Greater Greater Washington

Montgomery's most congested intersections aren't in its downtowns

Where do you think the most congested intersections are in Montgomery County? Maybe right by the Bethesda Metro? In downtown Silver Spring? University, Georgia, and Veirs Mill in Wheaton? Actually, no. A review of Montgomery County's 50 most congested intersections found only one inside one of the county's urban centers.


There are busy intersections in the more car-oriented neighborhoods around downtown Silver Spring, but not in the core. Map by the author.

County planners ranked the 50 busiest junctions for the Mobility Assessment Report, a regular review of Montgomery's transportation needs. Notably, the report found that the amount of driving in the county has stayed the same since 2002 even while 100,000 new people came in.

The busiest intersection is Rockville Pike at West Cedar Lane in Bethesda, next to NIH and Walter Reed, which had a critical lane volume of 1,957 cars during morning rush hour. In other words, that means that nearly 2,000 cars pass through a single lane of that intersection each morning. In second place is Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane in White Flint, which is slowly evolving into a new downtown.

Other than that, the top 50 didn't contain a single intersection in the downtowns of Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton, in Friendship Heights, or Rockville Town Center. For decades, Montgomery County has had a policy of directing growth to walkable, urban neighborhoods near transit stations with an aim of reducing car traffic.

RankIntersectionCommunityAM CLVPM CLV
1Rockville Pike at West Cedar Ln.Bethesda1,9571,612
2Rockville Pike at Nicholson Ln.White Flint1,2341,929
3Old Georgetown Rd. at Democracy Blvd.North Bethesda1,4231,923
4Darnestown Rd. at Riffle Ford Rd.North Potomac1,0611,898
5Shady Grove Rd. at Choke Cherry Ln.Rockville1,3631,853
6Connecticut Ave. at East-West Hwy.Chevy Chase1,6841,848
7Georgia Ave. at 16th St.Silver Spring1,1221,816
8Great Seneca Highway at Muddy Branch Rd.Gaithersburg1,4641,800
9Frederick Rd. at Montgomery Village Ave.Gaithersburg1,5361,795
10Rockville Pike at 1st St./Wootton Pkwy.Rockville1,7681,610
11East Gude Dr. at Crabbs Branch Rd.Derwood1,7421,211
12Veirs Mill Rd. at Twinbrook Pkwy.Rockville1,4261,721
131st St. at Baltimore Rd.Rockville1,4221,718
14Connecticut Ave. at Plyers Mill Rd.Kensington1,3491,710
15Shady Grove Rd. at Epsilon Dr./Tupelo Dr.Derwood1,7041,403
16University Blvd. at Piney Branch Rd.Silver Spring1,5791,703
17East Gude Dr. at Southlawn Ln.Rockville1,6921,450
18Randolph Rd. at Veirs Mill Rd.Wheaton1,6831,679
19Piney Branch Rd. at Philadelphia Ave.Takoma Park1,2281,680
20Columbia Pike at Fairland Rd.Fairland1,4161,678
21Connecticut Ave. at Jones Bridge Rd.Chevy Chase1,4901,672
22Montrose Rd. at Tower Oaks Blvd.Rockville1,6631,232
23Bradley Blvd. at Wilson Ln.Bethesda1,6601,603
24Falls Rd. at Maryland Ave./Potomac Valley Rd.Rockville1,3841,658
25Georgia Ave. at Norbeck Rd.Aspen Hill1,6561,592
26Frederick Rd. at Shady Grove Rd.Shady Grove1,6471,486
27Colesville Rd. at Dale Dr.Silver Spring1,6041,645
28Shady Grove Rd. at Midcounty Hwy.Derwood1,6441,323
29Clopper Rd. at Waring Station Rd.Germantown1,6361,589
30Montgomery Village Ave. at Stedwick Ln.Montgomery Village1,6331,170
31Connecticut Ave. at Bradley Ln.Chevy Chase1,4151,628
32Georgia Ave. at Forest Glen Rd.Silver Spring1,3181,626
33Colesville Rd. at Sligo Creek Pkwy.Silver Spring1,5081,624
34Georgia Ave. at Columbia Blvd./Seminary Ln.Silver Spring1,5201,624
35Veirs Mill Rd. at 1st St.Rockville1,6101,475
36Aspen Hill Rd. at Arctic Ave.Aspen Hill1,6091,467
37Norbeck Rd. at Muncaster Mill Rd.Aspen Hill1,6091,238
38Columbia Pike at Greencastle Rd.Fairland1,6071,575
39Old Georgetown Rd. at Tuckerman Ln.North Bethesda1,6041,261
40Great Seneca Highway at Quince Orchard Rd.Gaithersburg1,6021,547
41Randolph Rd. at Parklawn Dr.North Bethesda1,6011,165
42Democracy Blvd. at Falls Rd./South Glen Rd.Potomac1,5941,167
43River Rd. at Holton-Arms SchoolBethesda1,5911,358
44Norbeck Rd. at Bauer Dr.Aspen Hill1,5861,329
45Randolph Rd. at New Hampshire Ave.Colesville1,4401,580
46Layhill Rd. at Ednor Rd./Norwood Rd.Olney1,5791,425
47River Rd. at I-495Bethesda1,579957
48River Rd. at Willard Ln./Greenway Dr.Bethesda1,5791,530
49East-West Hwy. at Jones Mill Rd./Beach Dr.Chevy Chase1,0871,574
50Colesville Rd. at Franklin Ave.Silver Spring1,4131,571
Data from the Montgomery County Mobility Assessment Report. CLV = Critical Lane Volume. Click on a column header to sort.

