Update from White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee June Meeting

Here are the updates from the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee meeting from Monday, June 9th.

Nkosi Underwood mentioned that no new development activities have taken place since the last meeting in May. ProMARK and Foulger-Pratt are in the process of presenting their preliminary site plan to the Planning Board. They hope to present their plan in the near future. JBG Companies and Gables Residential will present their new designed projects at the next Implementation Advisory Committee meeting in July so we will provide an update on those presentations next month.

Francine Waters provided an update from the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee. As Lindsay has mentioned, the Downtown Advisory Committee is in midst of discussing the implications of expanding the scope and area of the White Flint district along the Rockville Pike corridor and the branding of a name of the larger district. They will continue to discuss the implications of these changes for both the district and the Downtown Advisory Committee itself.

Dee Metz, the White Flint Implementation Coordinator, provided an update from the county on White Flint public projects. Since the last Implementation meeting, the CIP budget for FY15-20 was passed. The budget included nine projects for the White Flint district, including the forward funding for the Western Workaround. Also, the Hoya Street extension proposal was added to the budget and $7.5 million was allotted to the project, which is a great success for the White Flint district. In addition, $75,000 was added to the budget of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee to give the committee a total budget of $95,000.

Furthermore, the county is working on using grant money reserved for traffic calming projects for the Nebel Street area between Randolph Road and Nicholson Lane. The county is working to include elements such as biking facilities, extra stop signs, and bump outs along this street. The county is also focused on finalizing solutions addressing pedestrian issues along Woodglen Drive between Edison Lane and Nicholson Lane.

Dick Knapp and Rob Eisinger then provided the committee with a presentation on the East Village at North Bethesda Gateway. They both emphasized the importance of bringing development to the eastern side of Rockville Pike and the need to create a sense of a social community. For more information on this presentation, check out our post on East Village project from Monday. Mary Ward from Crest of Wickford mentioned her concerns with pedestrian right-of-ways being blocked along Nicholson Lane because of this project. The developers of East Village understand the importance in pedestrian walkways and have dedicated land for the sidewalk in front the buildings for pedestrian right-of-ways.

We know how important it is for community residents to express their concerns with the new developments. If you are a cyclist or pedestrian, it is important and necessary for you to express any and all concerns these new projects pose for your safety and accessibility. Friends of White Flint is happy to take your concerns to the county. Please email us at info@whiteflint.org.

The next meeting will take place on July 14th at 7:00pm at the Federal Realty Investment Trust Headquarters on 1626 East Jefferson Street, Rockville, MD.

Can The Snow “Teach” Us About Public Space?

During this winter season, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast have received more snow than we have in the past 3 years. As we are all keenly aware, the snow causes many issues for transportation and safety.

But there may be something more positive to come out of all this snow after all. The snow piles that build up on the edges and curbs of streets and sidewalks are reflecting something useful for city planners and developers: unused public space. “Sneckdowns,” as these piles are referred to as, is a term combining snow and neckdowns (curb expansion). Essentially, these sneckdowns show “street spaces cars don’t use.”  These unused spaces could be used for traffic calming or to create “road diets” by using strategies such as traffic islands, pedestrian plazas, and curb bump-outs.

However, as Dan Malouff says, “[i|t’s true that actual engineers shouldn’t design streets solely around piled snow, but certainly sneckdowns are a handy illustration of how we give too much pavement to cars.” Potentially, the existence of these sneckdowns across communities and the pictures concerned citizens have taken of these sneckdowns could be used to push for incorporating more walkability strategies into road and sidewalk planning and design.

Check out BeyondDC, Slate, and Greater Greater Washington for pictures of these sneckdowns across the Mid-Atlantic & Northeast.

“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.

 

“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.

Where White Flint Stands in the CIP Budget

**Updated at 9:50am with ways to be heard on the proposed budget.

Over the summer, we told you about the county’s Capital Improvement Programs budget.  This budget covers all capital projects (think physical projects, like buildings and roads) and is created as a six-year plan every other year.  This is a capital budget creation year.  As such, the County Executive proposes a draft budget which will be ratified, or amended, by the County Council.  This is a tricky proposition because every capital project throughout our whole county is competing for a share of the same pot of money.

