On July 22, Reston Association and Supervisor Hudgins co-sponsored a forum on urban design and creating walkable communities.  In case you missed it, an overview prepared by RCA Board member Tammi Petrine and Restonian Doug Pew is below.

Introduction of symposium and opening

Supervisor Catherine
80+ attendees; goal of evening is to improve
walkability in Reston.  About 60 thousand
people live in Reston of which 30 thousand (½ ) live, work and play in
community.  CH is not concerned with
worries about congestion and thinks that there are ways to deal with it.  She thinks that now is opportunity to explore
ideas.  She thinks change is

RA Acting Executive
Director Cate Fulkerson:
Jeff Speck is an advocate of sustainability,
walkability and smart growth.  He
lectures on this around the country and lives currently in Washington, D.C.  He is currently a huge fan of Coalition for
Smarter Growth, a local organization.


Presentation by
Jeff Speck

Speck’s presentation has been placed on the County’s Reston Master Planning
website.  It is available through this link.  It is a large PDF

“Jeff is a city planner and architectural designer
who, through writing, lectures and built work, advocates internationally for
smart growth and sustainable design.” 
(from blurb on symposium program.

In addition, he is author of following

Suburban Nation: the Rise of Sprawl and the
Decline of the American Dream

The Smart Growth

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America,
One Step at a Time

Speck’s opening
  • As he speaks once
    per week around nation, walkability is what people are looking
  • Demographically of
    the 100 million households that will be formed in the next 25 years only 12% of
    families will have children and will look for a big house, a big yard and
    schools. The biggest market will be young people pre-children and baby boomers
    that are looking for a retirement lifestyle.
  • New Urbanism: is
    defined by pedestrian culture.
  • He works with both
    existing communities such as South Beach in Florida and new communities such as
    Kentlands in Gaithersburg, MD.  In doing
    this work, he looks back in history to see which old regional communities
    closely match current client; Kentlands was modeled after Georgetown in Wash,
  • In addition to his
    client work, in his function as Director of Design at the National Endowment for
    the Arts from 2003 through 2007, he oversaw the Mayor’s Institute on City
    Design.  In this effort, every 2 months
    he gathered 8 mayors and 8 design professionals who worked together for 2 ½ days
    to solve urban design problems.  One
    Mayor stated that people wouldn’t remember him for balancing the budget but
    would remember him for adding a park. The mayors wanted to see more people out
    walking. They concluded that a sustainable city is a walkable city. The
    resulting solutions are included in his books.
His presentation was a synopsis of the last book
according to his comments.
  • “Walkable City”
    deals with how to get people to walk.
  • Costs of owning a
    car: 80% is owning the car; 20% is driving the car.  So owning a car means once you own one,
    driving it more, costs less/mile.  But
    the costs of driving are unequally shared by taxes for roads paid by drivers and
    non-drivers alike.
  • Back in the 19th century people lived
    adjacent to factories that emitted a tremendous amount of fumes causing health
    problems among the populace.  Some people
    suggested separating the homes from the factories immediately drastically
    improving the life span of the people. These people became known as the first
    planners and were regarded as heroes. This was the start of Euclidean zoning and
    resulted in separation of large areas of land into single uses such as housing,
    retail and office.  Despite all you hear
    about mixed use and smart growth when Jeff goes into a community to plan a new
    development, he finds that there have been many years of single use development
    to deal with.
  • There are only 2 tested ways to build
    neighborhoods, traditional and suburban sprawl. 
    Traditional is defined as compact, diverse and walkable, Suburban sprawl
    .is characterized by super sizing and results in large public facilities such as
    schools and parks located beyond walking distance of
“Walkable City” has four main
1.  Reasons
to Walk
2.  Safety:
Real and Perceived
3.  Comfort
When Walking
Interesting Walk is Imperative.
1. Reasons to Walk
  • Must have a balance
    of uses
  • Must have diverse
    mixed uses
  • Prefer traditional
    neighborhood model vs. urban sprawl model
  • This includes live,
    work and play in same neighborhood.
  • Comfortable grid of
    streets helps shorten journeys.
  • Mass transit is
    needed for a walkable city or region.
  • Walking is much
    healthier than driving.
2. Safety: Real and
  • Pedestrian must feel safe and not worry about
    getting hit by vehicles. Crime is not as big a threat to safety as
  • Block size is super important; Portland has great
    size @ 200’ long vs. Salt Lake City @ 600’. 
    The longer the block, the wider the street which makes crossings more
    dangerous.  In California 24 different
    cities were categorized by block size. As block size doubles the non-highway
    fatal crashes almost quadruples. Reston Town Center is so good because its block
    size is smaller. This is a walkable model. Just south of Reston Town Center
    (between the W&OD Trail and the Dulles Toll Road) you have large blocks
    making it the driving model.
  • Congestion is a problem caused by planners who
    build more lanes in anticipation of more traffic.  With increased capacity, comes more traffic
    as people are then able to live further and further away from jobs which leads
    to sprawl. This is known as induced demand. Free roads exacerbate this problem.
