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.

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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.

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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.

MoCo Not on TIGER Grant List – But, What Is?

Over the course of this year, we’ve told you that Montgomery County has applied for a federal TIGER grant to support Bus Rapid Transit on MD-355 (Rockville Pike).  In a list of awardees announced last week, however, we were not included.

But – I did find the list of winners to be an incredible snapshot of where our country’s transportation infrastructure is headed.  Of the 72 projects that will receive funding, 15 are transit-based (receiving $156M) and 26 are focused on roads (receiving $221).  The rest are planning projects.  But, look at that balance between transit and roads.  This is the future of our country’s infrastructure – balanced!

Another notable item is that over $25M is being awarded to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.  And, guess what, Bus Rapid Transit is taking hold across the nation:

  • Central Omaha, NE:  $14.9M for BRT
  • Richmond, VA: $24.9M for BRT
  • Nevada: $16M for BRT
  • Madison, WI: $300K for BRT
  • Philadelphia, PA: $2.5M for BRT

We’re on the right track (pun intended – BRT doesn’t use tracks!) — let’s keep our infrastructure moving forward before we fall behind Central Omaha, Nebraska!

Updates from May White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting

Nkosi Yearwood began the committee meeting by discussing updates on the various development projects:

  • Saul Centers’ White Flint sketch plan was approved April 17th by the Planning board.
  • North Bethesda Gateway development is moving forward after the sketch plan was amended last year. The preliminary site plan was amended 3 weeks ago and will be coming to the Planning Board in the near future.
  • Gables Residential– White Flint will be presenting their site plan at a public meeting tonight, Thursday May 15th at Wall Local Park/Shriver Aquatic Center. This project is moving forward as well.
  • North Bethesda Market II- JBG met with the Planning Board and is amending their sketch plan and preliminary site plan.  JBG has decided to keep the multi-family building but change the office building. Hopefully, they will be submitting the amendments to the Planning Board this fall.
  • A plan for Hillery Way – a road behind the former Addie’s building, near the Crest of Wickford residences – has been designed to add 6-8 townhouses.  This is a small project but the preliminary site plan was given to the Planning Board, with more to follow.
  • At Pike & Rose, an amendment for Phase I was approved to provide clean-up of the construction of Buildings 10-12 and streetscape changes. In addition, the Building 13 plan was amended to include changing the corner appearance by adding a façade.
  • Public projects- North Bethesda Conference Center and Parking Garage plan design was approved for money under the CIP budget.

Next, Ken Hartman, Director of B-CC Regional Services, provided updates from the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee. The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee advises on services provided in the White Flint area that include, pedestrian safety programs, homelessness programs, public safety coordination, and the weekender cleaning team. The committee hopes to build services to eventually set-up an urban district, which can provide maintenance of urban space. Many individuals worked on completing the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Discretionary Grant application to get a share of the grant money provided by the Federal Government to complete a study on the BRT system. The Downtown committee is also focused on the Nebel Street plan to provide bike improvements. The committee hopes to hold joint meetings with the Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee to focus on common interests both committees have.

On the marketing side of development, they are working on the Metro White Flint destination website that will provide information on where to shop, eat, and live in the White Flint district and further information on development projects and economic development of the area, as well as a newsfeed option to access information from social media websites.

The committee, along with the Regional Services Center, hopes to work towards achievables. Right now, they have a goal to work on decreasing the speed of Rockville Pike by using strategies such as beautifying the streetscape on the Pike to slow down traffic and provide more open space and parks. One of the locations with a possible site to create a park is the Water Tower. Right now, there is $20,000 allotted to changing the street-scape of Rockville Pike but the committee is asking the Montgomery County Council to provide an extra $75,000 for marketing, the weekender team and for the street-scape plan. The committee hopes to have the street-scape done this summer.

The County Council has a funding reconciliation list of projects the council wants to fund but may not be covered under the budget currently. On May 15th, the council will decide on what projects will be funded under this reconciliation budget. Right now, the street-scape plan ask is being supported by Councilmember Roger Berliner. The budget resolution will be finalized on May 21st, which is when the funded projects will be announced. Another project the committee is working on is the need to create a unified White Flint zip code and unified White Flint district name. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Francine Waters then provided the committee with an update on the TIGER Grant program. The TIGER Grant is program run by the Federal government that provides funding for transportation projects or studies in communities and localities. The grant can be used for either planning or for construction. MCDOT together with the State of Maryland, Maryland State Highway, and Montgomery County Council of Governments agreed to apply for a preliminary engineering planning study of the BRT system on Rockville Pike. The 95 page application asked for $3 million dollars, as Montgomery County has never received more than $3 million for planning from the TIGER Grant in the past. The grant has received support from varying organizations and individuals throughout Montgomery County including Friends of White Flint, Congressmen Chris Van Hollen, and NIH. The Department of Transportation will not make their decision on the recipients of the grant until September so Francine is asking individuals or groups that are in support of the grant for Montgomery County to show their support by writing a letter of recommendation.