In developing his budget proposal, the County Executive hosted several community forums and Friends of White Flint was well-represented at a July event.  There, we stressed the importance of funding the Western WorkaroundWall Park, the Civic Green and the new Eastern Workaround (where Executive Boulevard will cross over Rockville Pike, just north of White Flint Mall).  Many of you heeded our call and advocated via email for these important projects.  Yesterday, we learned how we did in those efforts when the County Executive presented his budget to the Council.  Frankly, we’re pretty excited.

Below, you can find all of the White Flint-related projects proposed for funding in the County Executive’s budget.  These were compiled by Ken Hartman, Director of the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Regional Services Center.  He staffs the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, which is preparing testimony for the County Council on the subject.

Friends of White Flint is also preparing to testify before the County Council on the Capital Improvements Budget and we’d like our members’ input.  Where you see an asterisk in the projects below, these are ones that will be funded through the special taxing district on White Flint redevelopment.  This taxing district, though, is taking longer to ramp up than expected and, as yet, has generated less revenue than expected.  Therefore, it’s our understanding that these projects will be paid for out of the general fund, if needed, and reimbursed by the taxing district when possible.

Want to be heard on this? There are lots of ways. Sign up to testify before the County Council at one of their hearings on February 5th (1:30pm or 7:30pm) or February 6th (7:30pm) by calling 240-777-7803. Or email your thoughts to the Council at County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov. Finally, members can email us to have your thoughts incorporated into our testimony on February 5th.

Take a look at the various projects (italicized portions are commentary from the FoWF team) and let us know you’re thoughts:

Chapman Extended 
Utility relocations to be completed by Summer 2014, and construction will start in Summer 2014 and will end in Summer 2015.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/500719.pdf

Fire Station
Land purchase in FY15; Planning and design beginning in FY16; Construction FY18-20.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/451502.pdf  (note that the proposal includes equipment – perhaps it could be equipment specially designed for our new urban roads?)

White Flint District East: Transportation*
Design of all road projects began in FY12 and is expected to conclude in FY16. Construction of Executive Boulevard Extended East from Rockville Pike/MD 355 to a New Private Street will begin in FY17 and is expected to conclude in FY18, subject to tax district affordability. Design of Executive Boulevard East Extended was delayed due to coordination between the stakeholders over the road alignment. Design for the bridge across the the WMATA tracks adjacent to the White Flint Metro Station has been delayed due to negotiations between WMATA, State Highway Administration (SHA), the County, and the developers; bridge design will begin after a Memorandum of Understanding between the parties has been finalized.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/501204.pdf  (learn more about the “Eastern Workaround,” which includes extending Executive Boulevard across the Pike and between the White Flint Mall property and the Fitgerald Auto property in our blog post here.  It ultimately connects with Nebel Street.)

White Flint District West: Transportation*
Design is underway on all road projects in the western workaround, with the exception of the Rockville Pike segment, and will conclude in FY15 (FY15 design is funded through White Flint West Workaround). Design of the Rockville Pike section will begin in FY19 and will conclude in FY21 in order to coordinate with the implementation of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) (CIP #501318). Some property acquisition may occur on this section in FY20. The current expenditure/funding schedule assumes that land needed for road construction will be dedicated by the major developers in a timely manner.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/501116.pdf  (this project includes the redesign of Rockville Pike into a boulevard as part of the plan for Bus Rapid Transit).

White Flint Traffic Analysis and Mitigation
Component A-access restrictions: bi-annual data collection: site specific studies to commence in FY17. Component B- Intersection Mitigation: site specific preliminary engineering and concept plan development commenced in FY 12 based on M-NCPPC Comprehensive Local Area Transportation Review (CLATR) evaluation. Component C- Modal Split Activities: transit, pedestrian, bicycle access, and safety studies in FY 12; data collection and updating Transportation Demand Management (TDM) information in FY 12-13.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/501202.pdf  (Because our goal here is to, ultimately, relieve traffic!)

