer were many who said of the situation, “That should be illegal.” It may be something to think about, now that I’m a legislator.

But I’m still holding out hope that Giant will be a good neighbor, and give up their veto power on a new tenant. It was that mingled hope and concern that I expressed to a Giant public affairs executive at the opening. He assured me that he would pass on my concerns and let me know who in the company I could speak to about them. I have yet to hear back.

As always: If you've got something to say about East County, say it here! Leave a comment or send your thoughts to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

meeting on downtown wheaton's future tonight

New Wheaton Safeway Rendering
Reader purplemoonshoes and Wheaton Calling remind us that there's a meeting tonight to discuss the future of downtown Wheaton. Local developer B.F. Saul's been given the reins to build in an 8.2-acre area around the Wheaton Metro station, bounded by Veirs Mill Road, Georgia Avenue, and Reedie Drive. While Robert Wulff of B.F. Saul told the Gazette that you won't see shovels in the ground until 2015, he's looking forward to the "listening tour" the developer, the county and WMATA are kicking off to get the community's opinions.

Certainly, there's been no shortage of meetings on the revitalization of Wheaton over the past several years, and it's understandable for local stakeholders to feel tired of the whole thing. After all, why wait for your new downtown when one's already waiting for you down the road? Yet this is the closest we've come to major changes in Wheaton in a long time, ignoring the rather disappointing new strip malls being built by the unscrupulous developer Leonard Greenberg.

After all, an eighteen-story high rise (above) has already been approved on the site of the Safeway at Georgia and Reedie, something that would've been unthinkable five years ago. There's no better time to take up your signs and pitchforks and start clamoring for something more.

Once again, that meeting is tonight at 7pm at the Crossway Community Center, 3015 Upton Drive in Kensington. B.F. Saul, WMATA and the county even have a nifty website with maps and more information.

By the way: Are you the type that thinks eighteen stories is too much for downtown Wheaton? I thought about the same myself and, through the magic of Photoshop, decided to see what it would look like with just nine floors.


in east county, standing still is still progress

You know what's frustrating? When we celebrate a store moving across the street, especially when the old store is only twenty years old, not obsolete, and the anchor of a shopping center which has already been hurting for business.

Burtonsville Town Square Rendering
Rendering of Burtonsville Town Square.

Colesville Patch reports that the new Burtonsville Giant opened last weekend, just across Old Columbia Pike from a store built in 1989. (To compare: I was born in 1988, and I don't even have all of my facial hair yet.) Developer Chris Jones, who's building the new Burtonsville Town Square shopping center at routes 29 and 198, promised us a Wegmans and an actual town square. Instead, we're getting the Giant and the Chevy Chase Bank that were already in Burtonsville, and our elected officials are getting a little too excited:

"I'd like to say thank you Giant for helping the turnaround of our East County area," said newly elected State Senator Karen Montgomery (D-Dist. 14), whose district includes Burtonsville and Colesville. "This is wonderful and it's just the beginning."

Eric Luedtke, who was elected one of three Maryland General Assembly delegates for District 14, echoed the thanks while including a message about area infrastructure.

"I hope this is the first step in revitalization here in Burtonsville," Luedtke began. "In order to do that we're going to need to take the first step of fixing [Route] 198 out here."

I love Karen Montgomery and Eric Luedtke, both of whom have kept JUTP well-fed and guest-blogged over the past four years, and I'm confident in their commitment to the revitalization of Burtonsville. But I'm disappointed by their enthusiasm for something which is definitely not progress! In fact, it's a pretty mediocre accomplishment, not unlike moving Choice Hotels from White Oak to Rockville. We're supposed to create jobs and amenities here, not play musical chairs with them.

And furthermore, how will moving Giant across the street help revitalize Burtonsville? Will it prevent shoppers from traveling one exit north to Maple Lawn? Will it fill the empty tables in Seibel's, Soretti's and the other awesome places on Route 198's "Restaurant Row"? No, it won't, because when everything is said and done Burtonsville will have nothing more than it did a few years ago.

