For White Flint to become a great urban place, it needs a great pedestrian and bicycle network. But today, it’s not always an easy place to get around by foot or bike. Recently, I had an e-mail interview with Mary Ward, a White Flint resident and cyclist who has become an advocate for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Some answers have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
How do you get around in White Flint currently?
I live just south of the White Flint Sector Plan boundary on Rockville Pike. Until just recently, I worked just west of White Flint, about a mile from my home. I would often bike to work using part of the Bethesda Trolley Trail and Executive Boulevard to get there.
When weather wasn’t conducive to biking or I needed to do shopping, I would drive and do my grocery shopping and other errands, hooking together several stops and avoiding Rockville Pike whenever possible. I sometimes walk to White Flint Mall, Whole Foods, and Strathmore since those are less than a half-mile away, but all of these destinations involve walking at least part of the way along Rockville Pike, which is not pleasant.
In bad weather and heavy traffic times of day, I drive.
What impediments do you face getting around on foot or bike today?
I would say the biggest impediment is the issue of “you can’t get there from here,” without spending some of the journey a foot or two away from a busy road, breathing traffic exhaust. Drivers are not looking out for bikers or pedestrians, so as a pedestrian or cyclist, I am always on the defensive.
For biking, the biggest impediment is the lack of off-road bike paths and separate bike lanes that connect to shopping and other destinations in the area, like Strathmore. For walking, too many of the sidewalks in and around White Flint are close to busy roads, like on Rockville Pike, Old Georgetown and Nicholson Lane.
My husband is less risk-averse than I am and he bikes almost everywhere. He challenged Councilmember Berliner, and any other councilmembers who would like to participate, to bike with him on three of his typical rides: To his dentist in the heart of White Flint, to the grocery store, and on a recreational ride down the Trolley Trail to Bethesda. We are still waiting for a reply.
Do you feel like the Sector Plan will address those concerns?
Certainly, wider sidewalks and some additional bike lanes and off-road shared use paths will be a welcome improvement over current conditions. However, I have three concerns.
Will the sidewalks and bike paths be adequate for the expected increase in population? 9,500 new housing units will surely translate to more than 15,000 new residents. Montgomery County has a “complete streets” policy on the books, but I don’t see that all of the streets in the White Flint Sector Plan will be required to meet the “complete streets” goal of accessibility to all cyclists and pedestrians, regardless of age or skill level.
One example is Nicholson Lane, which is slated to have an on-road bike lane, but the same narrow sidewalk. Unless there’s a true physical separation from traffic, I would not feel comfortable biking on such a busy road. I am also concerned that the recreational loop will not adequately accommodate cyclists, especially with the future bikeshare program, and walkers.
How will people in adjacent neighborhoods get here? The promise of the White Flint development is that it will be a walkable and bikeable destination for members of surrounding communities who already do most of their shopping in White Flint. But the Sector Plan doesn’t address completing bike paths and improving sidewalks to that those areas have a pleasant and safe way to get here. The “complete streets” policy must also be extended to neighboring communities.
How will people get to recreational destinations? The new population of White Flint is not going to just shop and go to movies here. There need to be easy ways to get to nearby parks, especially Rock Creek Park, which is a great resource and national treasure, but there are few ways to get there except by car.
Instead, the Planning Board approved an extension of the Montrose Parkway that will require cutting down hundreds of trees and destroy part of Rock Creek Park. The right-of-way, which is owned by the county, could instead help connect White Flint to the park with a hiker-biker path extension.
What do you think the county should focus on to make White Flint a better place to walk or bike?
I believe it takes political will and leadership to make a “complete streets” policy happen. And money, of course. Currently the bike infrastructure budget for our large, wealthy county is a paltry amount.
Communities that have really become pedestrian and bike friendly have had a leader like Michael Bloomberg in New York City or Adrian Fenty in DC. We need that kind of leadership in Montgomery County.