District 16 Delegation Asks for Route 355 Crosswalk Repairs

In a recent letter to the State Highway Administration, Senator Susan Lee and Delegates Mark Korman, Ariana Kelly, and Sara Love wrote:

… In recent months, we have received increased reports of crosswalks along MD 355 that are in need of maintenance. In the attached document, we have compiled a list of crosswalks that warrant your office’s attention. The document catalogs every crosswalk along MD 355 that is in need of either A) new paint,B) stripes added, or in some cases, both. The pictures in the document are current as of January 2020. Consistent with SHA’s own recommendations laid out in the Context Driven guide, we encourage the addition of “continental” crosswalks because they are more visible to motorists than the standard parallel lines. Additionally, the continental stripes indicate to pedestrians where to cross safely.

Thank you, delegation from District 16, for staying on top of this important pedestrian safety issues, and we look forward to seeing those new and improved crosswalks from SHA.

Here are are few images from their document, and you can see all the crosswalks by clicking here. (The White Flint/Pike District section begins on page 19.) Because of the advocacy of Friends of White Flint, the intersections of Route 355 and Nicholson Lane, Marinelli Street, and Old Georgetown Road already have freshly painted crosswalks with stripes.

Genuinely Interesting Info from Last Night’s BRT Open House

Below you’ll find ten of the informational boards from last night’s MTA/SHA/Montgomery County BRT Open House at BCC High School. (There is one more open house on Tuesday, May 3 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at Gaithersburg High School. )  At the Open House, a wide variety of state and county rapid transit experts were available to answer questions and gather public opinions. You can see all of the information provided and learn more about this BRT process at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/RTS/md355openhouses.html.

Here are two quick interesting Rapid Transit facts from last night’s presentations. Non-work trips account for 88% of overall existing travel along Route 355. Projected increases by 2040 along Route 355: population up 33%, employment up 31%, traffic up by 20%, peak period travel time increases by 30%

Look at the final image to find out how you can tell the BRT planners what you think about BRT along Route 355.

 

 

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.

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.

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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…

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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.  

 

Pedestrian/Bicyclist Advocacy

Our last Friends of White Flint meeting was focused on pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and ways we can improve them in the short-term.  Although the White Flint Sector Plan does include robust improvements in this realm, we don’t anticipate seeing many of them immediately as they’re parts of larger infrastructure and other redevelopment projects.  But, as we’re encouraging folks to get out of their cars more, we must find ways to make it safer for them to do so now.  We’re grateful that representatives from county government – Councilmember Hans Riemer and representatives from both MC DOT and the County Executive’s Office – as well as the State Highway Administration were present to offer their ears and their voices to the discussion.

From the meeting, FoWF has narrowed down on five points where we’d like to see progress.  I’ve started by sending an email to county stakeholders asking to continue the conversation.  Here are our points of focus:

  • Our community has grave concern about the intersection of Executive Blvd and Rockville Pike.  That super-block, combined with bus stops and attractions located on both sides of the road, encourage jaywalking – which has turned deadly.  What is the timeline for evaluating this stretch of road to offer safer alternatives for those crossing without a car?  Super-blocks abound in White Flint – are there safety measures we can implement now while we await full build-out?
  • How can we improve the southbound right-turn from Rockville Pike onto Executive Boulevard so drivers are more aware of crossing pedestrians?
  • How can we be of use on advocating for better bike infrastructure and, ultimately, BikeShare?
  • We have asked for one before but, on the recommendation of Councilmember Riemer at our meeting, I’d like to renew our request for a Walkability Audit. As infrastructure plans and designs are being developed, this would be a great time to ensure all bases are being covered the first time.
  • A member raised the suggestion of limiting “rights on reds” in the district.  While this move would, anecdotally, seem to reduce hazards, is that truly the case?  If so, what are the steps to implement such a change at our busier multi-modal intersections?

Of course, this is just the tip of an iceberg but we think it’s a pretty solid starting place.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress – we hope you’ll do the same as you notice other spots where safety is a particular concern.

Implementation Committee discusses Western Workaround

street network

Montgomery County is figuring out how to build out White Flint’s new street grid.