    Reducing lanes reduces the accident rate while often maintaining the same
    vehicle capacity.
  • People drive faster on wider streets.  12’ lanes are too wide; 10’ are 30 mph
  • Bikes being separated from cars by reducing lanes
    provide dedicated bike lanes.   Proper
    street design allows the same amount of traffic to be accommodated despite
    reduction of lanes. Also known as ‘road diets.”
  • A road diet reduces a road from 4 lanes to 3 lanes
    with the center lane used for turns. Before a road diet, the 4 lane road is very
    dangerous because the center lanes, the fast traffic lanes, also become the left
    turn lanes.  When this occurs, center
    lane visibility may be blocked by vehicles in the center lane on the other side
    of the intersection. It is better to skip the center lane and add bike lanes or
    parking. Road diets are generally found to handle the same vehicle capacity as
    the 4-lane version with a greatly reduced accident rate.
  • Biking is a huge revolution currently in this
    country.  If bike lanes are built, people
    will use them.  IF bike lanes can be
    separated from vehicle lanes, women and children will increase bike ridership
    even more. Portland dramatically increased the number of bicyclists from just
    the same to 15 times the rest of the country by spending 2 million per year on
    bike lanes
  • Parallel parking makes pedestrians feel safer; puts
    a line of steel between pedestrians and traffic.
  • Bike lanes located beside curb protected by lane of
    parallel parking provides absolute best safety for all users; walkers, bikers
    and drivers.
  • Trees along streets are essential to making
    pedestrians feel safer. Trees along roadways also make drivers slow down making
    them safer. 
  • The tighter the corner radius, the safer the street
    will be; a wide radius encourages cars to travel faster.
  • Tunnels under intersections also encourage faster
    traffic as well as separate neighborhoods. 
    Bridging sunken highways with wide bridges that provide space for
    buildings as well as traffic (air rights?) helps to link neighborhoods together
    and provide wider walkable ranges.
  • All details matter:  This includes even the height of curbs.  Super tall curbs impede
Comfort When Walking
  • Human requirements
    for feeling comfortable haven’t changed in thousands of
  • The prospect for
    what a person is walking toward must be obvious.
  • Refuge from danger
    must be available.
  • Walkers want to feel
    contained.  Therefore a ratio of 1:1 of
    vertical to horizontal space is ideal.  A
    ratio of 1:6 is too big.
  • Current zoning codes
    are a problem as they are mute as to what is good vs. what exists
Interesting Walk is Imperative
  • Walkers want to know
    that other humans are around.
  • Walkers do not want
    to be bored.
  • Therefore, hide
    parking.  5 levels of parking can be
    hidden by a 3 story building if garage screened properly.
  • Also garages with
    ground level retail and other uses provide interest for
  • Hiding the surface
    parking in the middle of the block will help to keep the walk more
  • Walkers require
    interesting facades. Speck encourages city planners to vary architectural styles
    to do this and eschews blank walls and minimalistic themes.
  • Walkers want
    architecture that rewards them as they get closer.
Speck stated that he was not employed to work
specifically on Reston problems, but that he realized several Reston features
that would figure into how to make village and town center areas more
  • Reston is way ahead of most other communities
    because it was master planned.
  • However some sections are definitely suburban
    (attractive and desirable with curvilinear streets and yards that people want)
    and would never be termed “walkable” in terms of allowing cars to be
  • Pathway system throughout community does promote
    walking and biking.
  • Town Center and village centers do provide areas
    that are walkable to some degree.
  • Proximity to transit is a problem/opportunity for
    walkability but contains problems of how to segue transit to existing
    development around Metro station areas.
  • Town Center is separated from transit by a section
    of non-walkable development south of TC including large blocks, wide streets and
    fast traffic.  In order to correct this,
    redevelopment of this area is necessary into grid of narrower streets and
    smaller buildings/blocks.
  • Wiehle is completely unsatisfactory as no
    residential exists close to station areas and pedestrian/biker access to station
    is terrible.  Grid of streets is missing
    and existing streets are too wide/fast. 
    Walkers are not safe.
  • Most of Reston won’t change and can’t change. Many
    people will opt for the automotive environment. But there is this opportunity to
    create a walkable environment between stations that should not be
Panel Discussion:
Participants: Greg Trimmer of JBG;
David Whyte, TOD and street design expert, and Heidi Merkel, Fairfax Co. staff
lead for Reston master planning special
Greg Trimmer
  • He favors walkable,
    mixed use development that promotes biking
  • JBG invests only in
    TOD development  It has invested in property
    in proximity to all three Reston Metro station areas.
  • There is a very
    highly educated workforce in Reston that favors mixed use development.  
  • In the Reston
    Heights project, JBG has attempted to facilitate easy access to Town Center
    Metro Station, but current VDOT rules have thwarted every solution
    proposed.  Luckily Supervisor Hudgins
    interceded on JBG’s behalf and provided a “slip sheet” which is a special waiver
    to allow plans to proceed without hold-up until VDOT allows solution.  JBG is willing to pay for solution at future

