Isiah Leggett Announces Agreement to Reduce Number of Lanes on Old Georgetown Road

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett announced Wednesday an agreement between the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) was reached to reduce the number of lanes on Old Georgetown Road to two-through lanes in each direction, with one shared left-turn lane at the new intersection of Hoya Street. This fall, FOWF and many of our friends focused our attention and efforts on making sure our community knew how important it was for the Old Georgetown Road plan to stay in-line with the vision put forth by the White Flint Sector Plan. The safety and well-being of pedestrians and cyclists in the sector are necessary for the success of the Sector Plan.

In the most recent Capital Improvements Program, the County decided to include funding for the connection of Hoya Street to Montrose Road to help reduce the amount of traffic on Old Georgetown Road. As Old Georgetown Road is a state-owned road, only SHA can make decisions on the amount of lanes on this road. With the additional funding provided for the Hoya Street extension by the County, it provided another reason to decrease the amount of lanes on Old Georgetown Road.

In addition, MCDOT provided SHA with a supplemental traffic analysis of the Old Georgetown Road intersection to justify their request for the reduction of number of lanes. After much deliberation, SHA agreed that Hoya Street would provide sufficient relief off of Old Georgetown Road and improved MCDOT’s request to lower the amount of lanes on Old Georgetown Road.

This is great news! This is one step closer to ensuring the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the sector! We are very happy to hear this.

Thanks for Walking White Flint

Last Saturday morning was a gorgeous one for exploring White Flint by foot.  Thanks to the forty, or so, Friends who joined our Community Walking Tour to better understand pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and how smart infrastructure plays a big role in getting people out of their cars.  

Particular thanks goes to former Governor Parris Glendening, now a leader with Smart Growth America, White Flint champion Councilmember Roger Berliner and Ramona Bell-Pearson from County Executive Leggett’s office. We all pitched in for a robust conversation as we walked around the block – a single block which creates about a mile-long walk.

We were also joined by Dan Reed, of JustUpThePike.com, who has graciously shared the photos he took during our walk.  See all of his photos on his Flickr page by clicking here.

One pedestrian safety hazard that exists in two spots on Old Georgetown Road are “slip lanes.” They’re the uncontrolled, at-speed right hand turns that give drivers little notice of pedestrians in their way.  At both the intersection with Rockville Pike and with Executive Boulevard (pictured) pedestrians cross at their own risk because no signal light controls that lane of traffic.  Although there’s a crosswalk, there is little other notice for drivers (who need not slow to make the turn) that pedestrians might be in their way.

At the new intersection of Grand Park Avenue and Old Georgetown Road, we crowded around the pole in the middle of the sidewalk and to talk about how the shapes and radii of corners can impact pedestrians.  The wider and more curved a corner is, the less caution a driver will take when turning.  This means they could be less aware of pedestrians.

There are several hardy souls in this photograph! First, the pedestrians walking along Rockville Pike have nothing separating them from traffic speeding by at 40 miles an hour.  The same road, when it reaches downtown Bethesda, will have a speed limit of 25mph. Even though they’re probably safe up on the sidewalk, it’s the perception of safety and the unpleasantness of the walk that keeps people from doing it. Cars came past me fast enough that my sweater blew around. Also – hooray for the bicyclist on Rockville Pike!

Even in this photograph, one can sense how a little space between the pedestrians and the traffic can create a more pleasant pedestrian experience. Here, we’re walking south on the Pike and approaching the metro tunnel entrance at Marinelli.

Our last stop allowed for the most pleasant of the pedestrian experiences – a walk down Marinelli Drive buffered by both grass and a new bike lane. I think all of the participants could really feel the difference that those small additions made in walking down the street.

A last, but important, thanks to Pike Central Farmers Market for allowing us to gather on their site! Mitch Berliner and Debra Moser have really built a community staple in their first few years in White Flint and we’re looking forward to many more to come. In the meantime, the Market will be open every Saturday until the week before Thanksgiving so get there soon!

The Community Wants Old Georgetown Road Designed Per the Sector Plan

The beauty of the White Flint Sector Plan has always been in the way the entire community has come together to embrace the work being done here.  It’s exciting that, after all this time, we’re still going strong as a community, together.  

Yesterday, we tendered a letter to the County Executive that has been joined and signed by sixteen stakeholders who have been working toward a better White Flint.  More groups are signing on each day – and they’re joining the over 350 individual community members who have already sent emails on this issue.