As a result, while these areas do have higher-than-average rates of foot and bike traffic and high rates of transit use, they're not as congested as more suburban parts of the county. Just 16 of the top 50 intersections were inside the Beltway.

Not surprisingly, some of the busiest junctions are along major commuter routes like Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue, and Georgia Avenue. But many are on small, two-lane roads in suburban or rural communities like #4, Darnestown Road and Riffle Ford Road in North Potomac, or #46, Layhill Road, Ednor Road, and Norwood Road near Sandy Spring. These places are spread-out and far from transit, jobs, and other amenities, meaning residents have to drive a lot.


Layhill Road and Norwood Road. Image from Google Street View.

This report shows that if you build places on the assumption that people will drive everywhere, you'll get a lot of traffic, while if you give people options, you'll get less. Not everyone may want to live downtown, but those who choose to do so are keeping the roads clear for everyone else.

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

Comments

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I can't believe that Georgia Ave. & Viers Mill Rd. isn't on the list..or am I just not seeing it?

by peter on Apr 24, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

The intersection map linked to the first picture isn't public.

by Peter K on Apr 24, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Peter K

Sorry about that. It's fixed now!

Dan

by dan reed! on Apr 24, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

It doesn't seem like Critical Lane Volume is a good measure of congestion. When an intersection is congested, few cars can get through because they travel at slow speeds through the intersection or may even need to stop and wait for the intersection to clear before proceeding. When an intersection is flowing well at a higher speed, more cars can get through.

In the extreme example, when the "box is blocked", no cars are getting through, so your CLV is zero but the intersection is at maximum congestion.

by Falls Church on Apr 24, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

"University, Georgia, and Veirs Mill in Wheaton? Actually, no. " This is an interesting article, thank you, but I don't think 11 mentions out of the top 50 is a "no".
Georgia 7
Veirs mill 12
University 16
Veirs Mill 18
Georgia 25
Georgia 32
Georgia 34
Veirs Mill 35
Randolph 41
22 Montrose (randolph)
Randolph 45

Also (25 and 44 (Norbeck/Rt.28) aren't Aspen Hill )

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church, I agree. This "CLV" seems to be a measurement of the busiest intersections, not the most congested. In the common uses of the terms: busy = many cars going through; congested = slow/stopped traffic. This distinction is missing and/or muddled in the article's analysis. Or am I missing something?

by Goldfish33 on Apr 24, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

Goldfish33 No, you're right. There's some that fit the list of both (1,9,34...)

