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Clarksburg crosswalk would cost $27 million

Only in Clarksburg would it cost $27 million to get a marked crosswalk so that children can walk to school safely and conveniently. That's because the Montgomery County Department of Transportation refuses to install one until it spends $27 million on road construction.

Clarksburg strip mall. Photo by Mr. T in DC.

Clarksburg, Montgomery County's last master-planned development in the I-270 corridor, is an on-going planning headache. One reason is that the 1993 Master Plan envisoned Clarksburg as a "transit- and pedestrian-oriented town", but there is little to walk to and almost no transit.

12 years after construction began in Clarksburg, the planned shops and supermarket at Clarksburg Town Center are still vacant land. There will be no library in Clarksburg until after fiscal year 2018, if then, according to Montgomery County's Capital Improvement Plan .

While the residential part of Clarksburg's Cabin Branch development is proceeding, the future of the associated 2.4 million square feet of commercial development is uncertain since the Maryland Health Commission ended Adventist HealthCare's plans to open a hospital in Clarksburg.

Clarksburg's transit still consists of 2 weekday-only buses and a tiny MARC station 4-5 miles away.

Although the County Council recently put the next phase of Clarksburg development on hold, this was not because the Clarksburg built to date falls so far short of the 1993 Master Plan's promise. Instead, the County Council worried that construction would degrade the Ten Mile Creek watershed and further reduce water quality in WSSC's Little Seneca reservoir.

And earlier this year, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) turned down a request from Clarksburg parents to mark a crosswalk at Stringtown Road and Observation Drive. Parents in the Gateway Commons development use the unmarked crosswalk to walk their children to the elementary school that is literally within sight of their homes.

The parents persisted, asking Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett to reverse MCDOT's decision. But last week, Leggett instead supported MCDOT's denial. Why?

Because, he explained in an e-mail, the county will not install a marked crosswalk at this intersection until the county has built a 2-mile, multi-lane, divided road (Observation Drive Extended) between Germantown and Clarksburg.

It's bad enough that Stringtown Road did not include a marked crosswalk when the road opened in 2007. After all, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved the site plan for the Gateway Commons development in 2003, and the elementary school has been there since 1909.

Did nobody think that people living on the southeast side of the road might want to walk to the school on the northwest side of the road? Was the road's $8.8 million budget too small to pay for a marked crosswalk?

But Leggett's explanation actually makes it worse. The Stringtown Road construction project did include curb cuts and pedestrian refuges at the intersection with Observation Drive. The parents assumed, reasonably, that the county had included these pedestrian facilities so that pedestrians could use them.

But this assumption was incorrect, Leggett's e-mail explained. Rather, the reason the Stringtown Road project included the pedestrian facilities was "to minimize the expense and operational impacts on the roadway when Observation Drive [Extended] is constructed".

Observation Drive Extended is not on the county's Capital Improvement Plan. But it is possible to get a rough estimate of its construction costs, if the county were to build the road today. The similar 1.2-mile extension of Father Hurley Boulevard in Germantown opened in 2011 and cost $10.9 million, or roughly $9 million per mile. So Observation Drive Extended might cost roughly $18 million.

$8.8 million for Stringtown Road plus $18 million for Observation Drive Extended adds up to $27 million that must be spent before parents and children, in a town planned as pedestrian-oriented, can cross at a marked crosswalk on their safe, convenient walk to school.

At that cost, it's no wonder that, as Leggett's e-mail said, "[t]he County simply does not have the resources to provide crossing guards or other control measures at every potential crossing location to make them as safe as possible for everyone who wishes to use them."

Instead, these parents will have to continue to choose between crossing safely at an inconvenient, marked crosswalk and crossing conveniently at an unsafe, unmarked crosswalk.

As Leggett's e-mail explains, "When in the judgment of our engineers and school transportation professionals it is better to compromise the convenience of a pedestrian...than to potentially compromise their safety, I will back that decision. Like them I believe that installing a marked crosswalk at this location may not improve the safety of those who wish to cross there."

But why must there be this trade-off between pedestrian convenience and pedestrian safety? Surely MCDOT is capable of designing a marked crosswalk at this intersection that would allow pedestrians to cross both conveniently and safely. Such a crosswalk would, however, compromise the convenience of drivers.

The Clarksburg Master Plan says that it will "carefully guide the growth of Clarksburg from a rural settlement into a transit- and pedestrian-oriented town". Ike Leggett says that he supports "mak[ing] our area more pedestrian-friendly". MCDOT says that the county supports improvements to "the walkability of our communities".

Why is it so hard to get Montgomery County to do what it says?

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in upcounty Montgomery County. She is a member of the Boyds Civic Association, the Boyds Historical Society, and the Action Committee for Transit


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This calls for , a trip to Home Depot, the purchase of some white paint, and some civil disobedience.

by Jasper on Dec 11, 2012 10:01 am • linkreport

I've always thought there should be more guerrilla crosswalks. I've been tempted myself, but alas, I'm too lazy.

by gob on Dec 11, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport


by William on Dec 11, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

@gob: Gorilla crosswalks? I think that's a bad idea. I don't support monkeying around with urban planning.