See the letter below:

September 29, 2014

The Honorable Isiah “Ike” Leggett
Montgomery County Executive
101 Monroe Street
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Cc: Montgomery County Council

Dear Mr. Leggett,

As property owners, residents, advocates and concerned citizens within the White Flint area and the rest of Montgomery County, we appreciate your steadfast support for our shared vision of the community’s redevelopment. That vision, as articulated in the White Flint Sector Plan, is for a vibrant, walkable, sustainable community, one that will provide economic growth in the county for decades to come. Now however, in light of strong concerns involving MCDOT’s current Western Workaround design and our community’s unified position on those concerns, we write to ask for your assistance in preserving our shared aspirations for a better White Flint.

The White Flint Sector Plan, in addition to providing a blueprint for responsible growth, also includes detailed prescriptions for the roads and other transportation investments needed in order for the larger vision to succeed. These “prerequisite” projects allow for new growth to occur without overwhelming the existing road network by creating new and attractive ways to get around, including wider sidewalks, bike lanes, rapid transit and a connected street grid to provide alternatives to Rockville Pike. This is what the community agreed to when it supported the Sector Plan, and what property owners agreed to when they agreed to the District Tax to fund those investments.

Unfortunately, this is not the vision MCDOT is implementing. After four years of consistent community support for improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, MCDOT’s current design for the Western Workaround includes none of the bicycle and pedestrian elements required in the Sector Plan. Not only is this approach counter to what the community supports, it effectively undermines White Flint’s ability to meet the transportation mode-share goals on which the entire plan depends.  It is also a wasteful use of the District Tax resources. Rather than implementing the Western Workaround now in accordance with the Sector Plan, MCDOT’s current design would necessitate building the project twice: first the way MCDOT has currently designed it, and then again decades later in a way that provides the mobility benefits promised to the community.   Most importantly, it sets a negative precedent for the design of future road improvements within White Flint, including Rockville Pike and the Eastern Workaround.

We find ourselves in a difficult situation.  While we all want the infrastructure built as quickly as possible, we cannot accept a design which defeats the shared vision we’ve spent years working for.  Thus we ask you, as County Executive, to once again engage with us to help implement our shared vision in the White Flint Sector Plan.  This will be one of the most important legacies of your tenure as County Executive and we find ourselves at a critical juncture that will ultimately determine the success of the plan.  As County Executive, we ask you to take the following actions:

  1. Direct MCDOT to work collaboratively with MNCPPC, property owners, residents, civic leaders and other stakeholders in the White Flint area to design the Western Workaround and all other Sector road improvements in a way that reflects the Sector Plan’s vision for a multi-modal, mixed-use White Flint.
  2. Initiate a comprehensive review of MCDOT policies for White Flint, with regard totraffic projections, trip modeling and related methods that the agency employs to determine the character of roads within White Flint. These methods should reflect the dynamic, pedestrian-oriented environment that White Flint will become, rather than perpetuate the auto-oriented status quo.
  3. Send a letter to SHA, MDOT and Governor O’Malley communicating the importance of designing and implementing infrastructure under state control in accordance with the vision of the White Flint Sector Plan. Further, we ask that you work together with the Governor’s office to develop a strategy to allow SHA and MCDOT to jointly implement transportation projects in a way that reflects the multi-modal vision of the White Flint Sector Plan.

We stand ready to work collaboratively with your office to make the vision for White Flint a reality.  Leadership from the County Executive office was crucial to the approval of the plan and is now clearly needed if the vision of this great bold plan is to be achieved.  We are truly grateful for your prioritization and dedication of funding for White Flint-related infrastructure.  We know that there were many demands on those funds, which makes it even more crucial that they are spent efficiently by building this road properly, the first time.

Please stand with your constituents and make this national model of best practices in economic development and community building a reality.  We also invite you to stand with your constituents, literally, in taking a guided walking tour along the streets and sidewalks of White Flint to better understand our concerns from the pedestrian’s perspective.

 

Respectfully,

 

Action Committee for Transit

Chevy Chase Land Co.

Coalition for Smarter Growth

Combined Properties

David Walters, Resident

Fallswood Condominium

Friends of White Flint

Georgetown Village Condominium

Greater Farmland Civic Association

Marty Abramowitz, The Sterling

Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike)

Old Georgetown Village Condominium

Old Georgetown Village Townhomes

Randolph Civic Association

The Forum Condominium

The Sierra Club of Montgomery County

The White Flint Partnership

 

 

 

 

Time For Our Leaders To Walk Across Old Georgetown Road

That smoke you see rising over White Flint isn’t from (prohibited) autumn leaf burning, it’s the flame war that has erupted over the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s plan to plunk a “commuter thoroughfare” in the middle of the new walkable, sustainable, bikeable White Flint Sector Plan. Of course, like everything MoCo, it’s not that simple, and the flames obscure a significant trust issue that no one’s talking about.

