Archive for December, 2012

The area around White Flint Metro station in Montgomery County, Maryland, is a sea of strip malls and parking lots. If you check out White Flint on Walkscore, it gets a respectable 86 (out of 100) rating for walkability. But that still leaves a lot to be desired. One of my pet peeves as a pedestrian in White Flint is trying to get from the sidewalk to the store. Invariably, the sidewalk ends at the parking lot entrance, and I’m left to wonder my way through the parking lot in order to get to my destination.

Case in point: White Flint Plaza is a strip mall with a supermarket, a fitness gym, a pet store, a home goods store, among other shops. There’s a sidewalk that takes me to the main parking entrance to White Flint Plaza, but then I’m on my own. At the entrance, the sidewalk suddenly stops, sending a message that drivers are the only ones welcome beyond this point.


As a pedestrian trying to walk into White Flint Plaza, I’m left with two not very pleasant options. I could walk on the road next to the cars and hope that the drivers can see me despite the blind turn.


My other option is climb a steep hill that takes me into one of the parking lots. I inevitably go with this option, as it allows me to bypass the busy main entrance, but it means I still need to be on the lookout for cars getting into and leaving their parking spaces.


Which takes me to the point of this post. Parking lots need sidewalks too. Even people who drive still need to get out of their cars to get inside the store. In Montgomery County, 22% of accidents involving pedestrians take place in parking lots, according to Montgomery County government data. Requiring parking lots to have sidewalks would go a long way to improve pedestrian safety.


I’ve heard that Rockville Pike– a road that cuts through Montgomery County, Maryland– is the largest commercial corridor on the East Coast. Within the stretch of a few miles, you can find a large shopping mall, Target, The Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond, Toys R Us, Whole Foods Market, Fresh Market, multiple CVS pharmacies, Petco, ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, countless fast food restaurants, nail salons, banks, car washes, dry cleaners, furniture shops, and more.


In theory, most of these destinations are accessible to pedestrians, as both sides of Rockville Pike are lined with sidewalks. In practice, walking to any of these places is a challenge. There are a number of reasons why. Blocks are extremely long, so opportunities to cross the street are few and far between. There are six or more lanes of traffic, and the crosswalks are not always well marked, so it feels unsafe to cross the street. The sidewalks are littered with curb cuts that lead to surface parking in front of the stores, and this forces pedestrians to be continously on the lookout for approaching cars. And, as the picture above shows, there are no sidewalk buffers along most of Rockville Pike; the pedestrian walks directly next to the vehicles. Should a car veer off the road, there are no trees or street furniture that can act as a buffer between the vehicle and the pedestrian. The result is that very few people walk along Rockville Pike, because the sidewalks are neither safe nor convenient.

There is reason for hope. One block of sidewalk along Rockville Pike was recently renovated, as part of a mixed-use (residential/commercial) redevelopment project. Walking along this block is like finding an oasis in the desert. The benches, the vegetated buffer, the stores that front the sidewalk, all of it combines to make walking a safe and enjoyable experience. Future planned redevelopment along Rockville Pike should bring a vast improvement of additional miles of sidewalk.


My next several posts will feature sidewalks located within walking distance of White Flint Metro station in Montgomery County, Maryland. Today’s feature is the sidewalk that went on a diet. This sidewalk is located on a side entrance to White Flint Mall, about three blocks from the metro. I’m not sure how the shopping mall developer got away with building such a thin sidewalk. I doubt it meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, which call for a minimum sidewalk width of 32 inches (0.815 meters) to allow for wheelchair access. (As an aside, the Federal Highway Administration has a helpful illustrated guide to designing accessible sidewalks.)


The main entrance to the mall is also not very pedestrian-friendly. If you are approaching the mall on foot, your options are to walk on the side of the road next to the cars, or cut through the parking lot (there is a yellow-striped zone for pedestrians, but it offers no physical protection from the cars parking nearby).

The sweet justice is that most of White Flint Mall is slated to be razed and redeveloped as a mixed use community.