Read: Urban Land Institute’s “Shifting Suburbs” and What It Means for Fairfax County
Shifting Suburbs: Reinventing Infrastructure for Compact Development, that examines the challenges of transforming low-density suburban areas into more compact, transit-oriented, mixed-use developments. The ULI report looks at rebuilding existing suburban infrastructure (primarily transportation infrastructure) in order to support more compact development. Over the next 30 years, the U.S. is expected to grow by 90 million people. The majority of that growth is expected to occur outside urban cores. Many young workers are choosing to live in more urban places with multiple transportation options, like walking, biking, and transit. In order to become competitive, some suburban communities want to be less car-dominated and more walkable and bikeable. Different types of suburban development lend themselves to different redevelopment strategies. Included in the ULI report are models of suburban mall retrofits, suburban transit-oriented development, suburban arterials or commercial corridors, wholesale or large-scale suburban transformation, and suburban town centers. All are present in Fairfax County—respectively, Springfield Mall; Merrifield; Routes 1, 7, and 50; Tysons; and Reston Town Center and Merrifield. Retrofitting suburban arterials such as Routes 1, 7, 50, and 123 is a major challenge. Such roads are often traffic-clogged and serviced only by infrequent and slow-moving bus service. Because of outdated zoning regulations, the only development that can occur is located low-density retail and commercial businesses immediately adjacent to the road. High-capacity highways like the Beltway, I-66, I-95, and the Dulles Toll Road also create barriers to dense development. Redevelopment needs to occur while being sensitive to the concerns of residents in nearby residential neighborhoods, or it won’t happen. The Ballston corridor is an example of high-density development existing near low-density residential development. Fortunately, there are considerable transit connections to these neighborhoods. But there are no easy solutions to reorganizing inner-ring suburbs for an expanding population. Changing a culture and landscape dependant on cars for mobility is a tremendous challenge. There is also a risk of creating islands of mixed-use communities in a sea of sprawl, which can only be accessed by wide, dangerous roads. Eight examples of suburban redevelopment are documented in the ULI report, including White Flint/Rockville Pike in Montgomery County. Here are some takeaways from reading about it and other case studies:The Urban Land Institute recently published a new report,
- There is a significant last mile problem in trying to connect low-density suburban sprawl with mixed-use development centers. Unless walkable and bikeable transit-oriented suburban developments are connected to surrounding low-density areas by transit and safe, convenient, non-motor options, people will continue to drive for most local trips.
- The importance of bicycling as a way to overcome the last mile problem is not discussed in the report. Bicycles can be a viable solution for accessing new developments from areas within 2-3 miles. ULI’s report treats cycling as an afterthought, such as when it describes a development as bike-friendly there are 35 bike racks. In sum, bicycling is briefly mentioned as a way to connect to transit but not as a viable mode in and of itself.
- One advantage to wide, suburban arterials is that there is room to add options other than moving cars, like dedicated bus and bike lanes, physically separated cycletracks, bus rapid transit lanes, and streetcars.