When I last sat down with County Executive Ike Leggett on the White Flint Sector Plan, I was representing Friends of White Flint, this community-based organization including residential associations, employers, and property owners in White Flint. In the three years leading up to the adoption of the White Flint Plan in 2010, Friends of White Flint held over 200 community meetings to educate and activate the public. We knew what the community thought about the County and its planning processes. I told Mr. Leggett that the County had a trust problem: people believed that the County promised big but later changed its mind and did something else.

Mr. Leggett looked me in the eye and said “That’s a valid point. But that won’t happen this time.” And he kept his word, delivering – along with the County Council – the needed road funding over the last four years.

So why the disconnect between Leggett’s office and the County Department of Transportation? Both sides seem to be saying the same thing, but acting in different ways. And – beyond the trust question – that seems to be the real problem here.

There’s an old adage: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The more modern useage: confirmation bias. You tend to focus on what you’re comfortable with.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has a vital job: moving cars through a jurisdiction with a million people. People in Montgomery County, like people everywhere, hate traffic congestion, pollution, climate change, sprawl and all the things that come with the automobile-centered society we have built over the last fifty years. They hammer on the County Executive, Council and agencies to do something about traffic. Then they get in their cars and contribute to the problem. So MCDoT has a tough job: moving traffic in a community that wants it all.

Right now, Old Georgetown Road is a major road on the western edge of the White Flint Plan area, curving at its far northern end to dump thousands of cars a day onto Rockville Pike. People new to the area think the function of Rockville Pike is to move cars, like a pipe, as quickly as possible through White Flint. But there’s more than one way to move a big volume of traffic: you can have, as we do now, one big, really, really fast pipe, or you can have, as the White Flint Plan directs, a lot of smaller, safer, slower streets so people can get around accidents and traffic snarls.

The first way – the big pipe with fast cars and no pedestrian or bike safety features – leads to pedestrian fatalities, like last month’s death of 24-year-old Aaron Papirmeister on an eight-lane section of southbound Rockville Pike in White Flint. The second way’s like the Internet, designed with lots of pathways so no single blockage stops its traffic.

White Flint is part of the County’s official policy of improving neighborhoods so they are more walkable, safer for bikes and bicycle commuters, and less reliant on automobiles. It’s a sophisticated, non-coercive approach to traffic planning, designed to communicate with drivers about appropriate speeds, and protect fragile flesh from tons of metal and glass. We’re not going to ignore the people who live “in-between” here and there so others can speed through on their way to somewhere else, but we’re going to let everyone get where they want to go quickly and safely through careful and sophisticated traffic management. It works in lots of places, like Arlington County, where a huge increase in residents and offices hasn’t resulted in an increase in traffic. So, the White Flint Plan calls for slowing, narrowing, and sharing even the most major roads, while increasing the “street grid” by giving drivers a variety of options for moving through White Flint.

Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike are part of that planned transformation. White Flint is being designed – and now being built – for residents, pedestrians, bicycle users, rapid transit, and, yes, even drivers. Buildings are rising. Seven restaurants are scheduled to open in the next two months in Pike & Rose, the new planned urban center just north of the section of Old Georgetown Road we’re talking about. People are already living in Persei, the new “mixed-use” residential building on Old Georgetown Road.

And all those people expect Old Georgetown Road to be walkable, bikeable, and not a “commuter thoroughfare.” After all, it’s what the County promised, not just in evanescent discussions, but in the official White Flint Sector Plan, adopted in 2010, and now four years old.

Which makes the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s current plan for the two east-west blocks of Old Georgetown Road just south of Pike & Rose surprising. In June 2013, MCDoT revealed its plans for that short section of road, and the words were encouraging; Bruce Johnston, MCDoT’s transportation engineering chief, told the County’s White Flint Implementation Committee: “We want to provide an environment that’s pedestrian and bicyclist friendly and will encourage people to get out of their vehicles.” But their plans didn’t actually do that; their plans included eight traffic lanes and a 40 miles per hour speed limit, much higher than where Old Georgetown Road travels through Bethesda. The White Flint Plan calls for only four traffic lanes, bike paths, wide sidewalks, and more; none of that was included.

Why? Johnston said because of “the anticipated [vehicular] traffic volume on that road.” In other words, we have to ignore the sophisticated (and proven) plans to handle “the anticipated traffic volume” in favor of making it more difficult for bikes and pedestrians.

