GGW's Cavan has written a couple of posts about Wheaton, a bustling suburb with an unfairly negative reputation in the heart of MoCo. Wheaton is near and dear to my heart, as I spent a lot of time there in high school. My old high school (since relocated to Olney to keep "transit people" from applying) was a quarter mile from the Metro station and the Wheaton CBD.
It's a gritty area with significant Central American cultural ties, lots of unique little shops, and, as Cavan will tell you, a schizofrenic approach to good urbanism. But I like the potential of Wheaton, it has something many inner suburbs don't enjoy when seeking to grow smarter: the framework of a good street grid. A few roadway connections here and there, and Wheaton could be the very model of transit oriented development. Okay, so maybe there are a few other things before that could be the case... but here's my vision of what Wheaton would look like if its streets were better connected:
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Blue lines are new street connections. Blue place marks are new traffic signals. Zoom in and see how my lines mesh with the road network.
Wheaton has a few other issues. It's one of the only places I've ever been where there is street parking with meters fronting free parking at a strip mall (Ennals Avenue between Grandview and Viers Mill). Crosswalks are often poorly marked. The three main roads through Wheaton (University Boulevard, Viers Mill Road, and Georgia Avenue) are 6 lane traffic nightmares with little street parking and no bus lanes. There are curb cuts for strip mall parking all over the place. And of course, there's a giant freakin' mall.
Though Wheaton has plenty of interesting and quirky independently owned shops, Just Up the Pike points out the failure of the Montgomery Cinema 'n' Drafthouse, blaming some of the above examples of bad urbanism. JUTP also points out a shooting that occured at the mall this week as being the fourth major crime at the mall since its renovation. Would removing the mall and replacing it with mixed use high density transit oriented development (and less surface parking) lower crime? I like to think so.
In the mean time, Wheaton is a guinea pig for inner suburb redevelopment. It slowly gets more walkable as it fights new fights and teaches the rest of the region the lessons we must learn to develop a better sense of place around the Beltway.