The White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee held its monthly meeting before a packed crowd Monday night at the Shriver Aquatic Center in Wall Park. The main topic of discussion was the Metro Pike Center development at Rockville Pike and Marinelli Road, which we’ll talk about in more detail later this week. Here’s what else was on the agenda:

Chad Salganik has been appointed resident co-chair of the Implementation Advisory Committee. He’s currently the President and webmaster of the Randolph Civic Association. Congratulations, Chad!

– Dee Metz, White Flint Coordinator for the County Executive’s office, gave an update on the Western Workaround, a set of new streets and street improvements along the west side of Rockville Pike. The project would rebuild the intersection of Old Georgetown Road, Executive Boulevard and Hoya Street, which will cost about $37 million. It would also build 2 new streets between Marinelli and Old Georgetown Roads, dubbed Grand Park Avenue and Market Street, which would cost about $50 million.

An accompanying Eastern Workaround would extend Executive Boulevard east of Rockville Pike, behind a redeveloped White Flint Mall, then north to connect with Nebel Street. Both projects are at 35% design, which means there’s still a lot of details to be worked out.

Among the biggest issues with the Western Workaround is how the new streets will be designed. While the White Flint Sector Plan calls for Old Georgetown Road to be rebuilt as an urban street with wide sidewalks, bike lanes and just 2 car lanes in each direction, Montgomery County Department of Transportation officials basically want to keep it the same wide, fast road for now, then rebuild it again when more people start biking and walking.

“It’s not that they don’t want to do it right away, but there’s things we need to do before going forward,” said Metz.

But many people, including Councilmember Roger Berliner, say it would be cheaper and more in keeping with the plan’s goals to rebuild Old Georgetown once. Developer Federal Realty, which is building the Pike + Rose mixed-use project next to Old Georgetown Road, worries that the current design will hurt their vision and the community’s vision of an urban White Flint.

“I’ve got 6 leases signed with restaurants on Old Georgetown Road,” said Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty. “I want outdoor cafes and street trees.”

Metz says that MCDOT has to find a compromise between those who want more pedestrian and bicycle facilities and those who are worried about car traffic. “We’re probably getting as many letters from people who want bike lanes,” she said, “as we are from people who say, what are you going to do about this traffic? We don’t need more bikes. It’s a balancing act.”

– County Executive Ike Leggett is hosting 5 forums this month to discuss the county’s capital improvements budget, which will set priorities for public construction projects over the next 6 years. If you’d like to see the Western Workaround and Eastern Workaround built sooner rather than later, this is your chance to let county officials know. Here’s the schedule:

Thursday, July 11 at the Mid-County Community Recreation Center, 2004 Queensguard Road, Silver Spring
Thursday, July 18 at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center, 3300 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring
Monday, July 22 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring
Tuesday, July 30 at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane in downtown Bethesda
Wednesday, July 31 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown

For more information, visit the county’s website.

Notes from the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee

The White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee, a body established by the Planning Board, met on Monday, May 13th.  Below are notes of the most salient points of discussion:

**  Rose Krasnow, interim director of the Planning Department, made a rare appearance at the meeting.  Also present was Ramona Bell-Pearson from the County Executive’s office and representatives from the county Department of Transportation.  They were likely present because a draft implementation staff report that had been circulated by planners among the committee members had received a “less-than-warm reception.”  The circulated draft appears to have not reflected the understanding of many, who also believed they were not being offered an opportunity to chime in on the report.  As Krasnow explained, White Flint is a far different master plan from any other and has truly created a new way of doing business.  So, these implementation staff reports are to be drafted periodically to check in on the progress of the plan, as well as to explore what has not yet been programmed into the Capital Improvements Plan but should be.  Because the CIP works in 6-year cycles, it requires foresight to have the right projects in queue for funding and execution.  Krasnow stressed that what was circulated was just a draft and that committee comments would either be incorporated or addended, but not discarded.  This may bring some relief to committee members who expressed concern that they were spinning their wheels for naught during this time-consuming volunteer endeavor.  The final report will be made public on June 6th and the Planning Board will review and approve it on June 13th.

