The Montgomery County Planning Board is holding a hastily-scheduled worksession on some topics which couldn’t be addressed at the last meeting for lack of time. Streaming video should be available at www.montgomerycountyplanning.org. Topics include transportation and school sites. The Board also decided to revisit the design for the revitalized Rockville Pike: there are two competing visions for the Pike, one by Planning staff, which would put busses, cars and bikes into a shared-use lane at the curb, and one by Glatting-Jackson, an international transportation and walkability consulting firm from Orlando, Florida, which has proposed a design with transit lanes in a wide green median. For more information, see the Mobility page on our main web site, or see the Glatting-Jackson design pictures at the White Flint Partnership’s web site, www.whiteflintpartnership.com.
Dan Hardy, chief of the Vision Division, and the chief transportation planner, opened the worksession. Overall transportation mobility plan. The “bones” of the sector. The enhanced street grid diffuses congestion and helps walkability. Policies from principles to Plan. Policies:
enhanced public transit, rail and bus and MARC;
enhanced street network;
pedestrian and bicyclist network;
transportation impact tax, and
Hardy: In current White Flint, can let traffic get a bit worse because we’re getting people out of their cars and into transit. Reduce parking for the same reason. End result is to get to Traffic Demand Management.
Cmsnr Alfandre: prior information focussed on bike paths. Hardy: Feb 12 went through policies and discussion. Bikes were covered then. This is just setting the stage for more details. Go through and confirm those things that covered in February.
Hardy: transit network: northern entrance to Metro station, and two new bus bays. MARC commuter rail station choice at Nicholson Ct. Bus network: integrate with Twinbrook, implement over time, and stage growth with development. feeder routes to Metro. Synergy between Twinbrook Metro station and White Flint Metro stations. One Ride-on bus route along Pike (Route 46). Otherwise bus routes are to get people to and from the Metro. That will have to change in the future to get people to and from work and homes throughout the Sector. No current “circulator” bus. But there are a lot of local bus routes. Roughly every 600 feet there’s a bus stop. A lot of east-west travel; housing to the east of the Sector can get to the Sector for jobs in White Flint. Need to upgrade the bus services to meet the new demand. Developed new bus service concepts to provide better bus service on the Pike. Every 15 minutes for rapid bus and feeder routes and every ten minutes for circulator (in the end-state of development). Montrose Pkwy will take some of the burden off Randolph Rd to the east, while providing more access and transit for housing to the east. A lot depends on how the Pike develops over time. One of the problems with circulator is that the development on the Pike is all set back 300′ or so, and that should change over time. We don’t see the Metro station being as much of a bus node as further down-county, but focus will be at Metro station.
Cmsnr Robinson: rapid bus service on the Pike should go from Strathmore on the south to downtown Rockville to the north. Hardy: yes, and next segment is Naval Medical Center to the south. Chairman Hanson: key is the feasibility of high intensity development around Bus Rapid Transit stations so it is clearly rapid transit. Things we need to focus on here are a set of regional transportation elements in and serving White Flint. They’re core elements. And these are the Red Line and the Metro station, the new MARC station (new regional transportation element to bring people to and from White Flint), three major highways that serve the area (Montrose Pkwy with potential for east-west BRT that could also connect to Red Line or MARC; Rockville Pike which will transform from a barrier to two sides to something that brings them together by turning it into a boulevard; and Old Georgetown Rd, which is an alternative for traffic heading toward Bethesda, with particular problems at Tilden/Nicholson intersection to provide better protection for the adjacent neighborhood, but could have a longer-distance BRT connection, with stations there and Democracy Blvd and then Bethesda. Long-term potential.) Hardy: should there be a fixed-guideway between Grosvenor and Montgomery Mall?
Hanson: Board members all ok but we want to hear about alternative options for Rockville Pike, but we need to see the Glatting-Jackson proposal to see what it will do. Alfandre: there must be an existing rapid transit plan that needs funding. Another issue: you can’t get east-west connectivity just by design, especially if just using a pedestrian-oriented Main St. which I’m not sure is in the right place. Hanson: two things: east-west service that is regional in character (Montrose Pkwy with various spurs to get into White Flint); and east-west internal movement within White Flint. They overlap, but basically different in character. Alfandre: very connected. Hanson: Plan is proposing both but not for the same function. Montrose will carry regional traffic including busses and potential for future BRT. We have few opportunities for east-west rapid transit in the county; none that spans the county. So there are other streets that provide connections to that, like Executive Blvd, some opportunity to bring in people from the west but at best that’s sub-regional.
Hardy: map of current bus stops doesn’t show any on Montrose Pkwy. From the west, Parkway will carry people from I-270 corridor — Fortune Parc 270 development. Will be good bus service on 270 itself. Managed lane network. Hanson: we have to keep in mind a Master Plan. Identifying regional and local roads, streets and lands. We’re not deciding transit systems. We can say we need more or some, but we can’t determine some things. What we can do is decide what the right of way has to be for the highways and local streets. Robinson: BRT only on major streets, and those are limited. Hanson: if we think there’s a need for a BRT station on the Pike we could show where that should be. Alfandre: if we miss this in the Master Plan, we’ll be making an egregious error. Land density is directly related to transit, transportation and foot traffic, and if we ignore those basic rules of planning, we’ll end up with a flawed Master Plan. Robinson: developers must put the right streets in. Alfandre: if we put in the wrong density, the plan won’t work.
