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Maryland considers boulevard design for Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and Forest Glen Road in Silver Spring's Montgomery Hills neighborhood is currently a dangerous mess of a suburban arterial. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is looking at ways to transform it into an urban boulevard.

Image from Maryland SHA.

At a meeting last week at Woodlin Elementary School, SHA planners presented 7 alternatives to improve pedestrian, bike and transit access on Georgia Avenue. This stretch of road has the most vehicle collisions of any state highway in Maryland, as the reversible lanes make drivers confused. There's no median and the lanes are all at least 12 feet wide, making Georgia incredibly dangerous to cross on foot.

But this stretch of Georgia Avenue also has a number of notable small businesses in early 20th-century buildings close to the street. The popular Y and Q route Metrobuses stop here, and it's also within walking distance of the Forest Glen Metro, though few make that walk due to safety concerns. This area is ripe to convert to an urban boulevard.

SHA has produced 7 alternatives for this portion of Georgia Avenue, including not doing anything at all or using Transportation Systems Management, basically reworking the traffic lights but not actually building anything.

Alternative 3. All images from SHA unless otherwise noted.

Alternative 3 is based on the North and West Silver Spring Master Plan. It includes 13.5 foot wide sidewalks but no specific bike facilities. A 16 foot grass median would replace the existing reversible lane. SHA also proposes narrowing each intersection to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street.

Alternative 4.

Alternative 5.

Alternatives 4 and 5 build on the Master Plan option by including a 14 to 16 foot curb lane that could accommodate a striped bicycle lane. It would also close the off-ramp from southbound Georgia Avenue to southbound 16th Street, which encourages motorists to drive as if they were on an interstate highway. It has no place in a dense residential area that's in walking distance of two Metro stations.

Alternative 6.

Alternative 6 would place 2 Bus Rapid Transit lanes in the median and room for a station at Seminary Road. The Planning Board is currently considering a countywide BRT network which would include a route on Georgia Avenue.

Alternative 7.

Alternative 7 would build a tunnel underneath Georgia Avenue between the Beltway and 16th Street. Not only would it be the most expensive choice, but it would move Montgomery Hills in the wrong direction in the Whirlpool of Induced Demand.

All 5 of the alternatives that involve building things would require widening the road, meaning that businesses may lose some property or even their entire building. Everyone I talked to at the meeting preferred Alternatives 4 and 5, with its median and bike lanes.

Most agreed that Alternative 7 was not a good choice. Not only would make the pedestrian experience even worse, it would cause more driver collisions due to its confusing nature. Where the tunnel ended at the Beltway, drivers would have to merge across three lanes to get to the on-ramps.

It's surprising how different SHA's work in Montgomery Hills is compared to what the Montgomery County Department of Transportation's proposed redesign of Old Georgetown Road in White Flint, which encourages speeding and has few accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists. While Montgomery County transportation planners have chosen to ignore the county's vision to turn White Flint into an urban area, SHA planners have embraced an urban future for Montgomery Hills.

SHA's urban boulevard alternatives for Georgia Avenue are a step in the right direction. Hopefully, they'll find a solution that can make this street a place worth spending time in, not just a traffic sewer.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 


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Alternative 7 is not serious. It's there to represent one extreme. Alternative 6 is only if BRT is going to happen on Geroge, which I consider a less than 50% proposition. Alternative 3 is just prettying up the current mess a little, but Georgia would still be largely inhospitable to bikes and pedestrians. Alternatives 4 and 5 show promise.

by Crickey7 on Jul 2, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

I have driven thru here a few times from 16th to the Beltway, and it's miserable as a driver too. Calming the traffic, even if it added a minute to the trip, would make it less intimidating.

by Gavin on Jul 2, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

I love Alt 6, since that implies MoCo is serious about dedicated lanes for BRT, especially in the areas where it would be needed most. Generally speaking though, that stretch of Georgia Ave sucks horribly now, and any of those options (Alt 7 is a joke and we're not considering it) would be a tremendous improvement.

by Justin..... on Jul 2, 2013 10:41 am • linkreport

The BRT (at a minimum)seems to be the only practical way of moving forward with mobility in Montgomery County, so that makes Alt. 6 the best option, all though I agree that any improvement would be positive.

by Thayer-D on Jul 2, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

Just for sake of argument; my devil's advocate tendencies-

Alt 7, as shown, appears to create an underground highway while maintaining a surface highway.