White Flint West Workaround*
1. Main Street/Market Street (B-10) – Design in FY14 through FY15, SI&U in FY16 through FY18, and construction in FY17 and FY18.
>2. Main Street/Market Street (LB-1) – Design in FY14 through FY15, SI&U in FY16 through FY18, and construction in FY17 and FY18.
3. Executive Boulevard Extended (B-15) – Design in FY14 through FY15, SI&U and construction in FY16 through FY20.
4. Intersection of Hoya Street (formerly ‘Old’ Old Georgetown Road) (M-4A), Old Georgetown Road, and Executive Boulevard – Design in FY14 through FY15, land acquisition in FY16, SI&U in FY16 through FY18, and construction in FY17 through FY19.
The schedule assumes that all land needed for road construction will be dedicated by the major developers in a timely manner. The schedule also assumes the construction of conference center replacement parking will take place prior to the start of the roadway construction.    
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/501506.pdf  (We’ve reported ad nauseum about the importance of the Western Workaround, which creates a true streetgrid on the western edge of White Flint and paves the way [pun intended] for projects like Wall Park and an expanded Aquatic Center and Recreation Center.)

White Flint Redevelopment Program*
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/151200.pdf

Montrose Parkway East
The design and land acquisition phase is expected to be complete in mid-FY16. Construction is expected to start in FY19 and will be completed in approximately 3.5 years.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/500717.pdf  (This is a project we’re not very excited about.  FoWF Board member Barnaby Zall put it best in his post on the subject: Vogons Come to MoCo.  There have been some developments since that time, though: click here for more.)

North Bethesda Community Recreation Center
The project schedule is dependent upon the development of the White Flint Sector plan.
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/720100.pdf  (Both this project and the below are set to sit as part of the reimagined Wall Park.  We’re not big fans of the name, though…)

Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center Building Envelope Improvement
Design to start in FY18, and construction to start in FY19
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OMB/Resources/Files/omb/pdfs/fy15/ciprec/721503.pdf

It’s Time for Montgomery County to have “Complete Streets”

If you read this blog with any frequency, you’re familiar with the term Complete Streets.  This is the planning and design model focused on moving people, not just cars.  Complete streets are those that consider all users, regardless of their mode of transportation, age or ability.  In other words, it’s the opposite of Rockville Pike.

Our posts have shared the benefits, for physical and public health as well as public policy, of adopting these practices.  And, as White Flint is on the cusp of becoming  a more walkable area, we need these planning strategies in play. Highways cutting through our downtown areas act as barriers separating east and west and prevent us from having a cohesive district.  If we want people to feel safe and comfortable leaving their cars behind, then we have to help them feel safe and comfortable as pedestrians along our streets.  Help may be on its way at the county level!

 

County Bill 33-13: Streets and Roads – Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements

Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1, which includes White Flint) has introduced legislation to update the urban road code standards and integrate better pedestrian safety improvements.  It does things like reduce the width of travel lanes, which naturally controls driving speed, and limits turning radii, which creates a more compact intersection for pedestrians to cross.  The bill also proposes 6-foot pedestrian refuges to ease road crossings and sets target speeds for urban roads.  Councilmember Hans Riemer has joined as a co-sponsor of the bill.  These amendments to the current code would force our transportation engineers to consider all of a road’s users during the design process, rather than just focus on how to move as many cars as fast as possible.

These proposals would have exciting impacts on the roads in the White Flint area.  At the moment, you can drive nearly twice as fast along Rockville Pike in White Flint as you can through downtown Bethesda.  Attempts to cross our local roads are often met with more pavement to walk than time to walk it in.  “The overarching goal of this bill is 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,” wrote Councilmember Berliner in a memo to his colleagues introducing the legislation.  It’s exactly what we need!

 

Concerns Raised by the Legislation

Not everyone is as excited about the proposed legislation and there have been some specific concerns raised about the Bill.  Some are concerned that the legislation is a blanket requirement for all “urban areas” in the county.  A “one-size fits all” solution is not appealing to folks who want control over the details of every plan that comes their way.  Also, the recommended travel lane widths are, on average, a narrow ten feet, which will cause drivers to naturally slow so they stay within the lines.  But, there are some buses and other large vehicles that are wider, side window to side window, than that.

