Friends of White Flint’s CIP Testimony

Last night, FoWF Board Member Chad Salganik presented testimony before the County Council on the Capital Improvement Programs Budget.  If you haven’t chimed in yet, it’s not too late — email your support of White Flint projects to County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

 

Testimony of Friends of White Flint

February 5, 2014

Public Hearing on Montgomery County Capital Improvements Program Budget

Good evening, Councilmembers.  My name is Chad Salganik and I am presenting this testimony on behalf of Friends of White Flint, a community non-profit organization that has been working on the White Flint Sector Plan since 2007.  I live in one of the neighborhoods of the Randolph Civic Association, which abuts the White Flint Sector, and I am a resident representative on the Friends’ Board of Directors.

Friends of White Flint promotes a sustainable, walkable and engaging White Flint.  Our membership includes hundreds of community members consisting of individual residents, civic and condominium associations, businesses and property owners. As we enter our seventh year, we continue our trend of bringing the entire range of stakeholders together in an effort to find common ground and community support for the ongoing implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan.

The White Flint area is undergoing a historic transformation.  Private landowners are moving forward in implementing the County’s vision of an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit.  It is crucial that public infrastructure stays on pace as this redevelopment occurs.  We are grateful that the County Executive has included White Flint-related projects in his recommended CIP and respectfully request that you pass this portion of the budget as proposed. 

We have had the opportunity to speak with scores of residents in a variety of settings including community meetings and our table at the local farmers market.  A few projects have generated a great deal of excitement:  the redesigned Wall Park with a new Recreation Center and an upgraded Shriver Aquatic Center. The potential impact these projects could have on our community is profound and we are grateful to see them funded in this budget. These amenities are necessary in a district with projected increases in population.

These projects hinge on funding in the CIP for White Flint-related road projects.  Improvements to our street grid, in the form of the Eastern and Western Workarounds, is necessary to improve the quality of life for existing and future residents and visitors of our area.

In addition, Wall Park, Shriver Aquatic Center and our new recreation center can only be built after the Western Workaround is in progress.  This is because the improvement to our street grid squares off blocks in a more logical manner.  One of these blocks will include a parking garage to accommodate visitors to the Wall Park complex, so that the existing surface parking can be replaced with flexible, active green space, as well as an enlarged aquatic and recreation center.

Each of these projects is intertwined and, while we know there are many competing priorities in the budget, we hope that the success of White Flint remains one of them. Thank you for your consideration.

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MCDOT Plans Changes for Nebel Street

**After you finish this piece, please see the update from 3/12/14 by clicking here.**

On Tuesday morning, Kyle Liang of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation attended the latest meeting of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee.  He shared that MCDOT has been focused on improving pedestrian safety on the east side of the White Flint Sector and will begin with a project on Nebel Street.

Nebel is not exactly a luxury travel experience at the moment. Right now, it’s a 4-lane undivided road with parking on both sides. Although the speed limit is posted at 30 mph, it’s easy to find yourself traveling much faster along the stretch between Nicholson Lane and Randolph Road. As far as trying to get across Nebel, a pedestrian’s options are limited. There’s just one uncontrolled crosswalk (meaning no stop signs, lights or signals) at Marinelli Road. The east side of the street includes some retail but is mostly industrial properties; the west side leads into the rest of the White Flint sector and is two blocks from the Metro station. As far as new projects along this stretch, LCOR’s Aurora will open this year and Foulger-Pratt, along with ProMark, is planning a residential project closer to Nicholson.

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Nebel Street looking north from Nicholson Lane. Photo by author.

According to Mr. Liang, the plan is to reduce Nebel from four lanes to three – two for travel, as before, and one for parking – the entire length from Nicholson to Randolph.  The travel lanes will be 11 feet wide, which is enough to accommodate the school buses that use this route.  Curb extensions will buffer the parking lane and will also shorten the distance for crossing pedestrians.  Median islands are also proposed to aid with crossings.

