In May 2006, I was invited to participate in an event called Connections
Springfield. This panel focused on issues surrounding automobiles, mass
transit and pedestrians. The object is to create urban design concepts which
foster public gathering places and places for people to connect; and to
provide financial, economic analysis, and implementation strategies needed
to effectuate connections among the various places of Springfield.
The accompanying documents showed that a major concern is the potential
to redevelop two large tracts of land that will be available in the next few
years: the U.S. Army Fort Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground, and the
General Services Warehouse Complex, both south of Route 644 (Old Keane Mill
As a sidewalks and trails person, I am interested in moving people when
they are out of their cars, and if possible, encouraging persons not to use
their cars in the first place. My conclusion is that building attractive
gathering places and streetscapes is easy, but getting people to walk to
them is going to be tough.
|Exhibit 1: Map of Subject Area
Exhibit 1 is an aerial photograph of the Connections Springfield Study
Area. It is divided into four quadrants:
|The Northwest Quadrant (Area 1) is the Springfield Commercial
Revitalization District. It is the home of Springfield Plaza Shopping
Center, office buildings, several strip malls, hotels and small
|The Northeast Quadrant (Area 2) is dominated by Springfield
Mall and the Franconia-Springfield Transportation Center. It also has a
number of office buildings, strip malls, a new hotel and a new
conference and reception center.|
|The Southeast Quadrant (Area 3) is occupied by the GSA
Warehouse Complex. Further south (and out of the photograph's area) is a
small industrial park.|
|The Southwest Quadrant (Area 4) has the U.S. Army Fort
Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground, an 800-acre tract that is slated by
the Base Area Realignment Committee for redevelopment. Part of the land
will be turned over to Fairfax County for commercial redevelopment,
although an undetermined amount of land will be reserved for new federal
government and military initiatives.|
There are only three major traverses in the area that can be used by
pedestrians and bicyclists. These paths are labeled in Exhibit 1 as A, B.
|Traverse A provides both north-south and east west
communication between the Springfield Commercial Revitalization Area in
Area 1 to Springfield Mall in Area 2. Good sidewalks are present, but no
bike lanes are provided. It is also a long traverse. Walking from
Springfield Mall in Area 2 to the center of the Revitalization District
(The Veterans Bridge at Amherst Avenue and Route 644) takes a half-hour.|
|Traverse B provides a north-south route over the principal
automobile barrier in the area: Route 644 (also known as Old Keene Mill
Road on the west of I-95, and Franconia Road on the east side of I-95).
As you can see, Traverse B provides an effective link for all four
quadrants of the Study Area.|
|Traverse C starts in Area 3 at the Franconia-Springfield
Metro Station, and provides a walking path to the Engineer Proving
Ground in Area 4. Part of the traverse is sidewalk, and part of it is
asphalt trail. Its principal feature is a pedestrian bridge in the area
of the GSA Warehouse Complex that crosses both I-95 and Backlick
Road. This is a very long traverse: it takes 45 minutes to walk from
Franconia-Springfield Transportation Center to the Engineer Proving
Field Check 20 May 2006:
|Photo 1: Traverse A: Commerce Street Bridge, Looking
east. The left side of the road has a salon, a hotel, an Islamic
academy, and the Springfield Interchange Project Office. The right
side of the road has another hotel, and a conference center.
Therefore, in 4/10 of a mile, passersbys pass by just six
|Photo 2: A common problem with sidewalks in the vicinity
of public structures or in areas where business density is light is
that the sidewalks get dirty. The sand you see is the remains of
winter salting operations. This sand can be slippery under bicycle
tires and is quite unpleasant when it is wet.
|Photo 3: When Good Ideas Go Bad. This is a street scene
on Traverse B, Amherst Avenue. The object was to dress up the street
with tree plantings and ornamental lampposts. Unfortunately,
everything intrudes into the walking area. The result is a slalom
run for pedestrians that forces single-file traffic on the sidewalk.
|Photo 4: Traverse C, the Walking Path from
Franconia-Springfield Transportation Center to the Engineer Proving
Ground on Backlick Road. Here is the good news: a very nice meadow
just south of the Franconia-Springfield Parkway. It is full of
critters like deer, woodchucks, beavers, and birds. It attracts
people who like to come and enjoy the nature show.
|Photo 5: Here is the bad news about Traverse C: a large
part of it is isolated and can be scary at night for solitary users.