Finally, the turning radii would be shortened which could lead to a few difficulties.  First, when a fire truck responding to an emergency wants to take a corner at a high rate of speed, they won’t be able to when that corner is a tight one.   Second, a long truck (like a tractor trailer) might have trouble negotiating these turns, resulting in them popping up on the curb and sidewalk and posing a risk to the very pedestrians the legislation is trying to protect.

It’s also worth noting that this legislation would apply only to county roads, while roads like Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road are controlled by the state.  It’s everyone’s hope that the State will follow suit when designing roads within these areas so that they remain true to the vision of the surrounds.

 

Can These Concerns Be Mitigated?

Jurisdictions all over the country and all over the world have implemented planning principles like the ones proposed by Councilmembers Berliner and Riemer, so there must be creative solutions to the concerns that have been raised.  For instance, couldn’t the legislation integrate a method for awarding exceptions to the standards under certain circumstances?  This would alleviate the concerns about a “blanket approach.”  Also, White Flint will be getting its own fire station near Rockville Pike and Randolph Road.  Perhaps that equipment can be designed to navigate our urban roads more efficiently.

Transforming roads from places that prioritize moving cars into places that prioritize moving people (see the difference?) is the crux of this legislation, and at the heart of what we’re creating here in White Flint.  But, as I mentioned, we’re not the only jurisdiction making these changes.  Is it possible that these barriers being thrown up are really just opportunities for us to flex our creative muscles?  If we’re designing an area for the future, we need to be bold and brave and willing to tackle these challenges without throwing our hands up at the first wrinkle.

New York City has been undergoing a similar transition.  In case you missed it, check out this Ted Talk presented by New York City’s transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.  Bold moves can have great rewards:



 

Want to be Heard?

There are a couple of ways you can be part of the process with this legislation.  Start by reading the proposal here and the accompanying memo here.  The Council is holding a public hearing on the evening of Thursday, January 23rd.  Sign up to testify yourself by calling 240-777-7803.  Or, if you prefer, contribute toward Friends of White Flint’s testimony.  Either post here or email us with your thoughts on this exciting bit of local legislation!

 

“Hard Truths About Transit”

 

Eric Jaffe, writer for The Atlantic Cities, in his article 4 Hard Truths About Transit examined a panel report created by The Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel of the Government of Ontario. The panel report provides six hard truths about transit that are designed to spur informed debate on the subject.  As Jaffe mentions, two of the hard truths are focused on issues local to Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) of Ontario, while the other four describe common traits of transit systems globally, which apply to White Flint’s discussion on transit, especially the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).

The first hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “subways are not the only good form of transit.” Fixed-rail systems, like Metro, are able to transport thousands of people a day, allowing them to get to various locations throughout the Washington-area. Fixed-rail systems, however, are expensive to build and can be subject to reliability problems. Jaffe notes that in order to have a successful transit system, the system must match its services and programming with “circumstances” and the area’s environment e.g. residential and employment densities, ridership level, and the road systems. Taking the advice of the Ontario panel and Jaffe, it seems that BRT’s cost and flexibility make it an effective tool to address the transportation needs of the White Flint area. BRT would allow residents to move around Montgomery County for work, errands, and any other activity they want to pursue.

On the other hand, the next hard truth is that “the cost of transit is more than construction.” There are costs beyond the construction of the transit line, such as operating costs, that must be considered.

One more hard truth is that “transit does not automatically drive development.” Transit is often seen as a way to increase local economy by attracting development to areas accessible by the transit systems. One cannot build a transit system anywhere and assume that development will follow suit. That is why decisions surrounding transit must include “land use planning, local job growth potential and other business plans” states Jaffe.  That’s what we’re building in White Flint. The BRT can be successful in bringing economic growth to the region when elements such as the BRT station locations (land use planning) and businesses (job growth potential), elements the panel report focuses, are considered.  He also says, “Perhaps even more cost-efficient is bus rapid-transit, which can rival light rail when done right and has proven equally (if not more) attractive in terms of economic development.”

The final hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “transit users aren’t the only ones who benefit from transit.” Some believe that only those actually using transit benefit from the systems, so why should they have to pay for something they do not use?  But, transit systems like BRT or fixed-rail encourage local economic growth that will benefit everyone. Jaffe states “transit brings workers closer to jobs…and attract[s] retail and business revenue that can be reinvested into the city,” while calming traffic problems. These mirror the benefits the White Flint region hopes to have in the future.