David Whyte
  • There are a few
    pockets around the village centers that may undergo change but most of the area
    will remain unchanged.  
  • Streets in Reston
    need to regulate usage.
  • Through traffic by
    out-of-area commuters has to be curtailed.
  • This can be done be
    re-designing streetscapes.

Heidi Merkel
  • Reston is undergoing an evolution in form
    around metro stations.
  • The ½ mile radius for increased allowable density
    around the metro stations will not extend south of Sunrise Valley
  • Goals around the stations are diversity of housing,
    environmental stewardship, and making sure green natural areas are integrated
    into the area.
  • This includes planning parks, plazas and meeting
  • VDOT has had an epiphany regarding street design
    and has designated Fairfax County as the prototype area to experiment with new
    street designs.
  • Urban Design Standards are very, very specific
    about what is required around each transit station area.
  • Zoning will be tool to get it
  • Goal is to “live, work and play” without getting
    into a car.
  • Village centers in Reston already have a strong
    walkable connectivity.

and Answers: 

  •  Q.
    With single narrow traffic lanes how do you handle double parked delivery trucks
    that block traffic?
  • A. This is
    a management problem primarily.  Parking
    delivery zones need to be established in each block. Also delivery time periods
    may be established.
  • Q. Lives
    within 3 blocks of grocery store but does not choose to walk to store in bad
    A. Can’t control the weather. Some people may choose to walk in bad
    weather but driving 3 blocks is not likely to cause traffic
  • Q. Notice
    that building construction near Reston Parkway comes first. Traffic mitigation
    comes second.  What are plans to change
    this? (audience applause)
    A. Hoping to provide more housing in this area.
    Also, people who take the Metro may stop driving to work.
    A2. Most of the
    traffic is not going to the new building.  Adding a lane will simply move the congestion
    further away.  Also, shouldn’t have to
    subsidize through traffic.
  • Q.
    Question on bicycle planning.
    A. There are a lot of different markets for
    bicyclists. In general, they are trying to separate bicycles from pedestrians.
    In the case of Reston Parkway over the Toll Road it is unsafe for bicycles to
    ride through an interchange. The bicycle lanes will be placed off the roadway
    for their safety.
  • Q. In
    Europe people walk their dogs in the streets and inside and outside of
    buildings. What provisions are being made for dogs?
    A. There are plans to add
    dog parks in the transit areas. The point was made that there are more American
    households with dogs than with children.
  • Q.
    Considering sameness, how do you think this will work with the Design Review
    A. Rather than rules, the answer is to have a multitude of
  • Q. Will
    the zoning code be changed to incorporate form-based development?
    A. Don’t
    plan to do this. There is more concern about usage rather than
  • Q. How do
    you plan to handle traffic trying to reach the 3700 car parking garage for Metro
    (2,300 public, 1,400 for center employees)?
    A. Improving pedestrian and
    bicycling facilities. Hope to get some relief from Reston Station Boulevard.
    Phase 2 will help in 10 years. Roads will not be narrowed near Wiehle station.
    There will be problems that can’t be solved for several


Reston is among the most successful planned
communities in the country. Businesses compete to come here, and there will be
growth with the addition of metro. That leaves us with a challenge. Look at
Arlington and notice that they left traditional family housing intact while
doing a phenomenal job of transit oriented development. How we take advantage of
this opportunity, through good planning, will make change work for us.