Hardy: urban area with parks and residences surrounding it. Hanson: new proposals for Pike. Everyone agrees that it should be a boulevard. Question is what kind of boulevard. What came out of the Public Hearing draft was a particular kind of cross-section for the Pike which had busses in the curb lane. Now we have a proposal to put them in the median.
Evan Goldman, co-chair of Friends of White Flint. Bob Stoddard, Washington Real Estate Investment Trust. Randolph and Montrose Parkway. Very few differences in road network. Goldman: difference with Arlington County is that their Metro stations are much closer together. We have designed a system which handles that space between the stations. Significant topography in the southern part of the Pike, which the bus system could handle. Circulator system with two loops to get people from the boundary to the center and throughout the Sector, and up and down the Pike. Circulator shares the transit lanes.
Robinson: circulator is more local with more frequent stops. Goldman: one of the beauties of the guided BRT system is that regular busses can use them. Robinson: how would running circulator in the median give the kind of hop-on, hop-off system that we envision? 1/4 mile is too long. Silver spring is every 1/8th mile. Makes a big difference. If circulator and BRT are the same stops, capacity problems. Hanson: if difference is circulator and BRT running on 8 minute headways, if circulator is making more frequent stops and is on the same track, you’re going to have problems. Goldman: provides a better option for users.
Cmsnr Cryor: how many circulators do we have going at once? Goldman: we did any analysis. Need three busses.
Goldman: walking and biking distance brings not just the whole sector within transit system, but also neighborhoods around the Sector. Four neighborhoods centered on transit nodes. We charged Glatting-Jackson to do something that’s affordable and doable. 150′ right of way. so benefit is that once you make enough of the traffic grid to permit construction on the Pike, you can do the full extent of the improvements quickly. Setting your curb line once, doing your trees and other things once. Then if WMATA permits sidewalk improvements and parking on easement, you can put them all in. Hanson: what if WMATA won’t play? Goldman: then you wouldn’t have those on the east side. Hanson: so the two sides wouldn’t be the same. How would this work down the Pike? How about NRC? Goldman: exactly how this works. You won’t have the full development; you’d have a six foot sidewalk. On the other side you’d have the full development when the land redevelops.
Goldman: not a question of 150′ up and down the Pike because there are obstacles. So we have landowners who say we’d rather dedicate 162′ and do it right, than do 150′ and get it wrong. Robinson: city of Rockville? Goldman: Glatting is working with them as well. Hanson: so it crosses Montrose you lose the median? Goldman: not right away. You can continue this section up to the city line. Glatting is working on this drawing right now. One of the major benefits of BRT over light rail is that it’s flexible. You can’t do that with light rail in Bethesda. Hanson: are the Nicholson people amenable to this? Goldman: you can do the main section without a taking. You don’t have to wait for a dedication. Here you can do it once. Show people you’re making a change.
Goldman: example intersection. Big refuges for people in the middle of the street, so encourages them to cross at grade instead of using a tunnel. special European bike design. so you don’t get “doored.” Can do it on both sides. On the blocks that don’t redevelop, you’d do it in a shared lane like the staff proposal, but when they do develop, you’d have the space for the bike lanes. Plus you’d have the trees closer in which canopies the road more quickly. Six lines of trees along the lanes. Gives a better feel to the street. Designed to be a beautiful place, slow cars down, and make it a place where you can go again. If you create a great place, but don’t make this a great street, you won’t increase your ridership as much.
Alfandre: bike lanes letter? Goldman: there are differences among bike groups in Montgomery County. Majority wants separate lanes. European design improved over time. Ian Lockwood was hit by a bus riding in a shared bus lane. Alfandre: if this system was adopted, that’s where Main St. will be sited. Goldman: Design connection between east and west side. Shared lane won’t solve traffic issues. This creates a beautiful street. Alfandre: do you need a stop at Old Georgetown Rd?
Robinson: how much will this cost? Goldman: bike lane on the side is less expensive. Nothing fancy because want people looking at retail, not fancy sidewalks. Most of the cost of this is in streetscape improvements and underground utilities. Alfandre: staging? Does it match staff draft? Goldman: citizens want Pike now. People understand it’s a 5-10 year process. First thing is untangling Old Old Georgetown Rd. Need a workaround so don’t have horrible traffic. Original staff draft had it in the third phase, and then moved up to the second stage.
Hanson: cost? If we approach it this way and the Pike is the single most costly item. Will a 10% surtax take care of this? Goldman: our econ analysis says it would. We were using only 5-6% of total increment. Hanson: if it took 12%, would landowners accept it? Goldman: I can’t answer that. Hanson: we need an answer. If it’s higher, we need to know. Goldman: leave it flexible. Hanson: not in favor in master plans with committees to study this further. I recommend master plans that make specific decisions. Goldman: give yourself the flexibility. Alfandre: staging and phasing is practical? Does it match density distributions? We need some certainty. Easy to say the words, but we would need to know if this is the right system. Hanson: we would have to know if landlords up and down the Pike are amenable to making this kind of dedication. Goldman: Lerner is part of Partnership, so they would be amenable. Alfandre: Fitzgerald not.