Read Jaffe’s full piece here.

Five ways to design for safer streets

Earlier this month, NYC’s Department of Transportation released a major report, “Making Safer Streets” which outlines the various ways the department has re-imagined and redesigned their streets. The results include:

  • 30% decline in fatalities since 2001
  • 29% decline in people killed or severely injured since 2001
  • 1,000 NYC lives have been saved by the decrease in traffic fatalities since 2001—including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, drivers, and passengers

The overarching aspect of safer streets is “[creating] the opportunity for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to move through the street network simply and easily, minimizing the unexpected, the confusing, and the potential for surprises.” More specifically, here are the five basic principles highlighted in the report:

  1. Make the street easy to use by accommodating desire lines and minimizing the complexity of driving, walking, and biking, thus reducing crash risk by providing a direct, simple way to move through the street network.
  2. Create safety in numbers, which makes vulnerable street users such as pedestrians and cyclists more visible. The same design principle, applied to arterial streets when traffic is light, reduces the opportunity for excessive speeds.
  3. Make the invisible visible by putting users where they can see each other.
  4. Choose quality over quantity so that roadway and intersection geometries serve the first three design principles.
  5. Look beyond the (immediate) problem by expanding the focus area if solutions at a particular location can’t be addressed in isolation.

White Flint may not be New York, but it certainly has its share of dangerous traffic. Safer streets are a must in order to realize the vision of a sustainable and walkable community! Check out StreetsBlog’s post on the report for another perspective.

Timeline: White Flint’s new street grid

First in an occasional series looking at how the new White Flint will come together.

street network

Street grid from the White Flint Sector Plan. Private developers will build many of the local streets, but the county and Maryland are responsible for the major ones.

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for a new street grid, which will relieve congestion on Rockville Pike and provide more ways to walk, bike, or drive around White Flint. While many of the new streets will be built by private developers, like at Pike + Rose and North Bethesda Center, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland will be responsible for much of the heavy lifting.

The process of building a new street grid is complicated, involving many players and complex negotiations. “It’s very difficult to put a timeline together on most things in White Flint because they’re all interdependent,” says Dee Metz, the county’s White Flint implementation coordinator.

Montgomery County has divided the street grid into two halves on either side of Rockville Pike and refers to them as the Western Workaround and Eastern Workaround. On both sides, new and existing streets will get new, wider sidewalks, landscaping and street trees, and some bicycle accommodations. Utilities will be moved underground as well, reducing visual clutter and making it easier for street trees to grow.

Western Workaround: Could start by 2015

The first big street construction project in White Flint will be the Western Workaround, a network of new streets west of Rockville Pike. They include Market Street, a new east-west street between Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road, and shifting Executive Boulevard from its current intersection with Old Georgetown further east, so it can connect to a new street in Pike + Rose. The project also includes funds to rebuild Rockville Pike between Flanders Avenue and Hubbard Drive.

New and rebuilt streets in the Western Workaround.

New and rebuilt streets in the Western Workaround. Image from MCDOT.

White Flint landowners will pay for the $98 million project through a special tax district created to fund the infrastructure needed to support the area’s redevelopment. So far, the project is at 35% design, which means some but not all of the minor details are being worked out. County transportation officials have been make any changes that would inconvenience drivers.

According to Metz, the county plans to start construction in Fiscal Year 2016, which starts in July 2015. However, there are still questions left unanswered. There are stormwater management issues with many of the new streets due to the slope of the land.

For the new street grid to work, the county will have to rebuild the existing intersections of Old Georgetown, Executive and Hoya Street, which officials estimate will cost between $30 and $40 million. But it isn’t funded, nor does it include rebuilding Hoya Street between Old Georgetown and Montrose, which is basically a service road today.

It’s also unclear how the county will get the land to build the new streets. Developers promised the county that they would dedicate the land to them as they redeveloped their properties, so there’s no money set aside for buying it. While Gables Residential has agreed to dedicate part of the site where they’re building apartments and retail, the owners of the VOB car dealership on Old Georgetown Road have no plans to redevelop anytime soon, putting the new Executive Boulevard in danger.

