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Zoning policy makes Bethesda, Md., a model walkable suburb

D.C.-area community has thriving downtown with mass transit options

January 14, 2015 |
Photo: National Cancer Institute/Chris Spielmann via Wikimedia Commons

In sharp contrast to most suburban communities in the Washington, D.C. area, Bethesda, Md. stands out as a fine exemplar of the new urbanism ethos.

Bethesda’s downtown area has become a densely populated, walkable area with multiple mass transit options. The central core of the Montgomery County community is vibrant with retail spaces, offices, and restaurants nestled among apartment buildings and condominiums.

Over the last few decades, Montgomery County rezoned areas around major transit hubs to allow increased density, embraced a mix of uses, and removed minimum parking requirements in downtown Bethesda. One D.C. Metro light rail station serves the area, with another in the planning stages.

Like other D.C. suburbs, Bethesda had been built up in the standard sprawl fashion, and more recently has been retrofitted into a more sustainable community. In order to foster smarter development, the county offers a density bonus for developers who are allowed to build bigger and taller if they put their parking below ground.


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