Thursday, May 14, 2009
A Car-free DC?
On Tuesday, the NYT blog posed the question of a "Car Free America". Witold Rybczynski, a professor at Penn, made the claim that only 5 cities in the US would be livable car-free:
"There are only six American downtown districts that are dense enough to support mass transit, which you need if you’re going to be carless: New York City (Midtown and Downtown), Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. That’s it. The breaking-point for density and mass transit feasibility seems to be about 50 persons per acre, which means families living in flats and apartments, rather than single-family houses, even row houses. Not necessarily high-rise apartments, but at least walk-ups."
After reading that I wondered, what about DC?
Washington, DC, for one, is significantly smaller than the other cities mentioned. It is only 68 square miles, about half the size of Philly and about a third of Chicago and San Fran.
Moreover, the DC metro station, in my opinion, is very effective and surprisingly clean. Granted, it does not stop as frequently as the subway does in New York or Philadelphia, but the city, in my opinion, does not need metro stops on every block. I think that the positioning of metro stations and the orientation around them adds some character.
If one factors in metrobus as well, the realm of car-free DC expands much farther because most places in the District can be reached by, at the very most, a metro ride, a bus ride, and then a short walk. Even still, you might even be able to walk the majority of the way there. From Georgetown alone, you can walk out to Maryland if you want to put in the time.
Likewise, it is rather ironic that DC is not listed in the example of these cities when the photo on the blog page is of Clarendon, VA. The Wilson Boulevard corridor of Arlington is a perfect example of smart growth. In other words, it is designed for readily available metro access and readily available stores and restaurants. The block pictured above has a Barnes & Noble, an Apple store, a Pottery Barn, a Starbucks, a Whole Foods, and a number of retail locations all around each other with convenience stores, cafes, and restaurants within two blocks. Juxtapose that with a number of condo complexes, and you have a car-free area, if you ask me. (For other needs, you can even just walk one mile and hit the Ballston Commons Mall, next to another supermarket as well--Harris Teeter.)
Moreover, although the professor mentioned above makes the assertion that a city would need a population density of at least 50 persons per acre, I would question DC's exclusion from this. DC has a relatively large park system (especially Rock Creek) and the National Mall, both of which are obviously residence-free. I wonder what the population density of the built-up part of the city would be.
Maybe I am biased about car-free DC because I love to walk so much. But what do you all think?