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

I'm not the least bit surprised to see Connecticut & East-West Highway on the list. When I first moved to the region, turning left onto East-West from Connecticut (Southbound) was so painful that I started looking up alternate ways home so I wouldn't spend so long just waiting to have a left-turn lane to merge into (and then wait some more)

by Steve on Apr 24, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

When I see this map I can only think of three letters
BRT.

by Thayer-D on Apr 24, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

I'm surprised Georgia Ave at Randolph Rd. in Glenmont isn't on here considering the County is going to build an interchange there. Is it really appropriate to invest so much money into relieving traffic off an intersection that doesn't even break the top 50?

The argument for BRT down Georgia is much stronger looking at this list though.

by Jason L. on Apr 24, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

Warning: lengthy tangent about the methodology and implications behind critical lane volume analysis ahead.

CLV is really intended to be more of a planning-level tool for figuring out the theoretical capacity of an intersection based on its phasing and lane configuration. You all are absolutely right that it doesn't paint the most accurate picture of existing conditions, and SHA and MCDOT know that, but it's still the foundation of their analysis method.

Montgomery County's LATR guidelines are written so that each policy area within the county has a different CLV threshold. If a traffic study predicts that new developments will cause a given intersection to exceed that threshold and go over capacity, that finding triggers a more detailed analysis of delay and queuing using more advanced analysis methods. (Aside: they currently prefer that analysis to be done based on Highway Capacity Manual 2000 procedures; by comparison, CLV is based on research last updated in HCM 1985 - before we had computer software to do the more complicated HCM 2000 computations.)
http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/transportation/latr_guidelines/latr_guidelines.shtm

If that analysis finds conditions to be unsatisfactory, the first step in the traffic mitigation program is usually to upgrade the intersection based once again on CLV results. There are other things a developer can do (mostly transportation demand management programs or payments to improve non-auto facilities) but they usually take a backseat unless the powers that be can be convinced that intersection upgrades aren't feasible.

The unfortunate thing about CLV-based mitigation is that the way the standard is written ("The mitigation program should bring the intersection to acceptable levels of congestion, or reduce CLV by an amount equal to 150 percent of the CLV impact generated by the development.") leaves very few options for "improvement" other than intersection widening. It's sometimes possible to tweak the phasing to improve the efficiency of the intersection, but since CLVs don't account for the actual timing of the intersection there's not that much that can be changed without adding lanes. That's one reason why the county keeps winding up with enormous intersections like Shady Grove & Montgomery/Key West - the standards prioritize maximizing vehicle throughput and leave them little alternative but to make both roads 9-10 lanes wide.

by Peter K on Apr 24, 2014 3:18 pm • linkreport

538 blog just ran an article on congestion and measuring it: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/how-to-measure-traffic-congestion/

by JDC on Apr 24, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

This list is meaningless. Simple adjustments to signal timing can change rankings significantly. Implementation of the advanced signal control infrastructure could eliminate the need for this list to begin with...which only hypes support for reconstructing congested intersection into overpasses.

by Cyrus on Apr 24, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

Jason L. This list doesn't measure congestion. Or Georgia and Randolph would be listed, University & 29 (Four Corners), Montgomery Village Avenue would get a few more mentions (poor design - no alternative routes, which is why they need to do some long overdue construction up there), Georgia and Forest Glen and Georgia and Seminary Rd would be higher up on the list, Glenallen when people try to get out from the Metro (or did they finally fix that "signal priority" problem for an outrageous sum - a reason when I read of "BRT signal priority" I feel tad nauseous), of course the 270 spur, the 355 exit backup, etc. It'd be a different looking list.
A lot of BRT plans are rightly criticized as as likely to make things worse at already congested areas. Like Rockville's Georgia and Norbeck (28)- when ICC was suggested protests stating it'd make things worse on Georgia were poo-pooed away - a turn lane was taken away for the ICC and made a heavy use area that wasn't all so bad a terribly congested one. Nobody should wave or state "disappearing traffic" theories towards any project when their plans don't take in account local circumstances.