Still, it was only a preliminary “35%” plan, and at least they were saying the right things about their intentions. But that tension between community, planners and MCDoT primed the community to watch for the same sort of evasion of the White Flint Plan in the future.

In the meantime, those two blocks were “improved” to include narrow sidewalks with wires and poles plopped directly in the middle. Not easy for pedestrians, strollers, or wheelchairs to get around. And no bike lanes. Not particularly reassuring.

pr6

So last week, MCDoT revealed what is likely to be in its “70%” plan for the same two blocks. The result, almost exactly the same: eight traffic lanes, not four; no bike lanes; no pedestrian medians or other safety features; still the “anticipated traffic volume” as the driving force.

ogr1

Above, what we expect from MCDOT’s plan. Below, what we expected under the sector plan.

The community, which had been primed to watch for just this sort of thing, exploded. In just 24 hours, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s office received hundreds of letters from residents complaining about the Old Georgetown Road planning.

The response? County assistant chief administrative officer Ramona Bell-Pearson sniffed at the residents’ complaints: “It seems like enough is never enough.” Ken Hartman, regional services director for Montgomery County, called the residents’ characterizations “disingenuous.” MCDoT said that it would build the two blocks one way now and then rebuild the road again later. County officials blamed the state of Maryland.

Which brings us back to our two ways to move traffic: one big pipe or many little, safer, slower pipes. We have learned we can’t build enough roads to handle the problem; there simply isn’t any more space to build big new roads “down-county.” So we have to maximize what we have. And we can do that, like Arlington County has, through careful and consistent management and planning. We know what to do, but we actually have to grit our teeth and do it.

And the County and state transportation agencies are slowly – ever so slowly – moving in the right direction. At a recent Friends of White Flint meeting, a representative of the Maryland State Highway Administration talked about “communication with drivers” as an important part of their current planning. That is a breakthrough; before planners would try to simply impose their wills on drivers, but now they are beginning to try to understand and work with drivers instead.

But because that change is slow and because MCDoT has as its main priority moving traffic as fast as possible – and most important because of that trust issue with unfulfilled promises – what one side sees as slow progress, the other sees as “sabotage.”

And they’re both right. Slow progress can be seen as “slow walking” something to death. Seeing interim solutions as “sabotage” can be seen by the other side as “enough is never enough.”

Issues of trust, rubbed raw by years of conflict. What we are left with is a lot of smoldering feelings, ready to erupt in flames at the least provocation.

Time for Mr. Leggett to step forward again. Let’s have another public commitment.

Ike, come down and walk across the eight lanes of Rockville Pike, or Old Georgetown Road. Make your statement right there. Make that statement clear. Montgomery County Department of Transportation should become the Department of Mobility, to reflect the new direction the County must move in. Embrace it, and the community that has asked for it. Set the tone again.

You’ll see that community vigilance can work both ways: to help you achieve your commitments (and enhance the County in the process) and to illuminate those times when County agencies aren’t quite getting your message.

YIMBY’s

Too often in community activism, we toss around the term “NIMBY” – it stands for “not in my back yard.”  Today, I’m proud to stand among the 179* members of this community who, in twelve hours yesterday, called themselves YIMBY’s!  You sent messages to the county that you want Old Georgetown Road built properly, right in your back yards.

Friends of White Flint issued a call to action because we have worked hard toward a walkable, sustainable White Flint.  We are confident that the combination of a new street grid and the associated pedestrian and bicyclist amenities is crucial toward addressing traffic in our area.

So, let me addend yesterday’s post with a note that Friends of White Flint will be happily proven wrong on the design of Old Georgetown Road. In an email yesterday from a county official, I was told that “70% designs will be ready in October/November.”  If we’re only weeks away from reaching this threshold, then we look forward to a road design that orients this artery for the future and offers the bike/pedestrian amenities we were promised.

* we reached 200 before the day was done!

MCDOT is Sabotaging the Western Workaround

Friends, we’ve got a problem…  (stay tuned to the end of the post where you can click to take action – or you can click right here).

When the White Flint Sector Plan was adopted in 2010 after years of collaboration between residents, property owners, county officials and civic leaders, it was hailed as a triumph of responsible, sustainable development. Now, however, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is poised to undo years of work by pushing through a design for the western workaround that does not include any of the elements promised to the community by the Sector Plan.