Dan Hardy: need dedications on the west side. Reason we went to the west side is because the east side has the WMATA easement. So looking at taking 60′ off the west side. Anything we do in this plan, the state is building a bridge that won’t have BRT on it. So have to rebuild the bridge with a higher cost. Goldman: we can fit the sidewalks underneath and fit the BRT on the bridge.
Hanson: we’ll have to have state highways and WMATA agreeable. What I don’t want to have happen and what I’m fearful will happen, is that this thing will keep getting massaged, that when we get to Council, there will be sufficient indecision about what to do that nothing will get done. We need a consensus among the Board and the parties at interest. It will take only one voluable dissenter to wreck this, because we need to make decisions that will survive. I’m for trying to figure out what that is. And it has to make sense. If we get this up, and whether we’re recommending 150 or 162′, BRT in median or curb lane. If we get a step out from the council, and state highway says we don’t want to do that, or WMATA is not enthusiastic. Goldman: this plan is 100% conforming to the Code that Glatting-Jackson is writing for the State of Maryland. You asked us to go out and help, and we got the best.
Alfandre: you’re thinking like robert Moses and you’re not Robert Moses. I wish you were. It’s a little bit of guts on everyone’s part. Goldman: if we do something bold and exciting we might get it. They might say no, but at least we’re starting. Alfandre: Moses got most of his works done through public money. We gotta know a few things. Where are the problems going to be? We’ll have to take a guess; that’s where the momentum will come from.
Hanson: any property owners affected here who don’t like this?
Mike Smith of LCOR. Not that we don’t like it. Principles are worth embracing. Questions we have are of cost. We work closer with WMATA than most, because we have property that WMATA controls. We need to spend some time analyzing the costs. Just a concern, not a criticism.
Perry Berman, representing Fitzgerald. Fantastic job creating a design and we can support his concept. We’re not reluctant. We’d like to know more about it. We know it may take some of our property, and that’ snot a concern, but we need to know the costs. Cryor: only concern? really? Berman: cost. Alfandre: once costs worked out, do you see the momentum carrying this? Berman: Dr. Hanson once told me you can’t do everything you want. Consensus of many people on the Steering Committee is that this is ok. If this goes ahead, this will take up a good part of the money we can raise. However it is Montgomery County’s main street, and this is very nice concept. And it would brand White Flint. all that’s a guess on costs. Mike Smith: look at the densities, and analyze the revenues against the yield it would produce. Do a little underwriting on this experiment and see if the costs and revenues the densities will create to see if this is sufficient.
Nathan Landau, adjacent to Holladay property on the west side. Impact on smaller landowners is greater proportionally. What is the impact of taking the additional dedication on the smaller properties. Not all owners are created equal, and smaller are impacted more heavily. Goldman: one of the reason we did it this way was to more equally impact western and eastern landowners. Staff proposes more on the west side, so Holladay already has an approved project, but they’re ok with our plan because it puts it back to what they expected.
Hardy: first heard on Friday (at Speakers’ Series) that there would be no busses on the curb lanes. We had planned for retail to have busses right there. We were concerned by comments at public hearing that there was too broad a Pike, and this widens it further. Extra 30′ feet. Tough to get the extra ten seconds of time on a light cycle to get to the other side. Innovative treatment, not quite as well known as the shared lane. some questions about bike lanes. Upshot is that this is innovative treatment. Gives bikes and pedestrians priority treatment. Real challenge is what right of way do we need to put in to get this. Wider is more impact on landowners but more options for the long term. We have said, because of the tunnel at the Metro, want to shift the burden to the west. But we would like the flexibility to have the state start a study to see what is the best answer.
Hanson: seems to me at this point so we can move forward. Tentatively, we could say we will say for now, we are going t have to make final decisions on this by the second week of June because we need to have a draft approved and to the council before the end of July. that’s the time against which we’re working. So we’ve got 2-3 weeks maximum before a final decision by the Board as to what’s going to go into the plan. Ought to leave open the question. didn’t hear anything about a right of way wider than 162′. So let’s say for the time being the right of way, pending answers to a set of questions. We won’t know if there’s actually going to be BRT on the median. Have to produce a cross-section in the Plan which will show a wide median, and we ought to keep that option open. Robinson: we need to make sure that BRT can be accommodated in the median because I think that’s the way things are going. Hanson: we need to leave that open. I have real reservations at least in the near term of seeing BRT as a viable economic concern.
Hardy: one lane BRT? Goldman: not on the Pike. Hardy: turnaround areas. Flexibility to allow the busses to get around if necessary. On-street parking. Hanson: we need a careful analysis of the operational issues and a good analysis of the fiscal impact. Working with the Executive and hoping to come up with a financial package, and I don’t want to have a hole for the most important piece of the transportation plan. We can’t get by with dropping the Pike because we didn’t figure out the costs. We’ll have tocome back to this. May 21 worksession.