Except for the Amish Market, of course. It still makes me angry to realize that a developer could kick that local landmark out of town and a move stores from one side of the street to a giant strip mall that goes against everything a "small town" like Burtonsville should be and people in this community have rolled over and accepted it. Burtonsville Town Square was an opportunity to create an actual catalyst for Burtonsville's revitalization; instead, we'll have more empty storefronts, more empty parking lots, and more empty promises.

Special thanks to Whitney at Colesville Patch for linking to me in her article. Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

guest blog: complete street smarts

The following comes to us from guest blogger Alex Hutchinson, a Takoma Park resident and intern at the Planning Department. He last wrote for JUTP about the proposed Silver Spring Library pedestrian bridge. If you have any questions or bones to pick, please contact him at alexanderehutchinson at gmail dot com.

Photo by the author.

If a car were blocking a major intersection, it would be towed within minutes. Yet this telephone pole gets a free pass despite being directly in front of the Silver Spring Police Station.

Walk around Silver Spring and you’re likely to notice the numerous light poles, parking meters, and electrical boxes inconveniently placed in the middle of sidewalks and curb ramps.

Through a comprehensive set of sidewalk and street improvements, we can restore equal access while promoting healthy walkable communities.

Planners and traffic engineers are spreading the gospel of complete streets, which provide equal access to bicycle, pedestrian, transit, or car users regardless of age or ability. Complete streets include wide sidewalks, bike lanes, frequent crossing opportunities, median islands, and more.

A few weeks ago, The Coalition for Smarter Growth hosted Ian Lockwood, a transportation expert who talked about complete streets and the communities in the United States and Canada he has helped fix. Lockwood was a consultant on the recently approved White Flint Master Plan.

One of Lockwood’s counterintuitive ideas is the concept of shared streets. Streets that seemingly lack any organization: no signs, lanes, crosswalks, speed limits, stop lights or curbs.

Lockwood doesn’t say that we should take all the street signs down. Rather, roads must be strategically redesigned for slower, but better-flowing travel. This requires a new set of cues. Raised brick crosswalks are a common shared-space method for slowing cars at intersections because they provide a visual and tactile signal for motorists to brake and watch for pedestrians. Lockwood explains that changes in textures, paving materials, trees, or colors allow streets to dictate the rules of the road better than any sign.

Ellsworth Drive Open, Nov. 2009 (1)
Cars and people share Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring. Photo by Dan Reed.

Silver Spring’s Ellsworth Drive is a great example of this. When the street is open to traffic on weekdays, cars move at a leisurely pace creating a safe environment for pedestrians of all types. The varying surface from brick to asphalt keeps drivers alert and aware of their surroundings.

Downtown Silver Spring has many of the critical features that Lockwood emphasizes for successful shared spaces: a good street network, buildings that hold the street, lots of pedestrians and cycling, and a vibrant environment for entertainment and social contact.” This idea of shared spaces could very well be applied to the Fenton/Wayne intersection.

Many curbs and sidewalks across Silver Spring are being repaired to better accommodate wheelchairs and pedestrians of all types. But awkwardly placed telephone poles, light posts, and even bus stops show many are still in need of work.

William Smith is a Silver Spring resident who has taken matters into his own hands. Smith, who is legally blind, is the founder of the blog Montgomery Sideways, which documents the shortcomings of Silver Spring sidewalks. Smith meticulously records and posts the locations of problem areas on Google maps in hopes that improvements can be made for the disabled. “Crossing the street in this town is downright dangerous,” he says. “The simple act of walking down the street can be an ankle-busting experience for anyone - especially a blind guy.”

The complete street approach is the most sensible and effective option for improving accessibility. By continuing to improve the sidewalks, removing thoughtlessly placed infrastructure, creating shared spaces, slowing down traffic speed and improving our public transportation we can restore equity to those who are less mobile.

It might be simple, but Silver Spring’s solution to the future is the oldest form of transportation: walking.

Crossposted at The Straight Line.

