Last week I visited the Washington DC area for the first time. I might have some more comments about my experience in the future but I want to start out with some comments about Silver Spring, MD. I will be living near downtown Silver Spring, so I wanted to get a feel for the area. In recent years, Silver Spring has undergone an urban revival of sorts. Before this time, the area was a typical (somewhat rundown) suburb of DC but a large amount of residential and commercial development along with its access to the DC subway system has made it a very walkable area on paper. There are a number of grocery stores, shops, cafes, restaurants (though most of these are of a chain variety), so that one doesn’t really need a car in order to live in this area. Again, on paper, this seems like a very happy place for a pedestrian.
However, when one gets down into the streets it becomes obvious that this city is still controlled by the car. Several wide and busy streets (highways really) bisect the downtown area bringing with them a ton of through traffic. At cross walks, this means that a pedestrian must wait for an extremely long time to cross most streets; preference is obviously given to traffic flow along these corridors. There also seems to be very little thought (or enforcement) of coherent and contiguous sidewalks. You will be walking along a sidewalk (The east side of Eastern Ave. in front of the Blair’s apartment complex comes to mind) and the sidewalk will simply end for no reason. I can’t for the life of me understand why this is acceptable. This trend gets even worse in other locations; there were many instances where a sidewalk only exists on one side of the street and the ‘sidewalked’ side will change as the street progresses. This means that one has to continually cross a typically busy road simply to walk down the street. In another instance a sidewalk would degenerate into a curbless extension of a small parking lot, so that there was nothing between pedestrians (squeezing next to parked cars) and traffic than a small line on the pavement. That sucks.