What if Alt 7 had a 3-lane surface section, one in each direction, a center area for turns, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks... basically creating a local street with the highway beneath?

This could resolve the interchange connections by having the surface lane link in via slips. The flow to/from 16th might instead intersect in the tunnel (potential expectancy issues but not unheard of). BRT could be accommodated either via surface or tunnel (w/ a station connection to surface).

by Bossi on Jul 2, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

Alternative 6 is clearly the best, but I wouldn't be so quick to write-off 7. You could easily run BRT buses in the tunnel and include a small underground station.

Why is the SHA so obsessed with medians? In DC most major thoroughfares DON'T have medians. I understand their use in the suburbs outside of the Beltway, but in downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Friendship Heights they're just wastes of space.

by K Street on Jul 2, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

K Street -

Median strips provide a safe refuge for pedestrians trying to cross wide streets.

by Frank IBC on Jul 2, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

Median strips provide a safe refuge for pedestrians trying to cross wide streets.

Except we should be designing streets so you can just cross them. Nobody likes to wait on those tiny islands with traffic zooming around you.

I think the real answer is that medians separate traffic so drivers feel like they can go faster!

by MLD on Jul 2, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

Kudos to SHA for showing some leadership. Maryland's arterial traffic sewers have become an impediment to economic growth and redevelopment in teh burbs.

Would a protected median cycletrack work? With some pedestrian haven space at the intersections?

by Greenbelt on Jul 2, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

I drive on this stretch daily from 16th to the Beltway, and it is a mess. Constant accidents, something certainly needs to be done.

Kind of selfishly hoping they do nothing, as construction would undoubtedly make it twice as bad in the intervening year(s) :)

by Kyle-w on Jul 2, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

I think medians are important in urban boulevards not only as pedestrian refuges (if they're actually a refuge median they are wider and not so scary, when you jaywalk and stand on an 18 inch wide area of raised concrete it's bad), but medians also provide a place to plant shade trees. One of my biggest complaints about that corridor is how extra visible the utility lines are and how bright and hot it feels to drive through there. Montgomery Hills has one of the worst tree canopies in the County, and a median with trees is a nice improvement to me.

I understand most urban-interest minded people want to reduce the through movement for cars as much as possible and benefit the bicycle and pedestrian community, however there are thousands of people who depend on driving through this area every day to reach their jobs from their homes. I think one of the main reasons after tax structure that VA has so much better employment opportunity than MoCo is the highway access. To make it even harder to get from Silver Spring to the Beltway by car is not going to help out the Silver Spring employment prospects any. To that end, I like the Master Plan option 3 the best. It adds consistency to sidewalks, provides for left turn lanes to reduce driver confusion, provides some green medians for trees, and maintains 4 through lanes between the Beltway and 16th street. If we want to talk about places where we can reduce car lanes it's on Georgia Ave and 16th street south of Montgomery Hills. No need for 6 north and 6 southbound lanes in total between the two, when there is a crunch to 4 lanes at Montgomery Hills.

by Gull on Jul 2, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

I get the benefits of simplifying the 16th St and Georgia split intersection in alternatives 4 and 5, but I'm not sure I like the implementation. From the selfish perspective, it cuts off the entry from 16th st south to Hanover, which I and many people use to as the most direct path to the Talbot Ave Bridge. (I'm sure the people on that first block of Hanover won't mind fewer cars turning from 16th onto Hanover).

