Post #419: Tyson’s walkability assessment

Posted on October 17, 2019

My wife brought this article to my attention, published yesterday by the organization Greater Greater Washington:

I strolled around Tysons with a walkability researcher. Here’s what he had to say

I wasn’t so much interested in the conclusions as in how this University of Virginia professor went about assessing an area for walkability.  Answer:  The first two pieces of equipment he pulled out were instruments to measure air pollution (specifically, fine particulates) and the noise level.  Hmm.  Kind of like this posting, on noise and air pollution adjacent to Maple.

I’m just going to emphasize a couple of things that were said in that article.

"We started our walk along Leesburg Pike. Unsurprisingly, the noise level there was high due to the large volume of traffic, which made the experience rather unpleasant. "

No duh.

Then we turned ... (and) ... encountered new developments mostly made up of mixed-use buildings, ... The only the vehicles on the road were delivery trucks. It was much quieter here, and the experience overall was more enjoyable.  ... Mondschein continued, “It looks to be a very pleasant street. Lots of super wide sidewalks, very little automobile traffic—just enough to kind of drop people off, all of those good things.”

Again, no duh.  A quiet street with no traffic makes for a pleasant(er) place to walk.

I just want to make a few simple points.

First, traffic noise makes for an unpleasant walk, and in the MAC zone, we are stuck with that.  Recall that noise follows an inverse-square law (explained in this post).  The closer you are to traffic, the louder it sounds, and loudness drops off quickly with distance.

On Maple, we have four traffic-bearing lanes (plus center lane) packed into a roadway just 50′ wide, adjacent to a sidewalk (with utility strip) that is 11′ wide.  The speed limit is 30 MPH.  By contrast, Route 7 has eight lanes and 35 MPH speed limit, spread out over a 150′ wide road bed, adjacent to 16′ wide sidewalks.  It may or may not be as noisy on the Maple Avenue sidewalk as on Route 7, but my sense is that we’re in the same ballpark.

Second, before the Town of Vienna gets further invested in this whole “vibrant, pedestrian-oriented, walkable” thing under MAC zoning, maybe we ought to hire the guy in that article to assess Maple.  Pay his daily rate, drop him off at Maple and Center at noon on a Saturday, and have him give Maple the once-over.  I can talk about my measurements of the noise level on Maple, and I can provide recordings made with that noise as background, and so on.  As I have done on this website.  But until you have an expert tell you, it’s not clear that anybody is paying attention.

So until we can get an expert, I’ll pass along my most recent encounter with Maple Avenue traffic noise.  I walked the length of Maple two days ago.  It was about dinner time, traffic was slow, and along comes a pizza delivery guy, windows down, stereo cranked, playing a song whose lyrics consisted mostly of the f-word combined with death threats.

I fully acknowledge that cursing in public is illegal under Commonwealth law and Fairfax County law (although Town law seems to address noise level only).  But if somebody wants to drive down Maple doing that, they can.  It’s unlikely that anyone will stop them.  Honestly, if I had to deliver pizza for a living, I might have a fairly hostile attitude about it myself.  So I guess, in hindsight, I’m not even really surprised by it.  That said, I sure wouldn’t want to eat my dinner listening to it.