Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Wishes of WALLY

The WALLY commuter train proposal, between Howell (in Livingston County) and Ann Arbor (in Washtenaw) bubbles up in the news every few weeks. Since it affects the rail line I'm rooting for (Great Lakes Central Railroad), I keep an eye out for those news bubbles floating around out there. Here's one from the Detroit News titled "Livingston not aboard rail project". The gist is that although folks in Livingston County like the idea - sort-of - they aren't willing to budget any money for it. WALLY champion Mike Cicchella, Northfield Township Supervisor, seems optimistic, admitting that the project is slow to get going due to lack of funding (both from Livingston County and Washington DC). But he's wooing bashful investors with promises of real estate booms, increased tax revenue, and similar facts. Facts which are well known to areas that have experienced the benefits of rail transit, but seem to elude the good burghers of Livingston county. Go, Mike! Wake up, Livingston!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bethesda Transit-Oriented Development

Bethesda Maryland has changed a lot since I was a kid there. Between my visit in 1993, to help my parents clean up and sell their house, and my return in 2005, a tremendous amount of growth had occurred. Where all the buildings were one and two stories (except for the six-story Prudential building) we now have the thirty story Metro Center office complex, surrounded by ten and twelve story apartments. In place of ill-maintained parking lots, there are now several parking structures, one with a garden and playground on the roof.

What brought about this change? Bethesda also has the advantage of being a world-renowned center of medical research and practice, including the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health, the National Naval Medical Center, and a large suburban hospital. The Bethesda station on the Washington Metro (subway) system, opened in the mid-1980s, is the obvious stimulant, since the medical facilities had been in place since the 1950s, without being the cause of high-rise development (though they too have grown, of course).

With this inspiration, I focused my visit this year (October, 2007) on the booming development around the transit facility. Was this development planned as "transit-oriented", or was it simply built to take advantage of a financial opportunity? I haven't been able to find out. But the job was certainly done well, and the developers appear to have profited greatly from the taxpayer funded subway system. Here are some pictures with that orientation.


Heavy-rail transit car of the Washtingon Metropolitan Transportation Authority (officially WMTA, but known simply as "Metro").


Aboard the Metro


Woodley Park: Getting off the Metro. This underground station, Woodley Park / Zoo, is practically identical to the one under Bethesda. The station architecture is designed to provide a sense of space along with the strength of arched construction.


Bethesda Station Platform: From the platform, a short escalator leads up to the ticketing level.


Escalator: Emerging from the ticketing level, there is a long escalator to get to the surface.


Waterfall: As you emerge from the escalator tunnel, you are greeted by this waterfall/fountain.


Bus Station: The surface is still one story below the level of Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda's "Main Street". This level is a bus station.


Bus Exit: The bus station provides service to Bethesda and neighboring areas (Rockville, Silver Spring, Friendship Heights, Wheaton, Kensington, Potomac).


Official Bus: How do you like the slogan on this hybrid bus? "The Official Bus of Mother Nature" ;-)


Bus Lobby: Instead of taking the bus, you might be going to work in Metro Center, a complex of at least three high-rise buildings. This is the lobby door that leads to the subway and bus station.


Main Lobby: Main lobby of this Metro Center building.


Elevators: This metro center building is served by four elevators.


Main Lobby Looking Down: Main lobby of this Metro Center building, looking down from the 6th floor.


Metro Center Entrance: Street entrance (Woodmont Ave.) to Metro Center.


Above the Station: Above the bus station area is this plaza.


Plaza: A connecting part of the plaza has shops and sidewalk caf├ęs.


Parking Entrance: across Edgemoor Lane from Metro Center, and connected by a pedestrian bridge, is this parking structure. It is integrally connected with The Metropolitan, an up-scale apartment (well, they all are in this area).


Parking Map 1: The street level has a semi-enclosed circular drive for the apartment building, one of two apartment lobbies, and several shops.


Parking Map 2: The roof level is landscaped with a lawn, playground, shaded promenade, an overlook into the circular drive, a restaurant, and a county service center. It also has access to a pedestrian bridge across Old Georgetown Road.


Parking structure roof: promenade


Parking structure roof: lawn, complete with lovers :-) and child care center.


Parking structure roof: entrance to Montgomery County senior service and child care center.


Fountain: Across the Old Georgetown Road pedestrian bridge is the Woodmont Triangle area, where this fountain is the centerpiece of a plaza enclosed by apartments and businesses.


Boom: The building boom has not slowed down, as this Woodmont Triangle apartment development shows.


Quaint: In the other direction from the Metro station is Hampden Lane. In a quaint 1930s house very much like this, but on the other side of the street, I attended my first preschool (very reluctantly!).


Soon: This close to the Metro station, quaint little houses like this doctor's office, will not be around long.


Replacement: This is what replaced my little preschool. I'm not sorry. Really!


High Density 1: High-density housing like this can more economically replace lower-density houses, and still be quite attractive.


High Density 2: Courtyard in the high-density housing area on Hampden Lane.


Air Rights 1: Another way to integrate rail and high-occupancy building is the Air Rights Center, actually begun in the 1960s. It is one block south of the Metro Station.


Air Rights 2: At the west side of Air Rights Center, you can see where the B&O Railroad's Georgetown Branch ran until the mid-1980s.


Air Rights 3: Under Air Rights. If the railroad had stayed, wouldn't this have made a wonderful enclosed transit station, with shops and restaurants at track level?


Air Rights 4: Street level of the original Air Rights building, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue.


Air Rights 5: On the west side of Wisconsin Avenue, Air Rights developed a cine-mall and shopping center.


Air Rights 6: East side of Air Rights. The B&O rails have been converted to a popular hiking/biking trail.


Coming full circle: Adjacent to the Metro station is this Madonna of the Trail monument, honoring pioneer mothers. (The Hyatt hotel is at the south side of the Metro Center complex.) This is the easternmost in a series of similar Modonna of the Trail monuments erected all across the land, as far as Upland, in San Bernardino County, California. Somehow, it seems appropriate that the struggles of pioneer on-the-road mothers should be memorialized in to this transit-oriented development center, which has the potential of making easier the lives of today's on-the-road soccer moms.