Metz notes that councilmembers and residents are starting to get impatient. “There was an assumption that things would be happening already,” she says. “That was never the case.”

Much of the funding and coordination issues will have to be figured out when the county council works on next year’s budget in the spring. Metz says there are currently discussions with County Executive Ike Leggett to get the intersection of Old Georgetown, Executive and Hoya funded sooner rather than later.  Friends of White Flint has been an assertive advocate on this front.

Eastern Workaround: New bridge today, new streets later

Like its counterpart, the Eastern Workaround is a network of new streets on the east side of Rockville Pike. This $29 million project, also funded by White Flint landowners, would extend Executive Boulevard across Rockville Pike and just over a half-mile to Nebel Street.  It would also build an 80-foot-long bridge over the White Flint Metro station to connect the future McGrath Boulevard, within the North Bethesda Center property, with Rockville Pike.

The Eastern Workaround includes funding for a new bridge over the White Flint Metro station connecting McGrath Boulevard to Rockville Pike. Image from LCOR.

The county has budgeted money to build the bridge within the next year, though funds for the rest of the network have been pushed back at least 6 years. At least that will create time to figure out how and where to extend Executive Boulevard.

County transportation planners laid out the eastern stretch of Executive Boulevard so it straddled the existing property line, ensuring that landowners on each side of the street gave up equal amounts of land. But the State Highway Administration wants to shift the road slightly to the north because Rockville Pike, which they control, is at an angle. Moving the road would create an intersection closer to a 90-degree angle, which SHA planners argue is better for drivers. But this would place more of the road on the property of Fitzgerald Auto Malls, which is unwilling to give up additional land.

As a result, progress on the Eastern Workaround has slowed. “There are lots of private negotiations the county doesn’t control,” says Metz. The county and property owners are trying to find an alternative alignment that could spare Fitzgerald while appeasing the SHA.

Better ways to get to school: are we there yet?

Part of Reconnecting America’s report Are We There Yet? sheds light on how children (and their parents) get to daycare and school, and the ramifications of these options – or lack thereof. In a section titled “Safe Routes to School,” the authors explain that only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school today, compared to nearly 50% in 1969; parents cited schools being far away, traffic safety, and crime as major concerns. The authors highlight many serious repercussions of children no longer walking or biking to school:

“Obesity among children has tripled over the last two decades, and more than 20 percent of morning traffic is generated by parents driving kids to school. The combined emissions from all those cars and school buses adds up to the single greatest cause of pollution in many cities.”

The report points out that some communities are working to change the way kids get to school.

“At the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, Principal Kent Cruger serves as inspiration, arriving at school via foot-powered scooter, skateboard or unicycle — to cite a few of his choices — when he isn’t carpooling. The number of students now regularly walking and biking has risen by 30 percent, with a corresponding 30 percent reduction in traffic counts. At the Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, the number of “walking school buses” — groups of children are accompanied by adults on the walk to school, picking up students along the way — and “bicycle trains” have tripled. A public outreach effort to reduce speeds around this school, just outside downtown, has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the number of cars speeding through the school zone.

Due to increased interest in walking and biking in Auburn Washington, the Auburn School District has been able to reduce the number of school buses from six to one, resulting in an annual savings of $220,000. At Pioneer Elementary in Auburn, 85 percent of students walk or bike on a regular basis and they receive the highest academic scores in the district, which Principal Debra Gary attributes to their healthy, active lifestyles.”

In addition to walking and biking, transit can also play a big role in how children get to daycare and preschool:

“Quality preschools and daycare facilities in high-access locations have proven to be a real benefit to harried parents dropping kids off on their way to work. A study by Local Investment in Child Care, a California nonprofit organization, finds that locating childcare facilities within a third of a mile of transit results in high ridership by families: 34 percent of people dropping their children off then walked or used transit to commute to their destination, with even higher numbers in low-income areas.

Childcare facilities not only provide an essential service to families but they can also serve as ‘anchor tenants’ in a development that can provide other needed shops and services that serve families.”

Creating more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, and transit-oriented neighborhoods means that children and those who take care of them will have more options when deciding how to get to school, which would likely lead to healthier children and a healthier planet. Check out Reconnecting America’s blog post on childcare and transit for more information.