Friends of White Flint

Promoting a Sustainable, Walkable and Engaging Community

P.O. Box 2761

White Flint Station

Kensington, MD 20891

Phone: 301-980-3768

Email: info@whiteflint.org


Vogons Come to MoCo

Posted on by Barnaby Zall

16 Comments

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With apologies to the late author Douglas Adams, whose birthday was celebrated by Google this week.

Meetings of the White Flint Implementation Committee are usually snoozers. The acrid smell of chlorine wafts through the air at the Shriver Aquatic Center as engineers and designers struggle to explain incomprehensible slides.

But not tonight.

Tonight the State Highway Administration and its partner the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (“McDot”) unveiled their plans for “Montrose Parkway East,” the extension of the Montrose Parkway past its existing terminus at the newly-redone Chapman Avenue, running all the way to Viers Mill. This was the first public discussion of the design plans for the new extension of Montrose Parkway.

As soon as the slides started, so did the gasps. Evan Goldman, an architect and one of the leaders of the movement to pass the White Flint Sector Plan, leaped out of his seat, with a loud: “This is a disaster!” He wasn’t alone. The slide presentation stopped as residents and others in the room began to protest loudly. All four of the transportation planners rushed to protect their drawings, which ran along one wall.

In one misguided moment, roadbuilders could destroy the New Urbanism of White Flint, and punish low- and middle-income families. And they argued for pushing forward as fast as possible, “accelerating planning” in one explanation.

Step back a moment. White Flint is justly praised as a new design for Montgomery County, a shining New Urbanism area, where transit, walkability and sustainability meet soaring buildings and bustling retail streets. You can see it rising daily with construction cranes at Pike & Rose and the new Aurora building at North Bethesda Center, and the crowds at the Whole Foods at North Bethesda Market.

But among all the glitz and hustle, there’s another side to White Flint. The eastern side of White Flint is dominated by the vibrant Randolph Hills neighborhoods, home to thousands of workers and families. They aren’t as wealthy as those in the heart and western side of White Flint. They are more diverse, and they have more children. Someone once said that eastern White Flint is the “workforce housing” for White Flint.

They live, literally, across the tracks. One of the biggest problems in White Flint planning is the lack of east-west crossings, caused partly by the CSX railroad tracks that cut off Randolph Hills from the rising White Flint glamour. We’ve been trying for years to figure out a way to bridge that gap. The geography works against us; they’re little hills, but hills nonetheless.

And now the alternatives proposed for Montrose Parkway East will make that worse, not better. “Alternative No. 1” for the eastern portion would wall off one of the few remaining east-west crossings, by cutting off Randolph Road before it reaches the tracks. Eastern White Flint residents will have to divert north for a couple of blocks, make a turn and swoop down the new highway extension to reach the rest of White Flint. The other alternative is less drastic, but even then, traffic will be diverted north as well.

The reason for this cut-off? The traffic planning agencies, using a federal “accident prediction model,” think that there will be a lot of rail-automobile accidents at the at-grade train crossing on Randolph Road. “People will DIE,” is the mantra. But when asked about alternatives to walling off neighborhoods, the transpo experts were mute.

And that’s what we’re really talking about here. The Montrose Parkway idea is 1960’s thinking: “let’s create a big pipe for cars to race through Montgomery County from Viers Mill to 270.” It’s that old “automobile as king” mentality, saying that we can’t do rapid transit, but we can build more limited-access highways. And if we cut through, or cut off, neighborhoods, well, them’s the breaks. That was, some may recall, why the Earth was destroyed in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe, to make room for an intergalactic off-ramp.

And what’s worse, this is being done in violation of every MoCo tradition of public participation and discussion. We all know how MoCo planning works: meetings and more meetings. We held 200 meetings for the White Flint Sector Plan.

How many public meetings have been held on Montrose Parkway East? Zero. This was the first. The next one is at the Planning Board on March 21.

Yet the design work is already 30% done; a simple request to wait until the Master Plan for White Flint 2 is started was met with  “we’re too far along to stop and listen now.” And, oh yes, the funding is already there, so we can’t stop now, even if the money could be used so much better for, say, the Western Workaround to allow us to rebuild Rockville Pike. It’s like Adams’ Vogons, who, when faced with complaints about the impending destruction of Earth, say that protests are too late, because the notice was posted on a planet only a few lightyears from Earth.