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 8:47 pm • linkreport

Jason L Georgia's 4b route with repurposed lanes was studied for 6 million dollars and would optimistically save a grand total of 2 minutes or 1.1 mph faster than no BRT while improving regular bus service for its 3.9 miles with six stations at a cost of >30 mil per mile plus station etc. costs.
The environmental costs and what it'd do to congestion to put in said BRT - wasn't studied for that 6 million dollars.
What'd that do to the congestion at Randolph and Georgia wasn't mentioned.
BRT is no panacea for everywhere.

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 9:02 pm • linkreport

"A lot of BRT plans are rightly criticized as as likely to make things worse at already congested areas. "

There is no doubt that BRT will make things worse for moving cars, but not for moving people.

by Thayer-D on Apr 24, 2014 9:06 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D People in cars are people.

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 9:14 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D
They could you know, improve the bus service on said route for a whole lot less than the 150 million or so the BRT would cost, and it'd only slow riders down by 1 mph on said route, and not make everybody driving extra miserable.

Or is that 1.1mph for 150 mil (with constant construction), life made more dangerous in the neighbourhood (you really want to help block Georgia?!) and everybody angry nearby worth it to you? To make your point?

by asffa on Apr 24, 2014 9:32 pm • linkreport

"People in cars are people." Sure, but BRT moves more people, and that's the point of roads. And for that matter a bus in a dedicated lane is even better at moving people if timing and consistancy matter to you. What's the difference between miserable and extra miserable?

by Thayer-D on Apr 25, 2014 6:09 am • linkreport

Thayer-D you're treating BRT in a faith-based way, I presented reasons why it doesn't suit the area. Facts should weigh more.
Your interest in making others "extra miserable" is noted, not everybody wants to wear hair shirts in the cause of promoting BRT. I don't need one.
Why not instead improve the bus service which does more for less? Not only more frequent trips - You could look at a Glenallen and Georgia Street View - that's right near the Metro, and the Bus Stop there on Georgia doesn't even have a bench - heck, it's beside an apartment complex - why isn't there a SHELTER there? Many bus riders have health issues that means they can't stand long - why don't people think about them?

by asffa on Apr 25, 2014 7:42 am • linkreport

"you're treating BRT in a faith-based way, I presented reasons why it doesn't suit the area. Facts should weigh more."

Actually I'm basing my belief on the fact that almost every successfull large city has dedicated public transit and that many more are building it to improve the lives of their inhabitants. So yes, I have faith that those facts proove this isn't a boondoggle as you suggest and the only way to continue to grow sustainably.

You're the one who said the existing commute is miserable. How do you propose to aleviate this misery, with more busses stuck in traffic? With any improvement, there will be some pain, but then again, that can be said of any infrastructure. The question isn't to compare the current situation to when they are building the lanes, it's comparing it to when they are completed.

by Thayer-D on Apr 25, 2014 8:29 am • linkreport

So here's the policy question. How much money do you want to spend so people can get around marginally faster during rush hour? Given the fact that. X number of am peak drivers are school related, XX number of drivers are driving through the region, and XXX number of drivers are coming from the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, and Potomac, none of which are subject to our traffic tests. Discuss.

by Nancy Floreen on Apr 25, 2014 8:43 am • linkreport

Marginally faster? Is that all you think is at stake?

by Thayer-D on Apr 25, 2014 8:47 am • linkreport

Thayer-D I don't know what you think you have "at stake". But not everybody could or should use the bus at all times.
Nancy Floreen - No, I definately don't want you to spend the money that way, no.
For self, we went other ways to work, but previous AM uses for 4b route were at times Takoma Park Middle School(it's a magnet) & driving others to the drs. offices or hospital on Georgia, drop off/pick ups from the Metro bus stops (also school related, note bus ridership), going to the stores, etc.
Thank you!

by asffa on Apr 25, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

asffa,
It's not what I have at stake, but what our community as a whole has at stake. The State of Maryland presumably embraced smart growth with Glendening and it's commonly understood that dependable public transit is essential to smart growth. The smart being not just quicker commuting times, but reduced sprawl growth, cleaner air, less dependance on fossil fuels, and economic advantages like growth and the story about the red line's issues demonstrated.