A close look at Photo 4 reveals special floodlights to illuminate
the path, but those lights do not shine everywhere, such as in this
area just to the west of the meadow.
Building gathering places and walking paths in the Springfield area is
going to be difficult for a number of reasons. The principal reason is
space: walking and gathering is encouraged when distances are short. The
City of Alexandria understands this, and you can see it in the design of
the Patent and Trademark Center in the redeveloped East End. Work,
shopping, transportation, entertainment, and residential usage all exist
in an area that can be traversed in a 20-minute walk. Arlington County
did a spectacular job on Wilson Boulevard, particularly in the Ballston
area. Crystal City is getting the same type of makeover now.
in Springfield, however is characterized by long business frontages. Just
head south on Amherst Avenue, for example, and see how long it takes you to
walk past the Kay Jennings automobile dealership. As shown in Photo 1, a
half-mile hike from Springfield Mall to the corner of Commerce Avenue and
Brandon Street takes you by only six businesses. No matter how beautiful the
streetscape is, people will enjoy it only from their car seat. You have to
give people a reason to walk, and the reason usually is to enjoy the variety
of the things they pass.
First Principle: Get People in the Area
The entire area is surrounded by residential development, but most of it
is low-density single-family homes. There really isn't enough population
around Springfield to support an urban landscape as that you find in
Arlington or Alexandria.
|Short Term: Build high-density parking structures in the
Northwest Quadrant (Area 1).|
|Long Term: Set aside some land for high-density residential,
such as condominium towers.|
Second Principle: Give People Something to Do
The genius of Ballston and Crystal City is that there are lots of things
to do there throughout the week and the weekend. These areas are employment
centers, recreation centers, boutique shopping centers, and entertainment
centers. The best planning thing that was done was to keep the "big-box"
shopping areas in Potomac Yards on Route 1 while encouraging specialty stores to share
space everywhere else. The result is that people park their cards and walk.
The dining and gathering spaces encourage longer visits, and makes Ballston
and Crystal City leisure time destinations.
|Less is More. A lot of small shopping and dining opportunities
in a confined area discourages automobile movement and encourages
walking. Long business frontages encourage people to drive to the
next destination, and sucks people out of the area.|
|Plan for a ten-minute traverse. From wherever the car is parked,
the planned destination area should be no more than a ten minute
walk away. |
Third Principle: Wider Sidewalks Encourage Walking
Photo 3 shows a streetscape run amuck. What started as a double-width
sidewalk (one that allows people to pass each other shoulder-to-shoulder)
turned into a chicane as designers added streetlamps and plantings.
Sidewalks can do a couple of things for you, but they have to be wide ...
about eight to twelve feet wide.
|Use sidewalks as part of a traffic calming plan. Plantings
next to the street cause drivers to relax, too.|
|Make the sidewalks wide. It may cause smaller parking
spaces, but that is why the First Principle calls for
high-density parking structures. Parking near a store should be
limited to taxis, passenger load and drop-off, and package
|Any trail or sidewalk has to feel safe. Pedestrians must be
able to see through or over plantings. Illumination must be
moderated, but there should be no dead spots in the pedestrian's
line of sight.|
Fourth Principle: Keep Up Maintenance
|Photo 2 shows a really dirty sidewalk. Sidewalks and
adjacent areas need to be swept, washed, weeded, mowed, and
repaired regularly. Failing to do so will only put people
back in their cars.|
|Respond to citizen complains about malfunctioning
signals, burnt-out lights, and graffiti immediately.|
|Have a debris management plan that includes not only
pedestrian-generated trash but automobile jetsam such as
hubcaps, tailpipes, and broken glass. |