Lead-Off by Listening: Community, consultants explore transportation topics

Four meetings, designed to drill down more deeply into hopes and concerns surrounding issues at the heart of the weeklong Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected workshop, took up most of the day on Friday, September 9.

Members of the consulting team led discussions about the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a more vibrant gateway into Ranson; about the conversion of historic Charles Washington Hall into a commuter center; about the regional economy; and about real estate development in keeping with a new zoning approach.

On Saturday, the focused topic session will concentrate on how the proposed change in the regulatory framework affects Old Town, followed by a tour of Charles Washington Hall to hear plans for its rehabilitation and reuse. Go here to see the complete schedule of events throughout the week.

Because the real experts on Ranson and Charles Town are the people who live and work here, the consulting designers and planners use these meetings to fill in gaps in the team’s understanding. What they hear informs the evolution of ideas and plans throughout the next five days. By the concluding presentation on September 14, the team will have shaped concepts according to progressive feedback from the community and the staffs of the two towns.

In this post, we talk about Friday’s exploration of a key transportation component of the workshop — the transformation of Fairfax Boulevard-George Street into a vibrant, welcoming corridor. In succeeding reports, we’ll deal with the other two broad categories of work, rehabilitation of former industrial sites and the drafting of a new regulatory approach to enable growth in keeping with the Ranson/Charles Town character.

Rick Hall, president of Hall Planning & Engineering, led the Friday workshop sessions on transportation. The core mission, said Hall, is to recover the principal missing component of community mobility: walkability. After more than a half-century of “motordom,” an era that privileged travel by private automobile over all other modes, said Hall, beginning in the 1980s, a counter-movement began to reclaim some of the territory for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“And we’re not talking about merely introducing the possibility of walking,” said Hall. “We want to increase the probability of walking.”

Making walking a viable alternative enlivens neighborhoods for shopping and civic functions. It supports healthier lifestyles, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and enhances a community’s affordability. If you live in a neighborhood where you can walk to most daily needs, you might be able to get along with at least one less car, freeing up as much as $9,000 a year that goes to owning and maintaining a vehicle for investment in food, housing or other family needs.

The conversion of a thoroughfare like the current version of Fairfax Boulevard into something more than a fast way out of town creates the opportunity for all those civic and economic advantages. It gives folks a reason to hang around, explore the town and support local businesses.

Most citizen questions were about safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, an indication that taming the thoroughfare was already on folks’ minds. Hall explained how good design — narrow lane widths, on-street parking, plantings in the planned median strip — works on the psychology of motorists. Recognizing the need to be alert to their surroundings, as opposed to zoning out on the open highway, motorists automatically slow down.

A thoroughfare designed for 25 mph max speeds, as opposed to highway speeds, allows bicyclists to move with auto traffic without dedicated lanes. And pedestrians, separated from the auto lanes by parked cars, feel an added sense of security. Hall promises that his team’s design for the new boulevard will have sidewalks on both sides.

To get a sense of how all this fits with the goals of the workshop and the goals of the federal agencies funding the projects, check out the overview column on the right and the posts preceding this one.

If you want to catch up on progress so far in the process, set aside some time to come to the Sunday show-and-tell session at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Hall. The design team will display their evolving plans and rough sketches of ideas for community critique. Feedback from that event will be used to fine tune work for the concluding presentation on September 14.

Come and take part in person, or just follow along on these web pages. We’re posting every day through the workshop week.