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.
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.
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.
The bike infrastructure we expect under the sector plan…
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!
** 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.