The plan includes a bike lane that will be wider than the county standard at 5.5′ or 6′, but that’s still narrower than bicycling advocates prefer.  Liang indicated that a wider bike lane might be confused by drivers as parking.  But, Nkosi Yearwood of the Planning Department, who happened to be present, made a different suggestion.  He raised the idea of putting a cycle track along this stretch.  Separated from traffic by a curb or other barrier, a cycle track would meet the requirements of the sector plan along this route.  It would also be a great connection into the White Flint Mall property, as Nebel Street is planned for extension across Nicholson.

Marinelli

The intersection of Marinelli Road and Nebel Street (if driving east on Marinelli).  Photo from Google Maps.

Because most destinations are to the west of Nebel Street, MCDOT believes this is the right side for the parking lane.  This way, people won’t have to cross Nebel to access their destinations after parking their car.  But, it was noted that this is a tricky intersection already.  When drivers are heading east on Marinelli and want to turn left onto Nebel (see photo above), they’re confronted with a blind left turn because of a hill and a curve.  Add parked cars to the equation and turning drivers are at an even larger disadvantage.  Liang suggested that this intersection might be ripe for a four-way stop and, ultimately, a traffic signal.  Nebel’s intersection with Old Georgetown Road, just a few blocks north, might also eventually get a signal.  It is currently controlled by a four-way stop without a crosswalk.

citadel

Marinelli Drive and Citadel Avenue. Photo from Google Maps.

Another intersection that was discussed at the meeting was Marinelli and Citadel, closer to the Metro station (above).  This uncontrolled crosswalk spans a wide patch of pavement where pedestrians are reported to often double back to safety after starting to cross.  Liang says he’ll ask his office to take a look at solutions that might work there.  There is not enough volume for a signal or four-way stop but, perhaps, a pedestrian refuge might help.

It’s projected that MCDOT will get started on the Nebel Street project this summer but we’ll keep you posted as we learn more.  In the meantime, send us your comments!

 

What Bike Infrastructure Looks Like

Arlington, Virginia, has been a regional leader in smart growth.  With high-density, mixed-use development along transit lines, they are an example worth monitoring as we implement the White Flint Sector Plan.  Because they are out of space to build new roads, and their transit capacity is slowing in growth, Arlington needed to find other ways to move people.  And, that’s really their focus — moving people, not just moving cars.

Bike infrastructure is coming to White Flint and this documentary, produced by BikeArlington, offers some great visuals of what it might look like:

Introducing the White Flint timeline

The White Flint Sector Plan set out a vision for turning the strip malls and parking lots along Rockville Pike into a new downtown, but it could take decades to execute. What we have today are pieces of a city floating in a suburban sea: a few towers, a handful of blocks that are actually nice to walk on, an occasional bike lane.

Pike Central Farm Market.

If you look hard enough, you can see glimpses of what White Flint will become: the quarter of White Flint residents who take transit to work; people filling the parking lot at Pike + Rose for the weekly Pike Central Farm Market; bikes filling the racks outside the Whole Foods at North Bethesda Market.

But what happens next? How will White Flint make the transition from suburban strip to urban boulevard? This is the first post in a series attempting to put together a timeline for the transformation of White Flint. We’ll look at both public and private projects, talk to the people who are making them happen, and tell you what to expect first.

First: A new street grid in White Flint will give people more ways to walk, bike and even drive around while relieve congestion on Rockville Pike. While some streets could open as early as 2015, others are mired in controversy.

Video shows what BRT means for Montgomery County

What would Bus Rapid Transit mean for Montgomery County? Friends of White Flint executive director Lindsay Hoffman and I talk about the benefits of BRT alongside residents and community leaders in a new video produced by the Coalition for Smarter Growth.


A Rapid Transit Solution to Traffic from Coalition for Smarter Growth on Vimeo.

The video also features interviews with a variety of local residents and community leaders, including Planning Board member Casey Anderson, college student Jonathan Jayes-Green, local Sierra Club chair David Hauck, and activist Elaine Binder. Transportation planner Larry Cole, who led the BRT planning process, also talks about how traffic continues to increase in Montgomery County.

