Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Next Generation Speaks About 20-Minute Neighborhoods

On a recent field trip to Washington, DC, two of our interns had an opportunity to experience 20-minute neighborhoods in action. Here they share their thoughts about what they learned and how it can apply to Baltimore.

Innovative Bike Infrastructure in Washington D.C.
Mason Campbell, TND Planning Group Intern

Be it Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, David Byrne’s book Bicycle Diaries, $4.00/gal gas, or maybe the nationwide consciousness about sustainability, it is plain to see that bicycle culture here in America is on the rise. This increased popularity is a great thing, considering Baltimore is going to need a lot more people choosing cycling if it wants to create a network of 20 minute neighborhoods. However, Baltimore also has the responsibility to accommodate this demand on its network of roads which are currently better suited for the Grand Prix than for a commuting cyclist. To see new forms of infrastructure which allow cars, bikes, and pedestrians to safely co-exist, we need look no further than Washington D.C.

Often referred to as “cycle tracks”, these new protected bike lanes offer various types of physical separation from automobiles. One of the new cycle tracks (first installed on 15th Street, NW  in 2009 as a one way “contra-flow” facility, but recently converted to two-way) physically separates cyclists from traffic by placing the bike lane between the curb and a lane of parked cars. The left vehicle lane is marked LEFT TURN YIELD TO BIKE PEDS at intersections to increase driver awareness of cyclists. This type of cycle track adds an immense amount of physical as well as perceived safety to a bike rider. Recent studies have shown a dramatic decrease in traffic accidents involving cyclists and an overall reduction in vehicle speeds along 15th Street, NW. All this comes to the District at the cost of paint, signage, and plastic bollards.

The second type of cycle track was implemented last year on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is located in the median, where one would expect to see a double yellow line. While there is no lane of parked cars here, plastic flex-post bollards and 2-foot painted buffers separate cyclists from traffic. Being situated in the median provides ease to cyclists turning left because they avoid crossing two directions of traffic.
These types of cycle tracks provide attractive bike infrastructure that is relatively inexpensive to implement and easy to experiment with, in hopes of increasing bike ridership.

In addition to a growing network of innovative bike lanes, D.C. also boasts the Capital Bikeshare Program. For an annual or daily membership fee anyone can rent one of 1100 bikes and return it to one of 110 stations around the District. Not only does this provide accessibility to non-bike owners but it provides a convenient alternative to driving a car without having to plan one’s day around safely storing a bike. 

From cycle tracks to bike-sharing, The District is recognizing its growing two wheeled population. It is continuing to designate space for encouraging cycling while improving safety, equitability, and convenience for riders. With even more stations being built, it appears that D.C.’s bike accommodation has also acted as a promotion, with more people choosing cycling every day. 

Using D.C. as a model, Baltimore can foster it’s cycling community by making similar improvements. Baltimore City has recently started investigating the feasibility of implementing cycle tracks and a bike-sharing program, and it would be great to see those things move forward in the near future, Hopefully this trend will continue and other municipalities in the Baltimore region will begin taking similar steps to putting us on a path toward a sustainable transportation future.

Discovering Livable Communities
by Jesus Cuellar, TND Planning Group Intern

Livable communities don’t just happen. Stakeholders must be vested in their communities to ensure a sustainable environment for generations to come. What is more, special attention must be given to the development of a public realm that provides cohesiveness and creates an environment that is healthy, welcoming, diverse, and accessible. Having recently visited Columbia Heights in Washington, DC, I was able to experience firsthand a community that has undergone a gradual transformation to become a destination with a distinguished sense of place.

Despite the threatening weather, there was a reason to be out and about in Columbia Heights. The availability, proximity and mix of uses afforded an opportunity to become actively engaged. Storefronts located near wide sidewalks distracted pedestrians and created a human scale that was intimate. Furthermore, the absence of expansive parking lots and wide roads encouraged individuals to move about freely without the necessity of a car.

Upon exiting the Columbia Heights Metro Station, I was impressed by the quantity and diversity of people. Not only was there a mix between age groups and ethnicities, but there was also a variety of activities taking place. Most people were walking, while others were jogging, riding bicycles, waiting for the bus and sitting. While not saturated with people, the surroundings provided sufficient stimulus to keep your eyes wandering.

A few steps away from the bustling plaza we encountered the densely packed residential homes that existed prior to the area’s transformation. The seamless connection between the community’s past and the current retail options that surround the main plaza has contributed to its success. Residents develop a sense of ownership to convenient services centered in their community and within waking distance.

Making our way towards the main plaza, we encountered people interacting with each other and the built environment. People shopped. They walked into residential complexes. They read books. They laughed without restraint. They ate food and enjoyed coffee. They converted the concrete sidewalks and brick buildings into a breathing and living space.

As we rented a bicycle near the main plaza to explore other areas of Washington DC, I remained distracted with the liveliness of Columbia Heights, but I was also intrigued with what it could become and what other cities like Baltimore could learn from it. Columbia Heights is a destination for many, but stakeholders cannot stop there. Stakeholders must adapt to future changes to aid in the creation of sustainable communities that support diversity, promote accessibility and foster growth. 

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