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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Imagine Prince George's Plaza

Though nowhere near up to par with Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, Old Town Alexandria, or the central business districts of Bethesda and Silver Spring, Prince George's Plaza might be the best example of transit-oriented development in Prince George's County. It combines a Metro station with heavy retail, medium density housing, and a walkable street grid. Unfortunately, those things are not integrated with each other.

I love the City of Hyattsville. As soon as I can afford to do so, I plan on moving there. It has a ton of potential. Potential, however, means room for improvement.

Anecdotally, I was told by a Hyattsville Police officer that the city plans to annex and redevelop the suburban style medium-density apartment complexes north and west of the mall. In this same conversation, the officer, who was advising me on where the city experienced most crime, cited garden style apartment complexes like these (like Kirkwood near West Hyattsville station or the apartments on the southwest corner of University and Adelphi) as the worst offenders. I can only assume the isolation of the buildings behind PG Plaza makes them ideal places to engage in criminal activity.

Generally, I don't like the idea of putting heavy transit near a mall. Malls are inherently car-oriented, and over the past decade they have experienced severe decline in image and practicality. The Mall at Prince George's (which I will forever call PG Plaza despite its new name and this newfangled civic movement against saying "PG" in favor of "Prince George's") might be able to take advantage of the Metro station across the street.

Many of the larger development projects in Prince George's County have been greenfield developments outside the Beltway and far from transit taking on a semi-new urbanist format, but are far from transit and isolated from the better urban design closer in. Bowie Town Center and National Harbor are good yardsticks for what we can expect out of planned developments at Brandywine, Westphalia(pdf), Konterra, and Woodmore Town Center (pdf): far from existing transit, isolated pockets of walkable mixed use surrounded by parking. PG Plaza, if redeveloped, can present a retail design similar to that of Bowie Town Center with the added advantage of being across the street from a Metro station in an area that can easily be reticulated into the surrounding street grid.

Remove the roof, which PG Plaza didn't always have anyway, and lay down the grid. I give you new Hyattsville:

View Larger Map

With this, perhaps more pedestrian friendly changes will occur as well. East-West Highway has three shockingly bad design flaws on that stretch. First, the median fences. Anytime a street has a fenced median to discourage jaywalking, it's a sure sign of poor design. Pedestrian traffic is like water flow. It will find the path of least resistance from origin to destination, and will creatively by-pass obstacles. Instead of trying to force pedestrians to go out of their way to cross East-West, embrace the foot traffic with more crossings, traffic signals, and a parallel street to spread out the traffic.

Next, the pedestrian bridge from the Metro station to the mall parking lot has to go. Parking ought to be consolidated into a garage, and the street frontage should be developed. pedestrian bridges over suburban arteries like this are not functional, they encourage speeding on the road, they kills street life, and they are unbearably tacky. Perhaps if the street frontage has an arcade with an upper level of shops and whatnot, it could stay, but generally it looks horrible and it proves to be cumbersome for access to the Metro station.

Third, rename the damn road. East-West Highway (MD route 410) is a title unbecoming for a road passing through the CBD's of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Hyattsville. In Takoma Park, 410 is actually called Ethan Allen Avenue. Perhaps Hyattsville could follow suit and rename it something like "John Clark Hyatt Avenue" after the town's founder. Apt, historical, and far less generic.

Hyattsville is evolving as a city. It has come a very, very long way in the last decade, and it continues to grow and improve. PG Plaza will undoubtedly emerge as a hot spot for good urbanism. Eyesores like the pedestrian bridge will be replaced by more of what we're seeing in the nearby Hyattsville Arts District, and instead of an island of good urbanism, it will grow into the fabric of the surrounding areas.


Carmen said...

Dave, do you think Wheaton Plaza would be better off roofless as well, like it used to be?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, another stretch of 410 in Takoma Park is called Philadelphia Avenue.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

I do not know if you are aware that the PG Mall was likely built in anticipation of the northwest branch park I-95 route.

I don't see that as ever happening due to the logic embodied in federal law prohibiting highway routing through parks when there is a sensible alternative- aka the PEPCO route to the west.

Fortuitously 410 is 4 lanes between PG Plaza and the PEPCO route, though it should have a beneath way below the intersection with Riggs Road.

Dave Murphy said...

Yes! Anything that would reconnect it to the surrounding area. I didn't know Wheaton Plaza was also roofless at one time (although, that's probably why it was called "plaza")

A short stretch in Silver Spring is called Burlington Avenue, as well. "East-West Highway" is bad marketing in my opinion.

The city will never let another radial highway be built like that. Hyattsville has been looking to expand its corporate limits to prevent specifically that kind of infrastructure being dropped down near its borders.

Douglas A. Willinger said...

How many dwellings does your street grid plan remove?

Portions of it remind me of this boulevard proposal in Manhattan to cut an all new right of way for a few block long stretch for the sake of a low speed boulevard that does about nothing for transportation.

Of course they would never consider removing anything for something as a highway that would serve a substantial number of people, but for a boulevard of questionable need its ok: sort of like DC's medieval attitude against highways, and their use of eminent domain for private use.

цarьchitect said...

Curiously, I am writing something on the subject of grids, names, and history right now. This idea, as usual, is quite good, but I can find one quibble with your plan.

Saying that East-West Highway is not an appropriate name for a major boulevard is a bit silly, as though great streets need great names. Is South Capitol Street diminished by its utilitarian name? No, it actually gives some great locational data to the city.

If the name is historical, it would do the county good to keep a little snippet of history in the infrastructure. It affords a little connection to the past, without actually imposing too much on people's lives. If it's not historical, then name away.

But be prepared to get into some serious political morass.

Dave Murphy said...

All the apartment complexes I have on the chopping block here are areas that are planned for redevelopment anyway. I'm not suggesting they be removed for any sort of thoroughfare, either. I'm suggesting they be replaced with more and better affordable housing options.

I don't know if East-West Highway is a historical title. I don't believe that it is utilitarian, however, because the road does not run directly east to west. The route (MD-410) is also burdened with confusing routing (like the intersection at Ager Road). Therefore, I don't see it having the same significance as South Capitol Street, which runs directly south from the Capitol to the city line.

Anonymous said...

To remove the Roof off of PG Plaza is like saying Bull Doze Tysons Corner I & Tysons II Galleria and replace it with an open air shopping town center like in Bowie or Reston in which it will not happen even though METRO is building 4 Major Rail Stations within Tysons Corner.

I find the statement "Remove the Roof of PG Plaza" Extremely DISCRIMINATING against Prince Georges County(if not ALL of Maryland) indoor Upscale Malls since there have Never been any Recommendations of the Same for the Upscale Indoor Shopping Malls in Virginia.

The Day PG Plaza and Westfield Wheaton Mall is reduced to a Small Outdoor Town Center will be the Day that the 4 Story Indoor Upscale Pentagon City Mall(which sits on top of the Yellow and Blue Subway Line) in Arlington is Transformed into a Condominium or Class A Office and that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

Dave Murphy said...


Your characterization is misleading. I am a Prince George's County resident, and I shop at PG Plaza. the difference between Pentagon City and Prince George's Plaza is that the former is well integrated into a cityscape, and PG Plaza hides behind a sea of parking. Frankly, I would like it if those shopping malls (Ballston, Galleria, Pentagon City) had their roofs removed.

Another disconnect is that both PG Plaza and Wheaton started off as open air retail centers. Can you say the same for the others? It is my opinion that any mall that can have it's roof removed and be better integrated into the surrounding infrastructure would serve the community well to do so.