For almost 5 years, Montgomery County has been working on a plan for a countywide BRT network, including routes on major corridors like Rockville Pike, Route 29, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road. The plan, which the Planning Board approved last month, has significant issues, but it’s still a huge step forward for the county as it seeks to accommodate new residents and workers while helping everyone get around more quickly and affordably.

We don’t have room on our streets today to accommodate everyone in a car today, let alone in the future. If done properly, and if given its own dedicated lanes, BRT can give people a new transportation choice that’s faster than driving will ever be in many of the county’s congested corridors. We simply cannot afford not to make a significant investment in new transit that can support future growth, economic development, and environmental stewardship.

The plan goes before the County Council this fall, but first, they will hold two public hearings on September 24 and 26 to hear from the community. If you’d like to show your support for BRT, you can visit CSG’s Next Generation of Transit website to learn more or visit the council’s website to sign up to testify or send written comments.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail shows way for White Flint

Separate foot (on the left) and bike (on the right) paths on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Photo by Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Getting around White Flint by foot or bike today is difficult. Despite plans to create a new pedestrian and bicycle network in the area, how do you coax people onto the streets that were primarily built for driving? A new trail network in Indianapolis gives us a path to follow.

Last year, the city opened the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an 8-mile network of foot and bike paths that loops around downtown with spurs to nearby destinations like universities, cultural venues and shopping streets. The trail “was about changing the way people thought about walking and running and jogging,” says Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), which spearheaded the project, in a video from Streetfilms. “We couldn’t just do a bike lane and change behavior. We had to do a new street.”

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail: The Next-Gen in U.S. Protected Bike Lanes from Streetfilms on Vimeo.
The trail is designed for a variety of users, including commuters, recreational cyclists and runners, and tourists. Unlike traditional bike lanes, which are street level, the Cultural Trail gives bicyclists and pedestrians separate paths at the curb level. This helps people who may be afraid to bike feel more comfortable because they’re not mixing with car traffic.

Small design choices make the trail easier and safer to use. Frequent, well-placed signage helps pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers understand how to interact with the trail and other users. At intersections with small streets, the crosswalk comes up to the trail, making it level. At big intersections, special pavers help trail users see where it goes while letting drivers know to expect lots of foot and bike traffic.

Special markings at intersections help trail users and drivers alike. Photo by Graeme Sharpe on Flickr.

The idea to create a trail system first appeared in 2001, and CICF reached out to community leaders to build support for the $63 million project. However, the city didn’t have to pay for any of it.

$15 million came from a private donor, while the federal government provided a $20.5 million TIGER grant. The rest came from individual donations, ranging from thousands of dollars to much smaller gifts. It’s an illustration of just how much people in the community cared about this project.

Trail supporters emphasize its multiple benefits to the community. Not only does it encourages people to get more exercise, but it introduces them to new ways of getting around, and even supports the local economy. Local businesses say the trail has resulted in higher sales, while developers are building new residential and commercial buildings along the route.

“We didn’t talk about this as an infrastructure project,” says Payne. “We talked about it as a quality of life and economic development [project].”

A map of White Flint's future Recreation Loop.

A map of White Flint’s future Recreation Loop.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail sounds a lot like the White Flint Recreation Loop, a 1-mile trail network connecting several local destinations, including Wall Park, the Bethesda North Conference Center, the future Civic Green, and future housing and commercial developments. Like in Indianapolis, streets in the loop will have both sidewalks and curb-level bike lanes, though in White Flint they’ll actually be “shared use paths” for bicyclists and pedestrians.

But unlike Indianapolis, which has created a 75-mile bike network entirely from scratch in 7 years, it’s unclear how much additional bike infrastructure we’ll get in White Flint. County transportation officials have been reluctant to even provide sidewalks and bike paths on Old Georgetown Road, which is an important part of the Recreation Loop.

That said, it took 12 years for Indianapolis to build the Cultural Trail, and they couldn’t do it without extensive community support, pressure from local leaders, and creative funding sources. Hopefully, the White Flint Recreation Loop won’t take that long, but it suggests that we still have a lot of work to do.

BF Saul presents improved design for Metro Pike Center

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

BF Saul proposes a pedestrian plaza along the west side of Rockville Pike.