County White Flint Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz then provided her report for the Committee. Two other projects on the budget reconciliation list include the Hoya Street extension all the way through to Montrose Parkway and the planning submission for the North Bethesda Conference Center garage. For the garage project, the feasibility study has been completed. In addition, we know that the Maryland Stadium Authority will design the garage and are currently looking for contractors. They will put out a request for expressions of interest and then an RFP. They hope to find one contractor for both the garage and the street outside of the conference center. They hope to have bids by the end of Summer 2014.

Also, Nebel Street traffic calming plans were discussed. MCDOT provides grants for traffic calming developments and the Planning Department hopes to receive grant money for Nebel Street developments between Nicholson Lane and Randolph Road. They want to spread the grant money among various strategies along Nebel Street including the use of curbs and biking facilities along the street. In addition, they are looking at a cycle track demonstration for the White Flint district as well. One problem they are currently looking at is what to do at intersections for biking facilities.

County Council looks at White Flint projects

As the Montgomery County Council makes its way through the proposed Capital Improvement Programs budget, two White Flint-related projects have recently been discussed.

First, as reported in The Gazette, the White Flint fire station project is a “go.”  The 5-bay station slated for Randolph Road, near the new Chapman Avenue Extended, will include about 200 units of affordable housing for seniors. As approved, land acquisition will begin in 2015 with planning and design the following year.  The full project is expected to cost about $27.8M and the station will replace the existing facility on Rollins Avenue.  Read more here.

Second, the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee met on Monday to discuss White Flint road projects.  Committee Chair Roger Berliner, along with Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer, concurred with the County Executive’s funding request for the Western Workaround(!), White Flint East and White Flint West – all of which work to enhance our street grid and make for a more pleasant traveling experience regardless of your transportation mode.

The exciting surprise was that the committee also recommended that money be found to complete Hoya Street.  Situated to the west of Mid-Pike Plaza/Pike & Rose and expected to run from Montrose Road to Old Georgetown Road, a shard of the street has been sitting unfinished for years.  Councilmember Berliner shared this news with excitement at our event on Monday evening.  This is an important spoke in the wheel of White Flint and we hope the full Council will get behind the completion of this project.

“Road Diets” in NYC

As Mayor Bill De Blasio begins his role as Mayor of New York City, people are now examining all the changes the last mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, brought to the city.

Bloomberg and his staff succeeding in changing the built environment of New York City to better the safety and well-being of its residents. His team, including former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, were able to change the infrastructure of many roads and streets around the city to help pedestrians and bikers feel welcomed in their city. These changes, often called “road diets”, “shaved off excess space,” providing pedestrian-friendly spaces to once unsafe, car-centric streets. Branden Klayko provided before and after pictures of 25 areas throughout the city that show these road diets and pedestrian plazas.

Check out these amazing before and after pictures! The changes shown in these pictures are truly aspiring for us here in White Flint.

 

Why Not Build More Roads?

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a local office of realtors with an update on White Flint redevelopment.  During our discussion of the multi-faceted way we are approaching the area’s traffic problems, someone asked “Why don’t we just build more roads?  I’m going to drive anyway.”  

There are many answers to this question including the fact that roads are much more highly subsidized than transit and, overall, more expensive to build.  And, because we will experience a disproportionate improvement in traffic when even a small number of people make different choices and get out of their cars, we can still drive when preferred.  But recently, there’s been another reason why building more roads isn’t the answer for the future.

Last month, Atlanta was paralyzed by two inches of snow because they did not have adequate infrastructure to accommodate the mass exodus of commuters.  It’s estimated that one million cars flooded the highways in a matter of hours that day – those drivers had no other options for reaching their destinations and no realistic amount of new roads would have held them.  Even without approaching the cost comparisons between building roads and building transit, there are logistical considerations that make this matter of choice critical.

Read more from POLITICO and CNN.

 

Update from White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee February Meeting

The February 10th meeting began with the mention of no new development taking place throughout the White Flint sector currently. The Pike and Rose development is continuing nicely with their first Phase.

Then the meeting turned to the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee update. The committee is in support of the county’s proposed Bill 33-13: Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements.  On January 24th, Planning Board Chair Carrier sent a letter to the President of the County Council supporting the Bill.   In the letter, the planning board agreed with the goals of the bill and acknowledged the need to change the 2007 urban road codes in order to have complete streets. They recommended that the bill include language that provides more details on issues such as accessibility, curb extensions, and shared use path.