I like being able to drive and have nothing against those who'd prefer to do so, but I also think that our politicians should aspire to long term planning, especially when it agrees with stated policy goals.

I personally like Nancy Floreen and I sympathize why politicians like Ms. Floreen shy away from advocating for long term goals, but if she thinks that dependable public transit is only about marginally quicker commutes, she just lost my vote.

by Thayer-D on Apr 25, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

Whoa Thayer D! I invited a conversation about the utility of CLV., not transit. This report , which I required, is to see how we're doing, mobility-wise, with a listing of congested intersections, according to our rules. Query - are the rules the right ones? Thoughts?

by Nancy Floreen on Apr 25, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

Ms. Floreen,
I recieved your invitation and thank you for it, but I'd also like to note your position on the BRT which was the only part I was reacting to.
"So here's the policy question. How much money do you want to spend so people can get around marginally faster during rush hour?"
I happen to think that the policy question regarding BRT not quite as simple, but I'm happy to disagree. This debate should include all points of view and may the majority view win. In fact, I know many good people who whole heartedly agree that the BRT isn't worth the investment, and should that point of view prevail, so be it.

by Thayer-D on Apr 25, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

Actually, Dan's post was about the mobility report and list of problematic intersections. The big picture is how we measure traffic, and for what purpose,, as others have pointed out. Intersection improvements are usually considered to be the immediate solution for intersection problems in this particular context. E.G all that mess at Wisconsin and Cedar Lane.

by Nancy Floreen on Apr 25, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D I think 1.1mph for 150 mil and worsened congestion/slower mph in other lanes fails to be "smart growth" - a definition which includes quicker commute times. Also, Glendening hasn't been Governor for 11 years.

Problematic intersections are probably ones that are dangerous and that people are stuck at waiting for a long time. I don't know how to easily quantify that without people's time at the intersection getting measured, and add how many people get hurt there. Georgia and Seminary is so awful reputedly with collisions because of the reversible lanes, sometimes the problem is visibility, terrible design, light timing, etc.

Nancy Floreen - Thank you for the report - I'm not sure this report worked entirely to show the worst intersections by list, other than some intersection lanes really are both heavily used per lane and also awful - so there is a link between the two.

Its not just numbers that are relevant but also design - Dennis and Georgia is designed with a left lane and about the same traffic as the next intersection - Forest Glen and Georgia. But Forest Glen and Georgia is terrible and dangerous because it doesn't have a left turn lane where it's needed, causing delays, frustration, and people swerving and hit each other. I read here they plan to add the left lane, and a Metro walking tunnel underground which made my day at the time. Thanks to those who are doing them.

by asffa on Apr 25, 2014 5:49 pm • linkreport

I think 1.1mph for 150 mil and worsened congestion/slower mph in other lanes fails to be "smart growth"

Yes. Because Smart Growth is a design/planning philosophy and not necessarily about traffic engineering.

by drumz on Apr 25, 2014 5:58 pm • linkreport

@Nancy: In an attempt to answer your question, I have copied what I posted in Dan's original column. I will follow up if I get more time:

"The MAR is one of the most low utility report that the Planning Dept puts out. Most of the data in the report is useless and irrelevant, for example, the CLV reported for Darnestown Rd/Riffle Ford Rd intersection is from data that is over 5 years old!! The high CLV reported for the intersection was questioned then due to turning movement count validity, but yet, it is still in the report! Data for several of the "top 10" worst intersections are more than a year old and at least two are about 5 years old! Virtually useless in the traffic world, especially when some of the intersections reflect data from 2004 and 2006!! Also, what is the utility of listing MD 355 and Cedar Lane as the worst intersection given the ongoing improvements (which are only noted later)?