Monday, November 15, 2010

checking out the new fenton street market

Looking Towards Civic Building
This is a little late, but two weeks ago I stopped by the newly-relocated Fenton Street Market, which moved to Veterans Plaza October 23. Though the outdoor flea market won't return until next spring, its success at Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive in the center of downtown Silver Spring bodes well for the future.

Hannah McCann and Baby McCann
Local resident Hannah McCann (pictured with her newborn daughter at the market, both in Halloween costume) started Fenton Street Market last fall after approaching a local landowner about using an empty parking lot in Fenton Village around the corner from her house. After Ulysses Glee, who owns the lot at Fenton Street and Silver Spring Avenue, released plans to build condos and a hotel on the property, McCann was left looking for a new site. She worked with the Downtown Silver Spring complex, which runs a farmers' market on Ellsworth Drive, and the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, which is located in the Civic Building adjacent to the plaza, to move the market five blocks away.

Already, the newly moved market is attracting people. When I visited Veterans Plaza in the early afternoon, shoppers and looky-loos alike were milling around, looking at the several dozen vendors participating in the market and enjoying the scene.

Looking Towards City Place

With multiple levels, several distinct spaces and a nice canopy, the plaza lends itself well to outdoor shopping. Though the same number of vendors are located in Veterans Plaza as there were in the parking lot, the market feels much more substantial. Looking at tents under in the covered area (which will become an ice skating rink during the winter) makes me wonder what it would be like if downtown Silver Spring had an enclosed market hall like Eastern Market.

Watching Live Music
The canopy's also great for concerts, as we've seen earlier this year at events like the summer concert series and the Silver Spring Jazz Festival.

Fenton Street Market at Veterans Plaza
Veterans Plaza tends to be busiest in the evenings, when people stop in on their way to dinner or a movie in downtown Silver Spring. Moving Fenton Street Market to the space will help activate it during the day, drawing visitors to the area and hopefully drumming up more sales for local businesses. While I've been thoroughly disappointed by previous attempts to program Veterans Plaza in the past, I'm excited about the arrival of Fenton Street Market and I hope they're around for a long time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

the DMV . . .

is as familiar to me as saying "MoCo" (never, ever "MontCo," which is for Pennsylvania) and "PG" or "NoVA." Growing up, I heard it everywhere from the halls of my high school to WPGC. And yet some people are pretty upset about it, says TBD, who did a survey on it yesterday on Twitter and Facebook.

Certainly it's fine to not care what someone's nickname for the D.C. area is, but I'm weirded out that the Twitterati and my homies at Greater Greater Washington have such a distaste for it. Yes, it sounds like the Department of Motor Vehicles. But, on the other hand, in Maryland we call it the MVA, so that connection doesn't exist to me.

I wonder if the people in the TBD survey were put off by a name that holds the District in the same regard as Maryland and Virginia. A name that puts the city on the same footing as the suburbs? The horror! I don't know about you, but I see it as a mark of regionalism. The District needs Maryland and Virginia as much as they need the District - for workers or jobs, for food or drink, for places to gather and places to spread out. They are symbiotic, and a name like the DMV reflects that in a snappy shorthand that just feels cooler than other regional monikers (among them my current home in the "Delaware Valley," with Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs - here, nicknames render the city itself completely irrelevant.)

Besides, look at the Twitter feed for #dmv. After a single day, TBD's survey has completely disappeared under an avalanche of callouts to Howard University and the rapper Wale. It seems like DMV is pretty much a done deal. Especially if it's already being used on WPGC, which is a serious tastemaker. That station was listened to by everyone at my high school - white and black, rich and poor, White Oak and Olney. Everyone.

Long live the #dmv!

why didn't westfield celebrate wheaton plaza's 50th birthday?

This is a sign from Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ. It's one of the largest malls in the country and, having opened in 1957, one of its oldest. (The first mall on the East Coast was the now-demolished Harundale Mall in Glen Burnie, dontcha know.) In 2007, its current owner Westfield put up signs around the mall celebrating its 50th anniversary. Westfield's website even boasts of Garden State Plaza's "prestigious history."

Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza opened in 1959, meaning it turned 50 years old last year. Where was its sign? Why didn't Westfield try to commemorate that mall's history? Shopping malls may seem like an emblem of consumerism and suburban homogeneity, but after a half-century, they're historical landmarks. Three generations of Montgomery County residents have shopped at Wheaton Plaza, which has become a part of our local culture and history, even if you most of the mall's 1950's-era features have been covered up or removed altogether. A savvy mall owner like Westfield should have taken advantage of their property's history, if only for a marketing campaign.

In the meantime, fan of Wheaton Plaza "Guinness Steve" started a Facebook group for sharing "stories and memories and most importantly, photos" of the mall's history.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"neighborhood greenways" could eliminate need for library bridge

Many people who support the proposed Silver Spring Library bridge (which guest blogger Alex Hutchinson wrote about last week) say it's necessary for families with children who, they say, absolutely must drive and park at the library. Do they have to drive to the library, or is it that road conditions make it so unattractive to walk or bike there?

Portland's Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

In Portland, the city's working on a new network of "neighborhood greenways, or streets in residential areas where intense traffic calming makes it not only safe but fun to walk or bike. Looking at parents riding with their kids in the video, I thought: This looks like Silver Spring. Not only that, but measures like this could get families biking to the new library safely and comfortably.

Streets in and around downtown Silver Spring are congested. It's a given that there are often too many cars to fit the existing road network, and that's even after we've converted many of our main streets, like Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road and 16th Street, to major through-routes, adding lanes, taking away on-street parking and slimming down sidewalks. Until someone suggests eliminating sidewalks altogether, or running a highway through downtown Silver Spring (which, mind you, actually did happen in the 1960's), there is a limit to how many more cars we can accommodate here.

Thus, making it easier to drive and park at the library via a new elevated bridge is probably a bad idea in the long term, because it will only bring more cars to downtown Silver Spring. The solution is to make it easier to get around in other ways. Nowhere does it say that a mom and two kids have to have a car to visit the library, or that they're somehow unable to cross a street if it's made safe to do so. (Seriously, do we want families living in Woodside or East Silver Spring, within a mile of downtown, feeling like they have to drive there?) And if we can create environments where they can get around safely without a car, they will. That means a better downtown for everyone - no matter how they travel.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

what's up the pike: end of an era?

You've probably noticed that we haven't done a "what's up the pike" round-up in a few weeks. If there's anything I've become increasingly bad at, it's keeping up with the e-mails that flood into the JUTP inbox. If you've sent me an e-mail that I haven't responded to, please forgive me!


- You've probably already seen the Post's write-up of friend of JUTP/blogger/clothier Lydia Sullivan of Snoburbia. Check out Lydia's recap of the experience - along with talk of those fancy $300 door handles - on her blog.

- Apparently, people in the suburbs can't handle spicy food, says City Paper food critic Tim Carman. (He is aware that the suburbs lay claim to he area's best ethnic food, right?)

- The Blair Mansion Restaurant hosts Noel Paul Stookey (I believe he's the "Paul" in Peter, Paul & Mary) for "an intimate dinner show" next Sunday, November 21 at 5:30pm. The Mansion's located at Georgia and Eastern avenues in Silver Spring. For tickets and more information, check out the Blair Mansion's website.

- The annual Montgomery County Thanksgiving Parade returns to downtown Silver Spring on Saturday, November 20 at 9:30am. I'm sure you know the rest. For more information, visit Silver Spring's website.

And last, but not least:

- A Potomac man robbing a house in Silver Spring in April. Ironic, isn't it?

- Historian for Hire has a new website!

Friday, November 5, 2010

guest blog: let's not cross that bridge when we get to it

The following comes to us from Takoma Park native Alex Hutchinson, an intern at the Planning Department who won their Pecha Kucha contest last month. When he's not applying to graduate schools in Urban Planning you can find him teaching English as a second language, riding his bike on the Capital Crescent Trail, experimenting and failing with the Ride-On bus system or making loud music. Alex became interested in the field of planning after learning about the Curitiba Brazil’s Bus Rapid Transit System. If you have any questions or bones to pick please contact him at alexanderehutchinson at gmail dot com.