We’ve heard this before – with the Montrose Parkway West. It was already well underway when the White Flint Sector Plan was begun. So it couldn’t be stopped, and we now have those odd loops and slow traffic signals at Montrose Rd and the Pike. And the bridge carrying Rockville Pike over Montrose Parkway West? It’s too narrow for the rapid transit planned for the Pike. A glorious example of Vogon planning at its best.

So, since that part of Montrose Parkway went so well, we’re going to do it again. Only this time, it isn’t the wealthy communities of western White Flint that will bear the brunt; it’s the working families struggling on the east side, across the tracks. The planning for White Flint 2, already two years behind its earlier schedule, would look comprehensively at Randolph Hills and other areas that will be cut off by the extension of the Montrose Parkway. A little delay, so we could, say, THINK about what this does, might go well.

Douglas Adams might be weeping in his grave, but he did warn us about the danger of letting off-ramps overwhelm neighborhoods. Sometimes you destroy worlds, just so cars can move a little faster.

** Updated 3/12/13 at 4:53pm.  Follow this link to see last night’s presentation for yourself: WF advisory Group presentation Full

16 Responses to Vogons Come to MoCo

Mara says: March 12, 2013 at 4:00 am

Unbelieveable! What an incredibly terrible idea. What happened to the plans for this to avoid Randolph Hills entirely?

I assume these plans were displayed in a locked filing cabinet at the bottom of the steps behind a door marked “Beware of Leopard”? Because I’ve certainly never heard anything about them.

I’m getting a little tired of MCDOT informing us of things after they’ve already happened…

Steven Thornton says: March 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

Thank you for providing this information. The East-West divide of White Flint is something that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. I agree that the CSX railroad track is still a major impediment to the walkability goals of the sector plan. Also, this is the first notice I’ve seen that there was any public hearing on Montrose Parkway East, and I follow the White Flint development news very closely! If the plans to route vehicle traffic will also force pedestrian and bike rerouting, we need to take action. Please provide info on who to contact to request state officials to take a more active look into the planning for this project..

Laurel Kennedy says: March 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm

When you say “rushed to protect their drawings” do you mean from physical assault, photographs, or just disparaging comments? I work on executive blvd and live in Randolph Hills so this sounds like it would directly cut off my route to work. I often bike. I have really been enjoying the underpass at Rockville Pike, but if you can’t get there from Randolph Hills then it’s sort of pointless. Would bikes still be able to use the old route? I would like to see the actual impact. It also sounds like it would benefit some of my co-workers who drive from Columbia/Burtonsville on Randolph (27). Would it be possible to leave the old road in tact in addition to the new highway? Maybe just for pedestrians/cyclists (and transit?). I agree that the current crossing seems dangerous with the train, are there any statistics on actual accidents? One interesting thing that it looks like the change might bring is unifying the far-side of RCA land by lessening all the traffic on the dead-end stump of randolph road.

Please let us know where we can direct our questions/comments

Brian says: March 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I am actually a little surprised by the reaction here. This is not new information. I don’t fully understand why folks think the impact is going to be devastating. The most concern seems to be about the option to close Randolph Road at the CSX tracks, however that was the original intent way back when they built the Parklawn/Nicholson overpass. Ever wonder why the left onto Parklawn at Randolph looks as it does? Any old timers in Randolph Hills can tell you that. I think the positive impacts of closing Randolph to through traffic would be great. I would like there to remain an at grade crossing for cyclists and pedestrians as maintained for Garret Park, but cars can easily take the new interchange to get to Target (Montrose Crossing shopping center). Regarding access to White Flint redevelopment, that is mostly south or just at Nicholson, not off of Randolph. Public transit would be enhanced by not having the at grade crossing (having been a Marc rider there have been many times that intersection has caused delays either by Marc or CSX traffic). Also, none of the proposed bus rapid transit routes would be affected by the design from what I can tell. So other than it being a little shocking to some folks I fail to see why it is so bad (other than reducing than increasing the travel time from Randolph Hills to Montrose Crossing Shopping Center. Would it hurt to redevelop the area east of the CSX tracks? I mean the 7-eleven, head shop, and the Honda ATV stores may be great for to some, but I think we can do better and this may present that opportunity.