This is what we’ve feared since a public meeting we told you about in this blog post last summer.  There, transportation planners shared a vision of Old Georgetown Road, between Rockville Pike and Hoya Street, that looked vastly different than what’s outlined in the sector plan.  When we voiced concern, we were told that we’d have to go to the Governor to get what we were promised.  Even Councilmember Roger Berliner weighed in with a letter to MCDOT because the design did not meet expectations.

ogr2

The area around Old Georgetown Road has changed a lot
since this Google Maps image was taken in 2012

Since then, when we’ve checked in on the subject, we’ve been assured our concerns are being considered but that design of this stretch is on the back burner while other western workaround details are dealt with. Turns out that wasn’t exactly accurate…

 

Promises Made Should be Promises Kept
Transforming White Flint into a vibrant, walkable area requires balancing new development, which brings growth and amenities, with the pressure to move traffic. Part of that solution is a multi-modal transportation network that diffuses traffic across a new street grid, known as the western workaround. The goal is to relieve traffic on Rockville Pike while providing safe and attractive ways to get around on foot, bike or transit.

Because these elements are crucial to success, the sector plan prescribes specific details including speed limits, the numbers of lanes, and the location and character of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. For Old Georgetown Road, between Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike, the Plan is unequivocal: it should have four lanes (two in each direction), on-street bike lanes in both directions, sidewalks and a broad shared-use path, which forms part of the Sector-wide Recreation Loop.

In spite of the clear guidance of the sector plan – passed by the County Planning Board and County Council and overwhelmingly supported by the community – MCDOT’s design has no bike lanes, no shared-use path, and it widens the road to include two turn lanes in each direction, creating a road that is, effectively, eight lanes wide.  

messed up ogr1ogr1

You can click on this to make it larger. The top image is what MCDOT’s design will look like, the bottom is what’s called for in the sector plan. FYI – Towne Road will be the new name for Hoya Street once it’s complete.

This leaves us with an Old Georgetown Road that is even less safe for cyclists and pedestrians than it is today and with a gaping hole in one of the area’s signature planned amenities, the Recreation Loop. Even more frustrating, MCDOT has proposed redesigning Old Georgetown Road twice: once now to maximize auto traffic, and again, sometime in the future, to incorporate the elements promised in the Sector Plan, as long as conditions warrant and funding is available.  What an inefficient use of our tax dollars!

 

MCDOT’s Backwards Logic
Sadly, MCDOT’s actions are not surprising given the agency’s well documented history of prioritizing traffic flow over bicycle and pedestrian safety. The consequences of this “car is king” mentality are stark: 454 pedestrians were struck by cars in the county last year; 13 were killed. Just this summer, a pedestrian was killed while crossing the Pike down by North Bethesda Market and I frequently receive emails from Friends concerned for their safety on and along Old Georgetown Road.

In defense of their design, MCDOT argues that this is a four-lane road.  According to them, the design technically contains only two travel lanes in each direction; the additional lanes, which extend nearly the entire length of the roadway, are “merely turning lanes.”

This obfuscation may hold water for traffic engineers, but for anyone unlucky enough to bike or walk along the road, that distinction provides little comfort. Under the MCDOT proposal, a pedestrian must traverse eight lanes of traffic to get across Old Georgetown Road. For cyclists, the lack of dedicated lanes means they must take their chances staying safe among four lanes of traffic.

In reality, the effect of this design will be even more wide-reaching. By prioritizing driving over everything else, MCDOT will fulfill its own skewed vision for mobility in the county: fewer people will walk, bike or take transit.  Even if we want to, we just won’t feel safe. Instead, we’ll choose to drive for every single trip, adding to congestion and undermining the entire premise of the White Flint Sector Plan redevelopment.

bike sector plan

The bike infrastructure we expect under the sector plan…

bike mcdot

The bike infrastructure we’ll get with MCDOT’s design

Our Community is Being Ignored
Safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a Recreation Loop were key elements that helped the plan gain the support of the community. And, since the Plan’s passage, White Flint residents have consistently voiced their support for safer bike/pedestrian accommodations. For this reason, Friends of White Flint was shocked to learn that MCDOT has nearly advanced to the 70% design threshold for their version of the project, disregarding years of community involvement and input.

Not only is MCDOT’s approach an affront to the residents and stakeholders who spent years building consensus around the Sector Plan, but their defiance betrays the trust on which the White Flint Sector Plan relies and jeopardizes the entire process. The Western Workaround is the first of many planned transportation and infrastructure improvements within the White Flint Sector. If MCDOT is willing to push through a design for this project in direct defiance of the sector plan, how can the public trust they will implement the balance of the plan faithfully?