**  Another reason head honchos might have been present at the meeting is because of the infrastructure status in White Flint.  Road planning and construction are integral to the project and involve both county entities and the state, who controls both Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road (and, therefore, every intersection with those roads, as well).    Dee Metz reported that, because the design has now reached the threshold 35% of completion, conversations about funding and details can proceed.  In preparation for a presentation on the roads plan, the design will first receive comments from the State Highway Administration, various engineers and the utilities.  This concerns some because, though the White Flint Sector Plan was pretty specific on many points, it did leave some room for interpretation on issues like road width, bike lanes and the undergrounding of utilities.  Folks who have been part of the planning process since its inception know that the intention for the roads is consistent with the rest of the New Urban vision for White Flint – just with some wiggle room to account for realities as they arise.  It requires all involved to shift their thinking from a car-centered focus to a more urban one that accounts for all road users – including walkers and bikers.  This, it was said, is not something that SHA is accustomed to doing and might require lobbying on the Gubernatorial level to ensure that roads, when built, stay true to the vision of the plan.   The alternatives include running the risk that the roads are designed by engineers strictly concerned with moving cars — and we’re right back where we started with unwalkable highways dividing White Flint.  Dee says they hope to have the design ready for release in June and stressed that, though design is behind, construction’s timeline has not shifted.  Funding will be another issue, and one a financial consultant is tackling.  The projects are restricted on bonding.

** Dee Metz also reported that a traffic study is nearly ready to be released but has received objections to some of the data and assumptions made.  Therefore, the White Flint Partnership has commissioned its own study, as well.

**  Rose Krasnow also proposed that the Advisory Committee create a non-substantive steering committee.  Because there are multiple bodies working on White Flint’s redevelopment at this point, she suggested that this Steering Committee would optimize communications and include planner Nkosi Yearwood, committee co-chair David Frieshtat, county White Flint Implementation Coordinator Dee Metz and Regional Services Center Director Ken Hartman (who coordinates the Downtown Advisory Committee).  Between them, all bases should be covered so that Advisory Committee agendas could be compiled and circulated prior to meetings.  Better coordination will allow for better issue vetting, direction and addressing of complexities as they arise.

** Finally, representatives from BF Saul and Co presented their sketch plan proposal for their White Flint properties.  We’ll have more on this soon.

The White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee customarily meets the second Monday evening of each month at 7pm in the multi-purpose room of Shriver Aquatic Center.  The next meeting will be June 10th.

Planning Board votes for alterations to Montrose Parkway

The existing part of Montrose Parkway. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

After 40 years of planning, an extension of Montrose Parkway through White Flint could soon become a reality. County and state transportation officials say the highway is needed to move cars, but residents and county planners say it contradicts their goal of making White Flint an urban center.

Yesterday, the Montgomery County Planning Board recommended that the State Highway Administration and Montgomery County Department of Transportation change their plan to build a $119 million, 1.62-mile extension of Montrose Parkway from Rockville Pike to Veirs Mill Road. They questioned how it fits into the White Flint Sector Plan, which calls for the creation of a place “where people walk to work, shops and transit.”

“It’s hard to see this as consistent with a pedestrian-friendly environment,” said Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier, who lives near White Flint. “It detracts from our efforts to create a grid of streets . . . it makes our transportation goals harder.”

Work on Montrose Parkway began in the 1970’s, when it was planned as part of the Outer Beltway, which was eventually built as the Intercounty Connector. Later, a portion of the highway’s route between Veirs Mill Road and New Hampshire Avenue was turned into Matthew Henson State Park.

Planning for the current version of Montrose Parkway began in 1998 and resulted in the construction of the segment west of Rockville Pike, which opened in 2010. The Planning Board’s recommendations, which aren’t binding, will next go to the County Council for a vote. SHA officials say that construction won’t begin for at least 5 years.

The proposed four-lane highway would have a stoplight at Chapman Avenue and overpasses at Nebel Street and the CSX railroad tracks. At Parklawn Drive, there would be a single-point urban interchange or SPUI (pronounced “spooey”), where drivers on Parklawn would stop at a light before turning onto the highway. A SPUI already exists at the junction of Falls Road and I-270.

SHA and MCDOT representatives insist that Montrose Parkway is needed to handle anticipated traffic from the redevelopment of White Flint. “If you build more density, you’re going to have more traffic congestion,” said Edgar Gonzalez, MCDOT’s deputy director for transportation policy.