Beyond my selfishness, 16th st will put the 3 northbound and 2 southbound lane in a space that is slightly larger than the current northbound car lanes and it still won't have good sidewalks or bike lanes and would still be an unpleasant street crossing. If they're essentially realigning the road here, why not make what is currently southbound 16th st both directions? The intersection with Georgia could curve slightly to make a nice 4-way intersection with Luzerne Ave with a traffic light. It would also make one less block of merged 16th St and Georgia Ave traffic, which is part of the cause of congestion here. All this together would calm car traffic and hopefully leave more space for pedestrian & bike crossing.

by Dan H on Jul 2, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

I like 4 and 6. I think you could probably have a very successful Metro station where 16th hits Georgia, but I imagine that there is an underground incline that make that notion impossible.

In any event, I think there needs to be a wholesale redesign of several streets in that area, namely 16th Street which certainly does not need to be three lanes in each direction. I would say connect it to Columbia Boulevard, maybe even rename the MD part of 16th Street "Columbia Boulevard"; divert Seminary Road traffic to Seminary Lane, add a roundablout at Seminary, Brookville, and 2nd; Connect Hanover and Luzerne where you delete the old 16th Street connection and add either some mixed use or a park in that plot; Connect Columbia Boulevard to Forest Glen Road to give a back entrance to Holy Cross Hospital and create more traffic permeability.

I think it would also be important to consider making the street grid above the Beltway a little more coherent as well. Some retail around Forest Glen Metro would make a lot more sense once that horrific traffic interchange is fixed.

by Dave Murphy on Jul 3, 2013 4:55 am • linkreport

I agree that something needs to be done about this stretch of Georgia Avenue. I like Dave Murphy's comments and agree in particular that some retail around Forest Glen Metro would be nice.

I have lived near FG Metro for years and have never once been surveyed regarding my transportation patterns. A lot of my neighbors drive to work because the public transportation options are not good.

I think that the county and Metro should do some kind of transportation assessment and redesign the rush hour bus routes accordingly. There's not a good way to get from the Forest Glen/Four Corners area to Bethesda/Medical Center by public transportation. (It's possible but you'd have to take two bus routes or take Red Line through Metro Center all the way around.) Also, a lot of people from the Forest Glen area drive to NW DC for work, especially if they have to go to Dupont Circle Metro or stops north of that. I know one option was to extend the 16th Street/S bus line up to Georgia Avenue/Forest Glen. I wonder if that is still being explored.

In short, I think some bus transportation assessment and re-routing, in addition to the Georgia Ave design options explored in this blog post, would help a lot. We've got to help those commuters who are headed from east to west in the mornings.

by Anna on Jul 3, 2013 10:07 am • linkreport

I hope that we get option 7. I know it’s so much more expensive, but I think it would be the best option long term. If the planners could find a way to let tunnel traffic get on the inner loop of the Beltway and let all traffic coming off the Beltway get to use either use the tunnel or the above ground streets that would be even better.

I think option 6 will be horribly ugly, with 8 lanes of traffic if you want to cross the street. I can only imagine how horrible it will be to wait for a bus on one of those little islands. Traffic zooming past on one side and buses on the other. I'd hate to have to stand there on rainy or snowy days getting splashed from all sides, or hot sunny summer days with all that road baking in the sun.

The other options are certainly better than nothing and hopefully will improve the safety of that corridor, but I don't think the will improve the walkability of the area or the traffic in the long term.