Cindy Gibson, Chief of Staff to Councilmember Roger Berliner (who introduced the bill), attended the meeting as well. She provided the committee with an opportunity to learn more about the Urban Road Code bill. The bill will allow for urban areas throughout Montgomery County to have complete streets and will allow for more places like Bethesda and the future White Flint to exist. Since the urban road code was last updated in 2007, many new master plans and sector plans have popped up in hopes to create new and exciting areas across the county. Now that we have these plans, our roads, standards, and policies need to encourage what these plans were designed for: complete streets. This updated urban road code will be one step closer to creating streets and roads we really want and need. The bill will strengthen ADA, pedestrian, and bike language surrounding the county streets as well. Cindy also highlighted the public hearing, where Friends of White Flint testified, and that the County Executive’s support of the bill has been great.  (** We have since learned that Bill 33-13 is being tabled pending the results of a multi-disciplinary workgroup).

The meeting then moved toward the Implementation Coordinator report from Dee Metz. The county executive sent the CIP budget for approval on January 15th. As we have discussed in past posts, there are many proposed projects for White Flint in the CIP budget. These include the Western Workaround, District East (planning and construction), District West, Chapman Extended, and the North Bethesda Recreation Center. Questions from the public focused on the Western Workaround, one of the most important projects for White Flint. One question focused on the construction of the relocation of Executive Blvd in front of the North Bethesda Conference Center. The construction is funded in the CIP but the purchase of the land is not funded under the CIP budget. One of the funding sources is the White Flint Special Taxing District tax revenues but it may not be enough funding. The revenue will increase as the redevelopment moves forward, but it cannot move forward without the existence of roads. The county is working with the private landowner to secure the land that will be part of this project. In addition, we learned that the County Executive has discussed borrowing either $45 million or $77 million in revenue bonds.  If the county decides to borrow this money, they will not be able to pay it back until 2037. With the revenue bonds, the county needs to show a stream of income in order to secure the bond, which possess another problem.

There were two main sentiments that came out of the committee meeting that are important to remember throughout this redevelopment process that I will highlight. The first is that the county needs to make Rockville Pike, part of the District West project, their priority for redevelopment in order to bring in other funding sources, such as the state government or even the federal government. If the county does not place the Rockville Pike redevelopment as a priority, then how will the state or the federal government? One of challenges we are faced with the prioritizing the Rockville Pike project is the BRT. The Rockville Pike design cannot be complete without the BRT design. We cannot accelerate one of these projects over the other since the projects go hand in hand. In order to show that the Pike is important, the county can use methods such as a issuing a priority letter focused on the Pike or using the CIP budget to reflect the importance of the Pike.  On a related note, the committee is looking into completing an update Streetscape plan/study for Rockville Pike.

The second highlight or sentiment is that once the Western Workaround project is completed, then other projects may be pushed forward. The Western Workaround was referred to as the “spine” of the Sector plan, so we need to push this project along. Other WF projects have been pushed back for funding to be used for the Western Workaround, so it is evident that this project should continue on. Construction is slotted to begin in 2016 so we look forward to this project and all the White Flint projects to begin.

FoWF Testifies in Favor of Proposed Urban Road Code Amendments

Last night, Friends of White Flint Board Member Howard Feldman testified before the County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee in support of the Urban Road Code Amendments proposed by Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer, who both sit on the committee. Thanks to the input of many of our members, our testimony supported the global concepts of Complete Streets and valuing all users, without purporting to be the experts on exact measurements for appropriate lane widths, etc.

We were pleased to join a wide range of advocates including the Commission on People with Disabilities, Sierra Club, Action Committee for Transit, White Flint Partnership, Montgomery County Young Democrats, Washington Area Bicycle Association, Lerner Enterprises, Coalition for Smarter Growth and Federal Realty, as well as individual citizens, in supporting the legislation.  Many who testified also offered suggestions for improvement.

Even Arthur Holmes, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation, testified that his agency endorses the goals of reducing speeds, improving pedestrian mobility and implementing the Complete Streets model.  He did, though, share many of the concerns we have also discussed – specifically the mobility of emergency and commercial vehicles and whether a blanket approach is the right one.

We thought Evan Goldman of Federal Realty, also a member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors, put it well when describing the places we most like to visit.  People choose walkable, vibrant cities for their travel, so we need to create that place here.  Offering roads that invite pedestrians is smart policy for residents and businesses alike.