However, recent studies and local examples suggest that compact, mixed-use development like what’s proposed here will actually reduce traffic, raising the question where MCDOT and SHA’s concerns are actually valid.

Parkway would reduce east-west connections

Montrose Parkway With Randolph Road Open

Plan showing Montrose Parkway at Parklawn Drive if Randolph Road is open.

Montrose Parkway With Randolph Road Closed

Plan showing Montrose Parkway at Parklawn Drive if Randolph Road is closed.

Since the latest plans for Montrose Parkway were first presented two weeks ago, residents have expressed concerns about the state’s plans to close Randolph Road, a major east-west thoroughfare running parallel to the parkway, where it crosses the railroad tracks.

“One of the biggest problems in White Flint planning is the lack of east-west crossings,” wrote Barnaby Zall last week. “We’ve been trying for years to figure out a way to bridge that gap.”

SHA officials say it’ll improve safety. The Federal Railroad Administration calls it the 4th most dangerous crossing in Maryland: there have been 21 collisions there in the past 35 years, including one death. Since 2007, there has been just one collision. Separating the road from the railroad tracks also means trains won’t have to blow their horns when they pass through, something many neighbors have complained about.

Randolph Road would end in a cul-de-sac just east of the tracks, and anyone who wanted to go further west would have to get on Montrose Parkway. Chair Carrier worried that this would hurt access to shops along Randolph Road. “It would be hard to imagine that the businesses there would remain viable,” she said.

Gonzalez said it could be a safety hazard. “You have to weigh the benefits [of access to Randolph Road] with the possibility of a future event occurring,” he said. “Nobody wants to be in a train collision.”

Nonetheless, board members voted to keep Randolph Road open at the railroad crossing, which planning department staff recommended because it gives travelers more options, reducing the traffic burden on any one road.

Debate over whether interchanges are “barriers”

Montrose Parkway East

Plan of the entire eastern portion of Montrose Parkway.

Much of the debate about Montrose Parkway revolved around the proposed interchange with Parklawn Drive. Board members worried it would become a barrier between White Flint and Twinbrook, making it difficult for people to walk or bike from one side to the other.

“We should rethink what we’re doing in the context of the future land use of White Flint,” said Planning Board member Casey Anderson. “We’re not trying to build these huge slabs of asphalt that divide communities into pieces.”

In the past, county planners have recommended putting a stoplight there instead. Former planning director Rollin Stanley argued that interchanges in White Flint “[reinforce] the view that Rockville Pike is a runway to get through White Flint versus moving through the area as a destination itself.” Last fall, acting planning director Rose Krasnow wrote a letter asking MCDOT and SHA to consider it, but was rebuffed by MCDOT director Arthur Holmes, who said the interchange would “improve safety and reduce barriers by separating conflicting flows” of cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Likewise, Gonzalez said that an at-grade intersection, which would require that Montrose Parkway be 9 or 10 lanes wide to handle projected traffic, which would be just as bad for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Planner Larry Cole argued that it’s because the county and state’s plans are “overdesigned” and overestimate the amount of future car traffic in White Flint. “The reason [Montrose Parkway] is this big is that the space is available,” he said.

Nonetheless, the board eventually voted in favor of keeping the interchange after officials from MCDOT and SHA promised to look at ways to make crossing the interchange safer and more pleasant for pedestrians, such as restricting right turns on red. The parkway will already have a 10-foot path for bicyclists and pedestrians on the north side and a 5-foot sidewalk on the south side.

Over time, the vision for White Flint has changed a lot. Forty years ago, the Outer Beltway was supposed to pass through it. Twenty years ago, the Planning Board sought to build multiple interchanges along Rockville Pike. Even the White Flint and Twinbrook sector plans, which are less than 5 years old, included the Montrose Parkway.

However, these neighborhoods are envisioned as urban places where people will be able to drive less, and to succeed it needs a street network where people feel comfortable and safe not driving, and Montrose Parkway as proposed could undermine that. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration work for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, not just drivers, and their plans for places like White Flint must reflect that.

Crossposted on Greater Greater Washington.