Whether it’s the Boundary Bridge that straddles Rock Creek right outside of Silver Spring, or the Cabin John Bridge, nestled into Glen Echo, I love the bridges our region boasts. I’m no gephyrophobiac, bridges don’t scare me one bit. But, there is one bridge that makes me uneasy - and no, it’s not the Tacoma Narrows - it's the proposed downtown Silver Spring Library bridge. Despite the fact the Planning Board voted 8-1 against the bridge, it has once again become part of our local discourse. Here’s why I hope this bridge wobbles into oblivion.

Silver Spring Library - Proposed Pedestrian Bridge
The proposed library bridge at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street.

It’s been argued that the proposed bridge is the best and most economic way of achieving accessibility for all. Silver Spring already has a skywalk: the bridge which connects the Ellsworth Drive parking garage to City Place Mall. This post isn’t about the untapped potential of City Place, but it’s worth remembering that the skywalk never transformed City Place into the attraction of Silver Spring it was intended to be.

Skywalks, the ill-conceived circulators dreamed in an era of automobile-centric planning aren't necessary in the paradigm of today. In the Board’s discussion, planners made the case that the structure would divert traffic from the active sidewalks and, street level retail that have come to define Downtown Silver Spring.

The bridge would also encourage library users to drive, avoiding the highlights of Silver Spring altogether. Skywalks mainly serve drivers who, at some point, leave their cars to become pedestrians. A problem associated with skywalks is the reluctance of pedestrians to use their circuitous routes and instead brave a busy road in turn running the risk of being struck by a vehicle. Less able pedestrians—wheelchairs, mothers with strollers, the elderly –similarly might opt to cross the road instead of taking the elevator up to the third floor of the parking garage. While the library intersection isn’t a tranquil one-lane country road removing pedestrians from the equation altogether is heading in the wrong direction.

Paul Holland, of the Washington Area Wheelchair Society, is glad accessibility is being emphasized. In a recent conversation, he thought the bridge wasn’t the only option to improve accessibility for those with limited mobility. In fact, pedestrian bridges can be difficult to climb depending on the grade of the incline. He pointed out that the steep angle of Montgomery College’s pedestrian bridge can be strenuous for non-motorized wheelchair users.

According to Holland, the most important corrections for safe intersections are sight lines, gradients, smooth surface transitions from curb to street, light-timing, and driver behavior. The $750,000 estimated cost of the bridge could be more resourcefully spent in some of these problem areas. With just $120,000, affordable alternatives could turn the intersection into something that would be accessible for everyone.

The Barnes Dance at 7th & H in Chinatown. Video courtesy of the District Department of Transportation.

A pedestrian bridge might look good on paper, but one alternative solution might be a Barnes Dance intersection, like the one that opened at 7th and H streets NW in D.C.'s Chinatown earlier this year. These intersections use three traffic signal phases. In one, pedestrians cross in all directions, including diagonally. The other two let traffic go in one of the two directions, but prohibit pedestrians from crossing parallel to the traffic. However not all intersections are created equal, and with the future Purple Line running through this area, the intersection might be too complex for this alternative solution. In addition, teaching drivers to behave in these unaccustomed settings is easier said than done. Pedestrians and traffic officials in the district are already reporting difficulty in enforcing drivers to obey no turn on red signs.

One only has to walk around the relocated Fenton Street Market at Veterans Plaza to see the effect of a pedestrian friendly environment: streets and sidewalks are brimming with artists, merchants, retail, and as a result everyone is more connected to the growing exceptional architecture Silver Spring has to offer. Let’s improve on the Civic Building’s success and learn from the mistakes of City Place.

As always: If you've got something to say about East County, say it here! Leave a comment or send your thoughts to justupthepike at gmail dot com.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

before langley park was langley park

langley park shopping center drawing, 1954

I'm currently writing a paper about the history of shopping centers before the rise of the shopping mall (to complement the paper I wrote about history of shopping malls three years ago). One of the major experts on this topic is George Washington University professor Richard Longstreth, who uses this drawing of a proposed shopping center in 1954 for his article "The Diffusion of the Community Shopping Center Concept During the Interwar Decades."