by Rebecca on Jul 3, 2013 11:04 am • linkreport

I think a key element that is not being discussed in all of this is the development of the The Forest Glen Medical Bldg property. This property is ripe for Hi Rise Multi use development. It sits right ontop of the under used Forest Glen Metro and could provide the business along the boulevard with customers within walking distance. I wonder who owns this property and what their future plans are for it

by Chip Py on Jul 3, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

Why not have crossing bridges for pedestrians, especially from across the Metro stations and skip the medians?
I've heard they had them and since they weren't being monitored, there was crime. Instead, dead pedestrians. Both situations are bad, but one's more preventable - Put them back up and new ones in, and MONITOR them this time.
Also, they really NEED to dedicate (not share with through traffic) a turn lane for Holy Cross hospital traffic on Forest Glen Rd. Making people go the slow route (a windy extra mile and a half from Georgia Ave) through Sligo Creek Park is not considering how somebody could be driving someone experiencing a heart attack to the hospital. Makes things more unsafe for park pedestrians and bikers.

by elnigma on Jul 3, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

Why not have crossing bridges for pedestrians, especially from across the Metro stations and skip the medians?

Pedestrian bridges are undesirable, not just because of the crime but because of the fact that you have to climb up stairs or a ramp to get above traffic in order to get over. And with ADA regulations the ramps have to be very long, which makes the trip to get across the street that much longer for someone walking.

by MLD on Jul 3, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

No. Not longer than having to wait to cross Geogia, and safer.

by elnigma on Jul 3, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

As a member of the stakeholders group representing the North Woodside neighborhood, I have asked the planners to consider a different tunnel, one that would take 16th Street through traffic underneath the Montgomery Hills business district to Georgia Avenue. This would take half of the traffic off this section of Georgia and make it possible to have a median for pedestrians while preserving the business sections on each side of Georgia. It also would make it feasible to add some apartment or condo type project in this area.

by woody brosnan on Jul 3, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

It's a small point and mostly irrelevant to the main issue, but I think it's inaccurate to say that few people make the walk to Forest Glen Metro. I do, and most days will see at least one or two others on the pedestrian bridge and ramps. The link about "safety concerns" is to a six-year-old article, written before additional lights, emergency call boxes, etc. were installed. It's still not exactly a walker's paradise, but I don't think things are as bad as this story implies.

by Johnny B on Jul 3, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

woody brosnan, I think that underground exit ramp to/from 16th street idea is rather good. The future demand for road space (not medians) and the danger to pedestrians crossing Georgia make additional pedestrian bridges with the safety features and monitoring a smart move. And there still needs to be a dedicated left turn lane for Forest Glen, not just for the Hospital, but to end the dangerous bottlenecking traffic pattern that happens there on Georgia, as those trapped behind those making a left turn then try to go around them to try to go straight. And also because they're planning more "walkable" buildings/traffic in Johnny B's neighbourhood.

by elnigma on Jul 3, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

I agree about allowing left turns off Georgia during rush hour.
I am not sold on pedestrian bridges because pedestrians around here do not use them. They will not even take ten steps to use a crosswalk.

by Woody Brosnan on Jul 3, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

I'm not for retail or multi use dwellings near Forest Glen. One can go to Montgomery Hills or Wheaton for that. Plus, that would just create more congestion. But I am for dedicated turn lanes on Georgia and Forest Glen Road, north and south. It's really dangerous there, and pedestrians don't stand a chance at that intersection. And, I'd prefer to see a ped bridge rather than a tunnel (safety concerns with tunnels). The area is already densely populated. Anything good to reduce the density or manage the traffic would be most welcome.

by Missy on Jul 6, 2013 4:23 am • linkreport

I think the tunnel idea was for a road, not meant for pedestrians.
In Wheaton, they've got plans to put a County gov office park encompassing 2 whole parking lots (the town center, where they have the festivals) of Restaurant Row, knowing that'll kill those small businesses. Would rather they'd put their office upgrades (at other's expense) somewhere else like where there's abandoned office space on Connecticut and Aspen Hill.
In Glenmont they plan a little high-density Kentlands-style enclave where there's desperate need to add more ROAD due to congestion and for safety and commuter parking at Georgia and Randolph. They could use a little pedestrian bridge over Layhill to make it more walkable. They know their plans will likely kill the businesses currently there. They also plan to remove the Fire Dept. from there and move it to where it'd get really blocked from quick response during rush hour. A Fire Department within reach of all directions on Georgia and Randolph is safer. Said FD could be revamped and make bigger, with even better access, but instead they want to move it down towards the office buildings in Georgia. Along with the plans to destroy the current buildings and combine the Library with a Gym and the Gilchrist center,
Wheaton's just been targeted pretty much for cultural demolition. (Who in their right mind thinks Libraries should be combined with gymnasiums?)