 

Tell the County: Enough is Enough
The residents and stakeholders of White Flint deserve better; now it’s time to demand it. Please join Friends of White Flint and our friends at Coalition for Smarter Growth in calling on County Executive Ike Leggett to uphold the promises made to our community and to hold his Department of Transportation accountable. Time is of the essence as this design marches forward – we must show them that we ARE paying attention,  we ARE excited about the new White Flint and we ARE expecting our county to do its part in making this place great.

Click the link below to send our county government a message and demand that they keep their promise to make White Flint a place where you don’t need to use your car for every single trip. A place where pedestrians and bicyclists have the same value as drivers. A place where we think about moving people, not just cars. You’ll find suggested language already populated but, if you can, take a moment to customize your subject line and message to maximize its impact. Thank you for your attention and advocacy!

Click Here to Take Action

** Updated 10/14/14 — the email blast that accompanied this blog post mistakenly said that the road’s design was unveiled as 70% complete.  The correct status of the project is as stated above – MCDOT is advancing to the 70% design threshold.  

 

Heads Up on the Sidewalk!

Even despite our best efforts at advocacy and watchdoggingness (that’s a word, right?), we periodically find that things are not exactly happening according to plan.  By “plan” I mean, the White Flint Sector Plan — that 90+ page document approved by our County’s Council and Planning Department and overwhelmingly supported by the community — which is guiding the suburban retrofit we’ve been working toward.  The first sentence of the Plan reads,

This Sector Plan vision establishes policies for transforming  an auto-oriented suburban development pattern into an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit.

Lovely, right?  So, it’s frustrating when we come across new little installations that fly in the face of this vision.  Take, for example, Old Georgetown Road in front of Pike and Rose.  I was there this weekend to glance around the first restaurant to open on the property, Del Frisco’s Grille, when I couldn’t help but notice a few things about the sidewalk.  You know, the one we’re supposed to use to “walk to work, shops and transit.”

First – can we acknowledge how awesome it is to see the transformation we’ve been working toward for over seven years?  To actually see the the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue is pretty exciting!

PR1

But, say you’re walking downhill (west) on Old Georgetown Road – away from the Pike.  Maybe you’re moving a little faster because you’re biking on the sidewalk, a little too unnerved to challenge the traffic by riding in a travel lane.   You will notice quite an improvement from our previous sidewalk.  A great buffer separates pedestrians from traffic – I felt pretty safe standing there with my little kid.

PR3

I walked a little farther down the sidewalk and thought my eyes were playing a trick on me.  Was something in the middle of the sidewalk (and, no, I don’t mean the orange piece of construction equipment taking a break)?  Do you see it?

PR2

 

It’s such a skinny little thing that I asked my helper (that’s Charlie, everybody) to help me highlight the scary obstacle SITTING IN THE CENTER OF THE  SIDEWALK!  See it now?  (You can click to zoom in on any of these photos, by the way).

pr4

 

You kind of have to be right on top of it to see it and, depending on your circumstances, that might be too late!

pr5

This skinny pole, again, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK, was installed by Pepco, we’re told.  It attaches to the utility pole to your left for, I don’t know, stability?  That seems important but, really, Pepco?  This was the best solution you could come up with?  Someone is going to get hurt with this obstacle in the middle of the sidewalk.  I repeat:  SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET HURT WITH THIS OBSTACLE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK.

pr6

When we turned around to return to our car (yes, we drove there), something else jumped out at me.  Can someone explain why the “walk sign” is sitting in the middle of the sidewalk?

pr8

According to our County DOT and State Highway Administration, this location is necessary so those in wheelchairs can reach the walk request button.  Again, surely we could have found a better solution here because, if one of those persons in a wheelchair wishes to turn left at that corner, they’re going to experience a significant pinch point.

While we wish these were the only spots where infrastructure is falling short, we expect there will be others.  Get your voices ready!  

If you’d like to speak out on these issue, either comment here or on social media or email your concerns to Darcy Buckley in the county’s White Flint Implementation Coordination office at darcy.buckley@montgomerycountymd.gov. Although they don’t control Pepco, that office is the best place to coordinate an improvement to these two situations.