Look familiar? That's the Langley Park Shopping Center, located at New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard, while on the drawing board. At the time, Langley Park was a new, if modest, neighborhood at what was still the edge of suburban Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The shopping center was designed by architects Abbott, Merkt & Company, then a nationally-renowned firm in the field of shopping center design.

Here's a bird's-eye view of the shopping center today from Bing Maps:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

maryland's got that purple pallor (still)

Four years ago, I called former Governor Ehrlich's office to congratulate him on losing. Much as I would like to do it again, I'd rather celebrate the legacy of his single (and now only) term in office. Not the InterCounty Connector, of course - the Purple Line, which got pretty roughed up by Ehrlich but is still muddling on under Governor O'Malley.

Here's the video I made for Purple Line NOW!'s fundraiser back in March, featuring a slate of elected officials from Montgomery and Prince George's counties who all support the project - and, thankfully, were re-elected (or in the case of Karen Montgomery, promoted) yesterday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

fun at the arcade

It's nice to encourage the creation of fun, walkable urban places, but it's not always fun to walk around when it's really hot or really cold or raining outside. There's one thing the mall will always have over downtown, and that's a climate-controlled environment. But urban places can strike a nice compromise by creating arcades, or covered sidewalks.

Arcade, Plaza del MercadoMost strip shopping centers have arcades, like this one at Plaza del Mercado in Layhill. This is nice: you can walk here and be sheltered from the sun, rain or snow. But you can't really occupy this space. There are no benches or tables for sitting or eating, and like most shopping centers, loitering is generally discouraged.

Twin Towers ArcadeThis is the arcade under the Twin Towers Apartments at Georgia Avenue and Fidler Lane in downtown Silver Spring. It's a pretty miserable space, barely wide enough to walk through and very dark. Note that it's also elevated above the sidewalk, meaning that passersby can't really look in any of the shop windows (are there even still shops here anymore?)

Traditionally, an arcade would cover the entire sidewalk, not just a portion of it, as it's meant to be a public space. Why doesn't it here? Perhaps zoning, or the Department of Public Works - fearful that the building would prevent them from widening Georgia Avenue in the future (God forbid) prevented any portion of the building from extending over the property line.

Arcade, East Montgomery AvenueThis arcade is along East Montgomery Avenue in Rockville. The building behind it houses several shops and restaurants and the Regal 16 Cinemas and, as a result, the space has lots of life and activity. It also covers the entire sidewalk, creating a sort of long, outdoor room. There's space for tables and chairs, for benches, with ample room left over for walking and window-shopping.

Long before Rockville Town Square opened, this arcade became a major hangout for local kids and remains so today. The enclosure not only provides shelter from the elements, but it creates a nice, intimate space for interaction. We'd do well to create more arcades like it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"in the beginning, there was miracle whip, one kind of cheese, and fish came in sticks"

Pho Comida Tipica

Earlier this year, I met with a group of community members who were very concerned about the still-ongoing Kensington Sector Plan. The average age of the ten or so people there was well over 50, and they were uniformly white. They all lived in Kensington, except for one woman who lived in neighboring Capitol View Park - "We have a Silver Spring address, but we're really more like Kensington," she insisted.

Though many of them lived a few minutes' drive from downtown Wheaton, none of them could admit to having been there in years. "There's nothing to eat there," one lamented. "It's too crime-ridden and multi-ethnic," another added.

Of course, anyone with the sense of sight or smell can tell there are lots of restaurants in Wheaton. Most of them, perhaps with the exception of the new Wendy's at Westfield Wheaton Wheaton Plaza, do not serve American food. But for many people in Montgomery County, who grew up eating Wonder Bread and meatloaf, the dining options in Wheaton may seem strange, even scary.

This video from Kids in the Hall, one of my favorite sketch-comedy shows, reminded me of that mindset. Even though it's nearly twenty years old, it's still reflective of how some people in Montgomery County think of food and, by extension, their neighbors who don't look like them.