“We want this to be a walkable corridor,” he says. “We want mixed uses. It’s more vibrant. It’s friendly.”
That’s also at the heart of the plan for Tysons. And while some critics have raised doubts about how walkable the area will become, Leinberger is optimistic. “Rome was not built in a day,” he says.
He and other experts are encouraged by the plans to open four new Metro stations. Bike lanes are being built. Street parking, which acts as buffer to pedestrians, will also be included. And retail is being built to the sidewalk. It’s more pedestrian-friendly to walk past buildings than parking lots.
In the end, Tysons property owners, including nearby residents, embraced higher-density mixed uses, says Leinberger: “They realized, ‘We have to urbanize to get back into the game.’ ”
Walkability is also seen as the key to the projects around the White Flint Metro and in Bethesda, says Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty Investment Trust, which developed Bethesda Row and is developing several projects along Rockville Pike, including Pike and Rose, a 24-acre, transit-oriented development at White Flint’s Metro station.
The formula of the Rockville-based developer’s strategy is based on how far people will walk: about half a mile (a 10-minute walk) to offices and Metro, and a quarter of a mile (about a five-minute-walk) to daily destinations such as grocery and drug stores. The company builds accordingly.
But it’s not just about distance. Success depends on how appealing a walking environment is — whether there are trees and short blocks, for example — Goldman and other experts agree. If traffic is whipping past, if the sidewalks are adjacent to empty parking lots (or nonexistent), people won’t walk, they say.
Take Dan Hoffman, a government project manager, who could walk from his Randolph Hills neighborhood to the White Flint Metro station in 20 minutes but doesn’t because of physical obstacles (a fence) and traffic.
When the projects are complete, says Hoffman, chairman of the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee, “Our neighborhood will be able to walk to dining, shopping, offices.”
And the walk to the Metro will become much safer and more appealing, Hoffman says.
With its grid of streets and moderate-size blocks, the District has always been inherently walkable. But, says Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning, “We haven’t always had so many places to walk to.
“We have more convenience retail,” she says. “More and more, people can meet their daily needs in their neighborhoods.”
From the Safeway being rebuilt in Petworth to new businesses in Columbia Heights, walkable amenities are being added in neighborhoods across the District, says Tregoning.
“We’re lucky that we have so many walkable neighborhoods,” Tregoning says. “I think a single indicator of a successful city is its walkability.”
Laura Barnhardt Cech is a freelance writer.