Tag Archives: pedestrians

Local planning

East Campus is Still a Good Idea

American University’s campus plan goes before the Zoning Commission on June 9th. It’s imperfect, but the plan still deserves support.

Last May, I wrote in support of the plan to build a residential complex across Nebraska Avenue from AU’s main campus at Ward Circle. Over that time, the design has changed significantly. In response to overarching objections raised by some neighbors, the design has taken on less of an urban character than it originally had, which reduces its potential. Nonetheless, with architectural alterations, it will be one of the most important developments in Ward 3.

As part of a larger strategy for growth and consolidation of its school, American will replace a parking lot with six buildings of two to six stories. 590 beds, a bookstore, admissions offices, classrooms, administrative spaces, as well as some retail. The benefits for AU have been argued over many times; I’ll let AU speak for itself. But the benefits of the expansion to the neighborhood and the city are public business.

The new facilities will bring students out of neighborhoods. Currently, AU undergrads are spread out, with roughly 2,000 of 6,000 living off-campus. Some of those students do so by choice, but AU only has room to house 67% of its students. Many juniors and seniors have to look to the neighborhood for a place to live. The East Campus would pull students from the neighborhood and the Tenley Campus. Better residential facilities would mean fewer students spread out in the neighborhood, fewer noise disruptions, and less of a demand for vehicular commuting.

That reduction in traffic is no small thing. The new facilities adjacent to the central campus mean fewer trips for students and faculty alike. AU is also reducing the total number of parking spaces on campus, and has promised to expand its existing transportation demand management program. Even so, AU’s transportation study found that its users

The rest of the vehicles are commuters passing through the ward circle area. The three avenues in the area, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Massachusetts currently serve primarily as automobile routes. The new buildings offer the potential to reorient the circle for those who live and work in the area.

Rather than gnarling traffic, as opponents have insisted, the slight uptick in pedestrian activity caused by the new buildings will force drivers to pay better attention to their presence on this urban street. The potential for more stoplights and a redesigned circle opens the opportunity to reduce speeds and dangerous behavior, likewise making the area safer for residents of all ages.

Through commercial frontage and foot traffic, Nebraska Avenue would become a pleasant place for locals to enjoy. Leaving the interior of the campus for students, a commercial perimeter would become another node in the geography of Upper Northwest. It would never become as dense and vibrant as Bethesda, let alone Tenleytown, but as a tertiary urban center, it can merge into the neighborhood.

Finally, the scheme laid out in the university’s plan continues to facilitate the economic activity of American and its affiliates, estimated at $415 million,. Although academic institutions do not pay taxes for noncommercial properties, the Examiner reported last week that students and faculty bring money and talent to the area when they come to the region’s universities. By building on its land efficiently, AU will be making an optimal contribution to the city and enlivening the streetscape through the benefits of density.

There are potential negatives, which AU needs to mitigate. However, in their effort to compromise on objections, AU has layered the new buildings in greenery and minimized certain urban features, compromising potential, while still not satisfying opponents’ demands.

For example, a 40′ buffer of greenery adjacent to Westover Place feathers the campus into the neighborhood, but it’s not good on all four sides. Adding a similar barrier of impenetrable greenery along Nebraska Avenue will separate the campus and retail from the sidewalk. It requires creating a second, separated walkway that will reduce the very urban characteristic of unplanned interactions. It is no small leap to see this buffer as segregating the school from the city.

Worsening the Nebraska Avenue elevation, the most recent plans call for a roadway to be punched through building #1 to the interior campus. A roadway in that place would disrupt the crucial urban space at the sidewalk. Instead, the plans should return to the right-in, right-out entrance on Massachusetts Avenue presented in the March 18th Final Plan. This is similar to the one at Westover Place, the Berkshire, and other nearby driveways.

At the least, the university could build on their plans for the Mary Graydon Tunnel and design the proposed road as a woonerf, prioritizing pedestrians in a roadway that runs through what is the students’ front yard.

Likewise, AU should not be advocating for a new actuated signal on Nebraska Avenue. Instead, it should build timed signals that guarantee AU students the opportunity to cross as frequently and in rhythm with the city’s traffic. A new stoplight, combined with the recommended changes to Ward Circle, would make the area safer than any phystical barrier by limiting the incentive to jaywalk. If a physical deterrent is necessary, planters between the street and the sidewalk should be sufficient, as at Bethesda Row.