After public outcry over their earlier proposal, developer BF Saul is back with a new design for a mixed-use complex that will replace the Metro Pike Center shopping center and Staples at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane. Over 60 people came to the monthly White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee meeting at the Shriver Aquatic Center to see it, though concerns remain about how the pedestrian-friendly the new buildings will be.

The Bethesda-based developer first revealed their plans to build 5 towers containing 1.4 million square feet of housing and 200,000 square feet of office and retail space on the combined 12-acre site in May. Residents complained that there was little street-level retail, discouraging people from walking around.

This time, however, 4 of the 5 towers will have ground-floor shops and restaurants, putting it along both sides of Rockville Pike and parts of Marinelli Road and Nicholson Lane. The developers hope this will create more sidewalk activity.

“We received a lot of good, constructive criticism about how to activate those public spaces,” said lawyer Robert Dalrymple from Linowes and Blocher. “One of the best ways to do that is through street level retail, which we are proposing.”

Site plan of BF Saul's proposal to replace Metro Pike Center with 5 mixed-use towers.

Site plan of BF Saul’s proposal to replace Metro Pike Center with 5 mixed-use towers.

BF Saul proposes creating a grand promenade along the west side of Rockville Pike, complimenting a linear park on the east side above the Red Line, which runs so close to the surface that buildings can’t be built directly above it. It will contain a plaza with fountains, gardens, trees, benches for sitting and gathering, and outdoor seating for restaurants.

The promenade will have an “active, lively urbane” feel, “attracting people to come and encouraging them to linger,” says Michael Vergason, landscape architect. It will get wider closer to the Metro, taking advantage of a high point on Rockville Pike with long views.

Beyond the plaza will be 2 300-foot residential towers closer to the White Flint Metro station that share underground parking. A third, 200-foot office tower closer to Nicholson Lane will sit atop a “podium” of parking that will make it appear taller.

In keeping with the White Flint Sector Plan’s call for a new street grid, BF Saul will extend Woodglen Drive north from Nicholson to Marinelli, with 2 smaller streets linking it to Rockville Pike. Woodglen will be lined with street trees and apartments with “real doors,” giving it a quiet, residential feel while masking the above-ground parking garages.

“There are going to be steps and stoops and pots and plants to make Woodglen a nice residential street,” says Daniel Ashtary, architect with Silver Spring-based Torti Gallas and Partners, who is also designing the Gables development next to Wall Park.

On the east side, there will be 2 residential towers measuring 300 and 240 feet tall with underground parking surrounding a shared driveway. A new street will run behind them, connecting the Pike to Citadel Avenue.

Residents had many questions about traffic, pedestrian safety, and the need for larger, family-sized apartments in the area. One man asked if current businesses, like Staples and Kinko’s, will be able to come back after the shopping center is demolished.

Brian Downie, Senior Vice President of Development for BF Saul, didn’t rule it out but said the new development will emphasize more restaurants “because that’s what activates the street.”

Neighboring property owners expressed concerns about the extension of Woodglen Drive, which would connect this project to JBG’s North Bethesda Market to the south and Federal Realty’s Pike + Rose to the north.

“It’s a really important street,” added Evan Goldman of Federal Realty. “I’d like to see some focus on that.” He recommended that BF Saul work with the Grand Apartments, which is directly behind their project, to nudge Woodglen to the west so it could connect with streets in Pike + Rose.

Greg Trimmer of JBG suggested making the promenade a little narrower and giving the extra width to Woodglen so it could accommodate wider bike lanes or sidewalks. This would also make the promenade more attractive to retailers. In downtown Silver Spring, there’s no shortage of empty retail spaces behind gorgeous pocket parks, simply because the distance from the street discourages pedestrians from walking over.

However, the new design has promise, and it’ll be exciting to see how it continues to evolve. Downie says the “market will dictate” when construction begins. BF Saul will file a sketch plan with the Montgomery County Planning Board later this summer; if the approval process goes smoothly, construction could begin within 2 years, and the first building could open within 5 years.