Sorry. (Not very, but sorry.)

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 11, 2012 10:25 am • linkreport

A gorilla crosswalk could work by the National Zoo but I agree, anywhere else would be bananas.

by gob on Dec 11, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] was painting the crosswalk put in the wrong phase of the project or was it not included at all?

by selxic on Dec 11, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

@ gob:A gorilla crosswalk could work by the National Zoo

The Zoo has the O-line...

@ Ser: Gorilla crosswalks? I think that's a bad idea.

I am just proposing marking an unmarked crosswalk that pedestrians have the right-of-way at already. So, other than some paint on the road showing the unmarked crosswalk, nothing changes.

Or, in other words, government by the people. And showing that you don't need M$28 to paint a crosswalk.

by Jasper on Dec 11, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

I've seen a variation of this logic in other jurisdictions, especially regarding bicycle lanes. The idea is yes, the road, curbs and sidewalks may be engineered for the assumed provision of safe and guided crossings/travel, but we the transportation engineers are not willing to put ourselves behind this. The argument is by adding the paint, the County is saying "yes, this is a safe place to cross, ride your bike, use the road in some manner other than a car". If an accident then occurs, the County is afraid it would assume some sort of liability for marking the road that way.

by Gull on Dec 11, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

So I do not understand why the area needs 27 million. Looking at google maps it is already a 4 lane divided road, it has bike lanes. I could see how a red light could be an inconvience but the school is right there accross the street. Where do they expect parents to walk , as far as I can tell there are no side walks leading to the school.

This is BS on the county, if they expect students within one mile to walk to school (the official policy is 1.5 miles I belive) they should provide a safe way for them to do so.

by Matt R on Dec 11, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

I looked up this crossing on Bing Maps - the county had the forethought to include left turn bays, pedestrian refuges and bike lanes, but no crosswalks? This is an (easily fixed) engineering mistake being hidden behind the veil of "engineering judgement."

by Jeff on Dec 11, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

@Miriam - nice job. Keep it up.

by Tina on Dec 11, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

@gob: Gorilla crosswalks are bananas? I Rwanda where you got that idea.

@Jasper: Oh, I know. I'm merely in pun-tastic mode this morning. More seriously, I do actually support a certain amount of guerilla street marking, in cases like this. I do wonder what the county would have to say about it...

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 11, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@ Ser:I do wonder what the county would have to say about it...

Probably jail the people who did it for endangering their children.

by Jasper on Dec 11, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport

So this gorilla crosswalk people keep talking about - is that what in England would be a zebra crossing?

by Anon202 on Dec 11, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

For less than 500 bucks the crosswalk can be painted and outfitted with signs

by Tina on Dec 11, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

Jasper, the question is, what kind of paint?

And let me guess, the engineer will quote the idiotic "false sense of security" even though that ancient study was flawed?

Maybe its about time a real study was done showing that marked crosswalks do help pedestrians, but making walking more of an option.

by JJJJJ on Dec 11, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Probably jail the people who did it for endangering their children.

Or endangering motorists by forcing them to stop unexpectedly...

@Anon202: Yes, but only if it comes equipped with a HAWK beak-on.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Dec 11, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

I've also seen the Montgomery County Transportation Department actually remove an existing painted crosswalk. There were crosswalks on all four sides of the intersection of Shady Grove Road and Gaither Road (Google air photo). The crosswalk on the south side of the intersection (crossing Shady Grove Rd.) did not have a pedestrian signal. Crossing with the green "disc" signal for automobile traffic was not an option, because a green left turn arrow was on at the same time. I sent an email to traffic operations, asking when someone was supposed to cross in that crosswalk. They responded by removing the crosswalk on that side of the intersection. I was floored.

As for the situation in Clarksburg, even without going to the lengths of painting a crosswalk, I think the parents there should organize their own crossing guards and get drivers to stop at the crosswalk (which is legally there even if it's not painted).

by J. Walker on Dec 11, 2012 2:14 pm • linkreport

Let's face it, Clarksburg is a huge disappointment to a lot of people. Many lies and empty promises. One can only hope it's a shade of what was promised one day.

by Eric's Muscle Cars on Dec 11, 2012 8:16 pm • linkreport

The cost of Observation Drive is acually a lot higher than reported in the article (by a factor of 10). It will be the most costly portion of road ever built by MoCo. It's about time the county lived up to the Master Plan or stop building anything more until the infrastructure and transportation are in place. To have children bused to the schools they can see from their houses is ridiculous (it also happens with Clarksburg High and Rocky Hill Middle).

by Clarksburg resident on Dec 11, 2012 8:17 pm • linkreport

It's incredibly common for there to not be crosswalks on all four sides of a suburban intersection. It's also incredibly common for someone on the sidepath that only runs on one side of the street to have to stand through multiple light cycles and cross the street multiple times to get to the other side. God forbid a car have to wait a few seconds for someone to walk.

by Mike on Dec 13, 2012 9:09 am • linkreport

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