Finally, the project should serve as a catalyst for alternative transportation in the area. Bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue would mean better safety and better quality of life for students and neighbors alike. On campus, the administration already promotes a progressive Transport Demand Management plan, with dedicated ZipCar spaces, Capitol Bikeshare, carpooling assistance, shuttles, and SmartBenefits. But without adequate facilities, the full benefits of cycling and bus transit will not be realized.

Smart Growth refers to planning that is appropriate not only at the local level, but across multiple scales: architectural, local, metropolitan, and regional. AU’s expansion plan, which would consolidate students, tame traffic, and create a new node of community, works at the larger three scales. Where it fails is in the way that it addresses the street and human scale, compromising enormous potential for solutions that will please no one and will require remediation in the future.

The Zoning commission should endorse AU’s 2011 Campus Plan with alterations at the architectural scale.

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091226: Just Activity

just localites

Just because I love making this page load slowly – and because I can’t help but post anything I crank out of my computer, this is a map of pure pedestrian activity, I’ve shown here.  It’s a rather aesthetic image, I think. Below the fold is the same image against all pedestrian spaces, to make it clear where people actually are.

read more »

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091213: Transit / Locality

Okay, so in the last post, I mentioned that density seemed to form around destinations and where zoning permitted it. So, it’s worth looking at the transit-accessibility of each of the different localities. Obviously, transit planning, zoning, economics, architectural form and residents all affect each other as a town grows, but mapping is the process eliminating information to make some pattern legible.

So the relation to transit accessibility can offer insights into what makes each place work.

general spreads-transpo

I think you can see that only schools really form places where there is very limited transportation. Otherwise, it’s a significant part of making any location successful. Take a look at the same pattern with the street activity.

read more »

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091207: Retail

Before getting to a relatively objective judgement of where neighborhoods are centered, it’s worth drawing out where the commercial spaces are. We know that street retail is a big draw for getting people onto the streets. Whether this is materialistic or not, shops and restaurants do get people out of their homes and onto the streets if they are oriented toward sidewalks. Even when there aren’t that many people on the sidewalks or in stores, the rhythm of the buildings and the people watching from within the buildings enliven and secure neighborhoods. With the big awning signs, stores often also engage drivers and people on the far side of a street, adding another layer to the community structure. So, take a look at that here, with enlivened sidewalks in red, and other enlivened spaces in a paler shade.

street retail

It’s also a defining characteristic of an area’s architecture and culture. Looking at this area, again, you can see nodes and corridors arising from the shapes, not consistent, and lacking in almost any east-west traffic. It also reminds you that the vast majority of the area is housing only, even many of the apartment buildings.

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091028: Driver’s Perception

driver-buildings

In the last two updates, I showed that the disconnect between physical and social boundaries complicates any analysis of the spatial architecture of the Tenleytown-Tobago area. Of course, it’s worth looking at the vehicular perception of space.   read more »

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 091021: Pedestrian’s Perception

I wrote in the last update that any analysis of the spatial relationships of a suburban-style city needs to consider the legal rules and social sentiments that coexist with physical boundaries. Of course the laws vary based on your “mode” of travel, with pedestrians getting a bit of leeway in terms of “travel.”

But let’s do pedestrians. How do they interact with space? read more »

Reno Park Studies Uncategorized

Reno Park Update 091005B: Zoning

So what is the relationship between zoning and buildings? (Again colors are off!)

zoning-building-forms

read more »

Architecture planning

Introducing the boozy walkabout

I want to talk about my favorite way to explore and study a city. Let me be upfront with you. All I’m really going to say in this post is “get drunk and walk around.”

More specifically, get together a group of friends, conceal-carry a tasty alcoholic drink, and start walking down the street. In the dark and with diminished inhibitions, a cadre of walkers can become closer to the city than at any other time. When empty and dim, even the canyons of Midtown can seem intimate, as the view from a mountain can be both accessible and impossibly vast. Add friends and a moderate amount of booze, and it becomes a kind of private party on the move, with guests arriving as the group passes them.

Now, the best way to analyze a city is simply to walk around in it; just to see, in an uncritical way, the functioning of an urban environment. This kind of study is called a “transect,” which is not exactly Duany and Plater-Zyberk’s Transect zoning system, but it is the underlying idea. Taken from ecology, a transect is an activity where the participants examine conditions along an unbroken line, basically creating a section of a lake, or a rainforest, or a city. The technique has shown success because it enables a holistic understanding of a city, exploring the weave of the so-called urban fabric.