Emailed testimony is still accepted for another week, or so.  Please email your support of the Bill to County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov and copy Councilmember Berliner at Councilmember.Berliner@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Below is the testimony from Friends of White Flint on Bill 33-13:



Testimony of Friends of White Flint

January 23, 2014

Public Hearing on Bill 33-13, Streets and Roads – Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements

 

Good evening, Councilmembers.  My name is Howard Feldman 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 own a small business within the White Flint Sector and am a business 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 including residents, civic and condominium associations, businesses and property owners and we seek consensus to achieve positive solutions.  As we enter our seventh year, we continue our trend of holding hundreds of public meetings and speaking with thousands of residents to find common ground and community support for the Plan in place today.

The vision of our award-winning White Flint Sector Plan is to “establish 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.”  The plan goes on to say that, “… the pedestrian experience in most of White Flint is barely tolerable.”  Today, the Council is presented with an option to improve that pedestrian experience.

The term “Complete Streets” has been ubiquitous in our work.  This is a concept that calls for our roads and streets to value all users, not just the ones driving cars.  After all, it’s not the car that needs to get to work.  It’s the person.  Giving people more safe options to get around is a primary goal of the White Flint Sector Plan and we believe this legislation moves our county in the right direction.

This is not only a social and economic issue; it’s also a public health issue.  The American Public Health Association has addressed the Complete Streets movement after determining that 11.4% of all transportation-related fatalities in 2009 were pedestrians struck and killed by motor vehicles. They determined that less than 1% of pedestrians ages 72 and older are able to walk at the speeds required to cross most intersections safely. Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among children ages 3 to 14 and, in 19% of these fatalities, the children involved were pedestrians.

These road code amendments are necessary to improve the pedestrian experience in our county’s urban areas.  Doing things like narrowing travel lanes and limiting speeds will naturally slow  traffic.  Implementing changes in curb radii and adding pedestrian refuges will allow walkers to cross the street more comfortably.  These are important changes to roads that have valued only cars for too long.

We understand that these proposals are not without controversy but, rather than viewing these concerns as barriers, why not view them as opportunities for creative solutions?   Urban areas around the world have made the changes contemplated by this legislation and instead of scrapping the potential for progress, these jurisdictions have found ways to make them work.    If we’re designing our urban areas for the future, we need to be bold and brave and willing to tackle these challenges without throwing up our hands at the first wrinkle.

Car has long been king in our county’s urban areas.  But, just as we are introducing a new mix of uses in these places, we must prepare for a new mix of users.  That means giving people options to safely walk around.

We applaud Councilmembers Berliner and Riemer for their foresight in proposing these amendments and ask that the rest of the Council support this vision of investing in our future.  In order for White Flint to reach its potential, it must have the most forward-thinking infrastructure possible and this is an important step.

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“Trucks and Cities Are Like Oil and Water. Is There a Solution?”

Last week we discussed the County Bill 33-13: Streets and Roads- Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements that is up for approval. The Council is holding a public hearing tomorrow evening, January 23rd, where testimonies will be heard on this bill, one of which will be from Friends of White Flint. The bill offers amendments to the current urban rode codes that have not be updated in several years. The main goal of the bill is to “to expand and enhance the county’s complete street policy and to facilitate the implementation of pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, walkable, livable urban areas as envisioned in several of the county’s approved master plans.” As Lindsay discussed last week, implementing a bill that focuses more on complete streets is extremely important for White Flint in our mission to create a sustainable and walkable community.

With this bill up for approval, however, it is important to consider how these standards and policies will affect all aspects of transit in the area such as freight or truck movement. Freight movement through city and urban streets is crucial but raises many issues, such as trucks possessing huge blind spots and wide turns that often cut off bike lanes or even popping up on curbs. These issues cause safety problems for other drivers, pedestrians, and bikers, not to mention noise and air pollution. Trucks are necessary for cities to exist because “[O]ur cities run on the goods these hulking trucks deliver.” Reducing the width of travel and turning lanes could have a detrimental effect on truck travel through our urban streets. Instead of viewing these issues as barriers to passing this bill, we should look to creative solutions that include both a complete street model and attention towards other necessary transit movements happening in Montgomery County’s urban areas.

New York City provides a great example of how a city can incorporate freight and truck travel into their building codes by including “onsite loading facilities as part of their design.” There are other ideas that cities could use to cut down on truck congestion and pollution without disturbing the necessary movement of goods from one place to another. These include using more smaller trucks to carry goods than one larger truck, delivering during off-peak hours, consolidation of goods from more than one company into one truck, or cargo bikes/ pedal-trucks.

Friends of White Flint supports complete streets in our urban areas, providing pedestrians and bikers with a more liveable, walkable, and safe community.  But, our community is also comprised of businesses who need these deliveries made by large trucks, for example, and so we must also be conscious of how this complete streets model will affect all aspects of what we’re trying to build here.  It’s to this end that we rely on the experts to find creative, forward-thinking solutions.

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!