 

 

Bike Infrastructure & More at the Implementation Committee Meeting

Last week, the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee held their monthly meeting and, after preliminary and general updates, we finally got more information on the latest plan for Woodglen Drive.  Here are our notes from the meeting:

  • Not much development activity since last month. Only item is that the Goddard School on Edson will be filing in the near future.
  • County White Flint Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz’s Update:
    • The County along with the White Flint Partnership filed for a TIGER grant to fund a study for BRT on 355. Expect to have a response by the end of September.
    • The County is working with the Stadium Authority to bid out the design work for the parking garage that will sit on the Conference Center property. Design work should start by the end of the year.
    • The County is continuing to coordinate with the Gables.
    • Dee did a bike tour of DC with WABA.  Said the bike tour was interesting.
    • The traffic study for White Flint is still in progress. In particular there was concern over Old Georgetown Road. FRIT and many residents would like to see Old Georgetown reduced to 2 lanes in each direction. The County is proposing 3 lanes in each direction based on input from MD SHA. The County has been revising its projections based on changes in the residential / commercial mix of projects in the pipeline. The County is trying to project out to 2042. Generally, SHA agrees with their traffic projections, but has challenged the County on plans if the projections are exceeded. SHA has thus asked for additional analysis. MC DOT and the County are working to better understand what SHA is asking for.   The County hopes to publish the traffic study by the end of the year.
  • Representatives of MCDOT were present and were asked to focus on  pedestrians and cyclists in addition to cars. Bruce Johnston of MCDOT explained that their designs are consistent with the Sector Plan and, in some facets, exceed the Plan, ie bike lanes on Marinelli and the introduction of cycle tracks.
    • Bruce noted that they are predicting 50/50 split in mode share by 2042, so they are not being conservative in their view towards an increase in non-auto trips. Dee reiterated that they do not control state roads. Evan Goldman noted that FRIT will push for 2 lanes in each direction on Old Georgetown, even if they have to go to the State / Governor. He noted it will take pressure from the community to make this happen.
    • Bruce noted that the additional phases of the western work-around are a ways off due to the slow acquisition of buildings like the VOB building.
  • The Manager of Pike & Rose spoke about tenants moving in to all floors of PerSei and that it’s been successful thus far. Looking forward to the entertainment and restaurants opening, beginning in September. Evan Goldman spoke about phase 2 of Pike & Rose and a commitment to biking facilities (bike racks) and Zip Car. Phase 2 residential units also offer fewer car spaces per unit .7 spaces per unit vs. 1 per unit in Phase 1. Evan discussed the need to fund a bikeshare station.
Update on Bike Infrastructure in White Flint
  • Bruce Johnston, Chief, Division of Transportation Engineering, and Patricia Shepherd, Bikeways Coordinator, were on hand to discuss improvements Marinelli Road, Woodglen Drive and Nebel Street.
  • Bruce quickly reviewed the bike lanes that were added to Marinelli Road when it was resurfaced. He noted that MC DOT is attempting to improve cycling infrastructure when the opportunities present themselves, and this was one of those opportunities. He noted that bike lanes on Marinelli Road were not part of the Sector Plan. This section is considered complete, though sharrows and bicycle signage should be added shortly on the east bound lane of Marinelli at the intersection with Rockville Pike.
  • Improvements to Woodglen between Nicholson Drive and Edson Lane were supposed to be completed almost a year ago. MC DOT is now presenting a new design based on community feedback, the desire to save some trees and the inability to move utilities. The new design presents the County’s first cycle track, a 2 way bike lane that will be separated from street parking and traffic by a 2 – 3 foot striped buffer with plastic posts. The cycle track will be on the west side of Woodglen Drive.
  • They are also working on the intersections at Edson Lane and Nicholson Drive, but did not present those designs. They intend to use green surface treatments at intersections in the bike lanes to increase awareness.
  • They also presented two designs for Woodglen Drive from Nicholson Drive to Marinelli Road. They worked with BF Saul / Brian Downie on the design. This section features a two way cycle track, but it is separated from on street parking and traffic by a 5 foot grass buffer. The 2 options presented only varied in whether the cycle track would be on the same grade as an adjacent shared use path. One design had the cycle track a few inches below the shared use path, the other had the cycled track at grade with the shared use path.
  • The improvements to Woodglen were well received by those in attendance and represent a huge improvement to the previous design. There will be a briefing on the Woodglen improvements at the Planning Board meeting on September 4th.
  • Nebel Street is currently being designed by DOT. There are two groups within DOT that are working on unique designs. MC DOT is trying to figure out whether a cycle track or bike lanes are better for Nebel. MC DOT is intent on designing solutions that are best for each type of road. MC DOT will share a design for public input once the designs have been finished and evaluated.
  • There will be a briefing on the Woodglen improvements at the Planning Board meeting on September 4th.
  • Sogand Seirafi from MC DOT was on hand to discuss a new pedestrian and bicycle facility improvement initiative that was proposed by Council Member Hans Riemer. The County Council has appropriated $375,000 for projects in five areas where the enhancement of bicycle and pedestrian traffic and safety is a priority. Those areas are: Glenmont, Grosvenor, Silver Spring CBD, Veirs Mill/Randolph, and Wheaton CBD.