Best, but not the most fun. There are two problems with an academic transect: It is, um, academic. Walking around to observe human-building interaction has consistently proven to be one of the least enticing activities to my friends. On a more personal level, expectations of what sort of urban environments work can interfere with observation. Reason and language get in the way of simple experience. Disarming guarded faculties is critical to being fair and free – and friends are a great remedy for crotchety ol’ critics.

b-walkabout
Preferrred, 3-step alternative.

The solution, then, is to turn the transect into a social event. Everyone I know who’s tried a boozy walkabout has had a good time – with repeat customers. Who needs an outdoor café to get that feeling of urbane place? Grabbing a bottle of Coke and mixing in some bourbon not only saves you a stack of cash, it also lets you see more of the city. When the conversation fades you can just take a look around at the beauty and the oddities that surround you, and likewise you can tune it out with conversation.

Here’s a map of some recent walkabouts.

View Boozy Walkbouts in a larger map

The evening is the best time for this kind of fun. Evening into night, where you begin in the remnants of the workday, pass by diners on the street, and then you hit peak inebriation at the same time as nightlife gets ebullient, before finally reemerging into consciousness in the cool and sleepy streets. In this time, you see age groups come and go in turn, old, young, and youthful. Before heading home, you and your friends have explored a little bit of the city, learned a little bit, but it won’t feel like an expedition.

There are no books, no notes, and no theories weighing you down. You feel the city, both its living and sturdy parts, and you share these feelings with others. There’s community from the common experience. Connections grow, even between those in the group and those who aren’t.

So visit the city, and bring your own party.

Reno Park Project Reno Park Studies

Reno Park Update 090804A: Transit Radii

I’m still working on the buildings and pedestrian maps, but I took a break to chart out the public transportation resources. I’ve included all public transportation resources, but not AU shuttles or the W45/47. Those aren’t accessible to 90% of potential park users, so I’m not interested. So, to start, here’s a route map. Clearly, it gets kind of insane around Tenleytown.

Note: These drawings are in an Adobe CMYK color space, so may look wacky on some computers.

routesmap

So that’s a good beginning. These are obvious facts. Under the fold is an analysis of the walksheds for each stop, station, and line. read more »

Local

North of Tilden: Developments in development

Tenleytown: The armpit of the area, a former bank parking at 4501 Wisconsin Ave, has sprouted scaffolding. Developed by the Pedas Family, the site will become a one-story, 3,677sf retail site, although the developer has not listed a client. The Pedases are better known for their empire based around the Inner Circle cinema, but also for Circle Parking and Circle Management. Physically, their most distinctive building is the Michael Graves-designed International Finance Corporation building at Washington Circle. Always a good improvement to see an empty lot get filled.

Mmmmm... postmodernism.
Mmmmm... postmodernism.

Tenleytown: The Ward 3 Aquatic Center, or the Wilson Pool, as everyone will call it, will have a formal opening, complete with Fenty,  on Monday, August Third, at 10:30 AM. The Hughes group have put together an inoffensive structure, but it supposedly boasts the capability for daylighting, natural ventilation, and water-loss mitigation, earning it a LEED Silver certification. The pool has been desperately needed since the shoddily built predecessor started falling apart at a more rapid rate in 2003.

Hawthorne, Palisades, Green Acres?: Opposition to sidewalks continues in the hinterlands of DC, where DDOT has been adding the badly needed infrastructure. This time, it’s over in Palisades, on Chain Bridge Road and University Terrace. Roger Lewis and Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh went on the Kojo Nnamdi show. Lewis shared some interesting history, but it was Cheh that laid down the law, insisting on sidewalks, but also demanding DDOT involve community members more. The two both agreed that the rational need for a network of sidewalks was a no-brainer. Callers disagreed, for some reason, mostly that “they’re not used” and they’ll “ruin the character of the neighborhood.” The panelists offered reasonable responses to the entitled views of opponents.

However, aside from the Cheh-Lewis lovefest, the two missed some important points, such as the dubious wisdom of low-density, limited-network streets in the middle of the city. One of the callers declared that residing in the area seemed like living in the country, but near the city. That’s just swell, but neither addressed whether having such low density a mere 4 miles from the center of town was a good idea. Also, Nnamdi and Lewis both guiltily admitted to driving on University Terrace routinely. Listen to the conversation, it’s worth some down time.