Smart Growth Illustrated
Bethesda Row - Bethesda, Maryland
Bethesda Row, located near the edge of downtown Bethesda, Maryland, illustrates the revitalization of a suburban commercial district into a mixed-use, walkable downtown. The project is so successful that it draws customers not just from surrounding neighborhoods, but also from around the greater Washington metropolitan area.
The development, being built in several phases by The Federal Realty Investment Trust, creates a thriving, pedestrian-friendly streetscape. Both the sidewalk design and parking solutions are key to making the project a walkable neighborhood. Brick sidewalks, trees, fountains, plazas, and outdoor seating all encourage residents and visitors to walk around the mix of local, regional, and national retailers and restaurants. The developer sought permission from the county to put sidewalk cafe seating next to the street while putting public sidewalks next to the storefronts. This creates a feeling of walking through the restaurants, making it a place to see and be seen. Street trees and curbside parking protect the seated restaurant patrons from street traffic.
Most of the parking, however, is located in a 1,000-space, county-owned, public parking garage located in the middle of the block. Cars are hidden behind the stores and restaurants but are easily accessible from all parts of the development. This public parking garage was built as part of a downtown parking district. Developers who build within the district can choose to pay a parking assessment to the county in lieu of providing parking on site. The county uses the assessment revenues to build public parking structures throughout downtown. Concentrating parking in these garages allows developers to build a walkable downtown streetscape uninterrupted by parking lots.
The project is being built in seven phases on parts of four city blocks. When complete, it will contain 360,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 140,000 square feet of office space, and 100,000 square feet of residential space. Phase Four was completed in 2002, and the subsequent phases include a new supermarket and all the residential space. The development's location along the Capital Crescent Trail provides a convenient connection to downtown Washington, D.C., by bicycle, in-line skate, and foot, while its proximity to a Metro station gives public transit users easy access.
The Congress for the New Urbanism gave Bethesda Row a Charter Award in 2002. The Washington Smart Growth Alliance recognized Phase Seven of Bethesda Row as an exemplary smart growth proposal.