While CLV is useful discrete data (though useless when tied to County's Policy Area Congestion Standard), TTI hopefully in future years will be an extremely useful indicator of real travel congestion. The TTI documenting MD 355 within the Shady Grove policy area as being the most congested and especially noting congestion in Clarksburg can be directly correlated to the need to complete the missing section of Midcounty Highway (M-83). Completing the roadway will provide much relief to travel congestion all along the east side of I-270."

Any conclusion that "driving did not increase" based on information in the MAR is suspect because the decrease in VMT quite likely is not statistically significant and there probably is no correlation between number of people driving and VMT in such an abstract data chart. Note that the data is only for State roads and does not include County roads. It would have been nice if the MAR included data for County roads as well; who knows, it may very well show a corresponding increase in VMT!!

I think CLV is still a useful planning/LATR APF measure. I am not a big fan of HCM methodology that was introduced in the latest SSP for several reasons. The new TPAR methodology is reasonable; the fees may be a bit high, but the important thing is that the fees collected is spent appropriately. With bikeshare now in more urban areas, the TPAR should look not just transit/road adequacy, but also at bike/ped adequacy.

by Realist on Apr 25, 2014 11:34 pm • linkreport

Thank you Realist for this "The TTI documenting MD 355 within the Shady Grove policy area as being the most congested and especially noting congestion in Clarksburg can be directly correlated to the need to complete the missing section of Midcounty Highway (M-83). Completing the roadway will provide much relief to travel congestion all along the east side of I-270."

Very interesting. BUILD IT!

by asffa on Apr 26, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

"This report shows that if you build places on the assumption that people will drive everywhere, you'll get a lot of traffic, while if you give people options, you'll get less. Not everyone may want to live downtown, but those who choose to do so are keeping the roads clear for everyone else."

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Yes, you will not see many intersections "fail" inside the Beltway ("fail" is a loaded word in MoCo because of the Policy Area Congestion Standard, which has a high CLV threshold of 1800 CLV for metro station PA's and someplace like the rural areas, a low CLV threshold of 1350 CLV; you go above these, and you have a "congested" intersection. Go figure! But the intent of the policy, I have to say, this is a good one~), quite simply because of the phenomenon of traffic metering that is happening. A classic example is the metering that happens at the MD 355/Cedar Lane intersection in the morning in the southbound direction, which means that the rest of the intersections downstream will be just fine, and will not "fail". Hence the reason you typically do not see many intersections fail within the Beltway. I have to note that MD 355/Cedar is also an exception; so is the Connecticut Ave (MD 185)/EW Hwy (MD 410) and Georgia Ave (MD 97)/16th Street intersections. The "exception" is that a few of these intersections, on top of its north-south directional peak traffic flow, also has a significant east-west peak directional traffic flow, which basically means that these intersections are the susceptible to "failure" much more than other intersections within the Beltway. (Note: The metering for MD 355/Cedar actually start at Pooks Hill, but does not blow MD 355/Cedar until Cedar traffic is factored in.) So, there is nothing "special" about areas within the Beltway as you suggest in your conclusion. These areas still experience congestion - and mind you, at a higher level than other areas in the County!

[Deleted] ... the extremely important travel time and delay savings/benefits that MAR document about ICC. This is a central piece to the latest MAR that the public and decision makers must know, and it is puzzling that you did not even bother to mention it! [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

Transit is essential to MoCo's future. But to paint everything else as bad is not good.

@Nancy Floreen: Given what is noted above regarding "metering", it may be time that areas inside the Beltway are looked at the White Flint way. The Council should forget about measuring traffic and instead focus on improving bike/ped infrastructure. Hopefully, the next SSP will have a focus on this.

by Realist on Apr 27, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

@NancyFloreen
Currently much of Veirs Mill's median is torn up not far from Veirs Mill and Randolph and there are lane closures because of the water company having needed to do repairs. Said projects been going on for months causing road (including bus) delays.
If the plan is to level the median there for bus lane use, it seems wasteful to rebuild the median just for it to be torn down again and cause more months of expensive construction and road delays.
I wonder if it'd be more efficient if they don't rebuild the median and put part of the lane in with a reasonable change to the contract.
Thanks!

by asffa on Apr 27, 2014 5:13 pm • linkreport

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