by elnigma on Jul 6, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

@ Missy

What safety concern is there with a tunnel that is not present with a bridge. They are both small enclosed spaces and it something were to happen you would be trapped in either one.

by kk on Jul 7, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

The article notes the dangerousness of this area because drivers are unfamiliar with the reversible lanes. I disagree. This area is dangerous because their is a lack of enforcement of the 'no left turn' designations during rush hour periods, as well as a thorough lack of understanding of use of the turn lanes during times left turns are legal. (For the life of me, I simply don't understand why this particular stretch is so difficult for drivers to understand the use of turn lanes.)

by Corbett on Jul 10, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

Corbett, the hospital is in use all day long and is a major business, and it's poor design to send people going to the Emergency room around pedestrians at Sligo Creek Park. Plus, they plan to put more businesses in said area as well as generally building up Forest Glen Metro area. There's no reason to not widen the roads to have a dedicated left turn lane - it's dangerous at all times because people going straight on Georgia will try weaving around those turning left, because there isn't a dedicated lane.

by elnigma on Jul 10, 2013 10:47 am • linkreport

elnigma - I should have been more clear - I wasn't addressing the lack of a turn lane for Forest Glen road. Nor was I commenting on the pros and cons of turn lanes. I was simply stating that my years of experience driving Georgia Avenue would tell me that between 16th Street and the underpass for 495, much congestion and most accidents I've seen have been caused, not by the direction of reversible lanes, but by those who do not obey the 'no left turn' when it is in effect and those that do not pull into the turn lane when it is legal to do.

by Corbett on Jul 10, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

Oh, okay, now you are clearer, I agree with you. I think it's getting worse in that area as traffic increases.

by elnigma on Jul 10, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

Wow, very glad that I happened across this. I'm currently considering buying a house in the neighborhood just east of this section of Georgia Ava.
Actually, I have a near-term question that perhaps a knowledgable resident subscribed to this discussion could answer - how on earth do I get there from the beltway during evening rush hour, when left turns from Georgia ave onto Flora, White Oak, or Colmmbia/Dale are prohibited? Thanks!

by Ben on Nov 1, 2013 8:30 am • linkreport

@ Ben:

I’ve never done it, as I don’t drive to work, but I guess what I’d do is to turn right on Seminary Pl. or Seminary Rd.; turn around by circling a block in the residential or commercial area just west of Georgia (or if possible just backing and filling into and out of a driveway or the wide area at Sutton Place, across from Snider’s grocery), so you’re heading east on Seminary Rd.; and go straight through the light across Georgia onto Dale. Cumbersome, and it would probably add 3 or 4 minutes to your drive, but it should work.

by Johnny B on Nov 3, 2013 5:05 pm • linkreport

Georgia "This stretch of road has the most vehicle collisions of any state highway in Maryland, as the reversible lanes make drivers confused."
yet they plan to "repurpose" right-of-way for BRT, to make "dedicated" "reversible" lanes on Veirs Mill, when the transportation experts say it'll require buses to "precision dance" to "avoid head-on collisions"
Safety seems to be way down in their priorities.

by asffa on Nov 3, 2013 5:13 pm • linkreport

@ Ben again:

Or for that matter, get off the Beltway at Colesville Rd. instead of Georgia. From southbound Colesville, it's a right turn onto Dale. And if you happen to be coming from the east, that would probably be a quicker trip.

by Johnny B on Nov 3, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

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