How do folks on Montrose Road feel about the change since their traffic was moved over to Montrose West Parkway? It wouldn’t hurt to ask how they feel about the change now a few years after the construction.

Andrew says: March 13, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Brian I tend to agree. I live south of there in Garrett Park — and I don’t see how this negatively affects the community. Principally because, if we are concerned with local traffic, then don’t we want the E/W traffic flowing through without affecting our local roads? Wouldn’t this then enable the Nicholson lane areas to be more ‘walkable’?

Leaving the E/W traffic as-is mirrors how DC has the I-95 N/S traffic flow through 495, which is a horrible idea and years later is now unsolvable. So if there’s a way to get this E/W traffic through, while providing bicycles/pedestrians with accessibility, I feel that I’d support it.

Andrew says: March 13, 2013 at 3:52 pm

One more thing — I don’t want to pretend that cars aren’t king. That’s absurd thinking if you live here. The developers pay lip-service to this ‘cars are going away’ concept, meanwhile they’re correctly hedging their bets by building multiple stories of parking underneath these ‘walkable’ buildings. I’m glad! Because I go to NoBe, I work out at LA Fitness. I couldn’t however without the underground parking (which is always quite full).

It’s important to acknowledge that there will be local traffic to get to these communities from Garrett Park/Estates and Randolph, etc. Thus it would be useful to get the E/W traffic off the local roads as much as possible… right?

Chris says: March 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I remember the congestion and speeding on Montrose Road, right past the Jewish school and the whole Hebrew Home complex. Although I felt dubious about the new Montrose Parkway West, as it was being built, I must admit, that it calmed traffic on the old road. This makes it more walkable, bikable, livable for people along that stretch. — Do we have any testimonials from folks who live, visit, go to school along that stretch?

The new Montrose Parkway East could give us a chance to make Randolph Road less of a speedway. How can we take this opportunity to make that stretch more welcoming for our neighborhood?

Ben says: March 14, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Is Randolph Road really a speedway now? Between the traffic volume, road design and speed cameras, it seems a bit of hypebole to call Randolph a “speedway.”

This strikes me as a solution in search of a problem. The focus, I feel, should be on making improvements to the existing infrastructure rather than the creation of what amounts to a new highway and street grid. Why make it more difficult for people to access the White Flint commercial center? And why do more to facilitate highway-speed commutes through and increasingly dense, urbanizing area? How does this fit with the desire for increased density in the area?

Further, there is the question of funding priorities. Pedestrian, bike and public transit infrastructure along the Pike is either bad, awful, or non-existent, and we’re constantly told that funding for projects like BRT and streetcards remains a far-off fantasy. And yet, there are apparently little difficulties in funding a highway extension of questionable value that few have clamored for.

At best, this seems a project of questionable value with the potential for a significant downside. At worst, it’s an absolute boondoggle that sees the County pursuing 1970s-era transit ideas in a 2010s-world.

Chris S. says: March 14, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I don’t understand the argument that it is a bad, outdated concept to provide quick convenient transportation between the Pike and 270.

Also it is curious that a site called Friends of White Flint seems to revel in the notion of razing most of the area.

Ben says: March 14, 2013 at 10:43 pm

“I don’t understand the argument that it is a bad, outdated concept to provide quick convenient transportation between the Pike and 270. ”

That “quick, convenient transportation” already exists–it’s called Montrose Parkway. You can’t honestly argue that it’s difficult to get from 270 to the Pike using the Parkway. *I* don’t understand the argument that the continuation of said highway east of the Pike is a) necessary, b) a solution to any existing problem, or c) a better solution than seeking enhancements to existing infrastructure and focusing on bike, ped and transit efforts.

“Also it is curious that a site called Friends of White Flint seems to revel in the notion of razing most of the area.”

Nice attempt at the hypocrisy angle here, but it doesn’t float. Should the neighborhood should be encased in amber and never touched? If you’re honestly arguing that a dilapidated strip mall and a deteriorating enclosed shopping mall are ideal land uses for this area, you’re at odds with the direction the county and the neighborhood’s residents have stated they want to go in. I’ve not heard anyone make an honest argument that they like Mid-Pike Plaza the way it is, for example.

Also, for someone who apprently feels so strongly that nothing in the neighborhood should change or “razed”, supporting the construction of a new highway through a developed area seems to be a bit…hypocritical?