County Council resists some calls to water down BRT plan

It’s been 5 years since Montgomery County first started talking about a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, but the County Council could vote on the proposed 81-mile system in two weeks. While the latest round of revisions are good, will councilmembers resist calls from a few residents to cut BRT routes in their neighborhoods?

BRT in Los Angeles. Photo by the author.

The draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan designates future transit corridors and recommends how to allocate space on our major roads for them. While business, civic, activist, and environmental groups say planning for transit will reduce traffic and support future growth, some residents are fighting to block the plan.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sits on the council’s Transportation and Energy committee, emphasized that it’s only the beginning of a longer conversation. “This is a predicate for future action,” he said. “Just like when we put the Purple Line in our master plan, we said, ‘Hey, this might be a good idea.'”

Read More

Progress continues at Pike + Rose

Pike + Rose from Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard

Construction at Pike + Rose seen from Old Georgetown Road. Photo by the author.

Work continues on Pike + Rose, the new neighborhood being built at the soon-to-be-former Mid-Pike Plaza shopping center at Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road. The project already looks very different compared to our last visit to the construction site last month.

1 of the 3 buildings in the project’s first phase, a 174-unit mid-rise apartment building dubbed PerSei, appears to have topped out. Meanwhile, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, an office building, has almost reached its full height, but Pallas, a high-rise building with 300 apartments, has just gotten off the ground. The 3 buildings will share 150,000 square feet of retail, including ground-floor shops and restaurants, and a parking garage.

Developer Federal Realty Investment Trust plans to complete the rest of Pike + Rose in 3 phases over the next 5 years. When finished, the project will contain an additional 430,000 square feet of retail, 1,500 new residences, 1.1 million square feet of offices and a luxury hotel.

Now that 2 of the buildings are close to topping out, we can start to see how they will relate to each other, to the street, and to White Flint as a whole.

Pike + Rose Phase 1 From Across Old Georgetown Road

11800 Grand Park Avenue (left) and PerSei (right) seen from the car dealership across Old Georgetown Road. Photo by the author.

In keeping with the White Flint Sector Plan, the buildings at Pike + Rose come right up to Old Georgetown Road, which is envisioned as an urban street with wide sidewalks, bike paths, and restaurants with outdoor dining. “I’ve got 6 leases signed with restaurants on Old Georgetown Road,” said Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty, at a recent meeting about rebuilding the street. “I want outdoor cafes and street trees.”

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been reluctant to make changes to Old Georgetown in the near term, meaning that it may remain a cars-only zone for the indefinite future. But one day, the street and the buildings on it might look like this:

11800 grand park avenue

11800 Grand Park Avenue (left) and PerSei (right) in the future. Image from Federal Realty.

It’s still business as usual at Mid-Pike Plaza, the strip mall that Pike + Rose will eventually replace. From the parking lot, you can get another view of 11800 Grand Park Avenue, which on its lower floors will have a high-end iPic movie theatre and a live music venue operated in conjunction with Strathmore. Both of these are scheduled to open in fall 2014.

Future Office + Retail Building

11800 Grand Park Avenue, seen from the parking lot of Mid-Pike Plaza. Photo by the author.

Comparing the current photo to the rendering below, you can start to see what Grand Park Avenue will look like: a fairly narrow street lined by wide sidewalks with street trees and outdoor seating. Judging from the proportions, it might be comparable to Maryland Avenue in Rockville Town Square, another Federal Realty project.

Rendering of Pike + Rose. When finished, it'll be 5 times the size of Bethesda Row.

Roughly the same spot in the future. Rendering from Federal Realty.

It’ll be interesting to see how this project evolves over time. As I wrote last year, one of the challenges facing Pike + Rose is becoming an authentic gathering place for the community. It’s one thing to put up buildings and lay out streets, but another entirely to make a place where people will want to spend their time.

Construction at Pike + Rose Farmers' Market

New buildings at Pike + Rose rise behind the Pike Central Farm Market.

And it might happen, judging from the weekly Pike Central Farm Market held in the parking lot of Mid-Pike Plaza each Saturday. The market hosts over 40 local vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to wine, and when Friends of White Flint had a table there 2 weeks ago, it was packed. Eventually, this market will move to one of the squares inside Pike + Rose.

The buildings and public spaces may not be done yet, but the people and activity are already here. That’s a good sign for when Pike + Rose becomes a reality.

For more photos of Pike + Rose under construction, check out this slideshow.