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Public Spaces

"Let's use this space!" say mysterious signs around Silver Spring's unfinished transit center

While repair work continues on the Silver Spring Transit Center, the entire block around it remains roped off. On Friday morning, big signs appeared asking to turn the space into a temporary park.

Photo by the author.

Six black-and-white posters hang from the fences around the transit center on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue, reading "Move the fence? Let's use this space." They sport photos of different activities that could happen there, like outdoor movie screenings, musical performances, and festivals. In the bottom-right corner is the hashtag #DTSS, meant for people to respond on social media.

Two Silver Spring residents placed the signs early Friday morning. They asked not to be identified to keep the focus on the message, not the act itself. "The Montgomery County election has just happened; people have gotten reelected," they said. "This is an issue a lot of people ran their campaigns on, but not a lot has happened."

They added, "We wanted to do this to bring back the bigger discussion…which is: what is the future of the transit center? What are the short-term uses of the site?"

Montgomery County broke ground on the transit center in 2008, which was supposed to tie together local and regional bus routes, the Red and future Purple lines, and MARC commuter rail. Work stopped in 2011 after workers discovered serious structural defects within the $120 million complex.

After some disagreement between the county and builder Foulger-Pratt about who was responsible and how to fix the building, repairs began in June. County officials say the transit center could open next year.

The transit center in 2012. Today, the space around it is covered in grass. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Recognizing that the fence is necessary because the transit center is still an active construction site, the sign-hangers say they hope WMATA, who owns the land, would be willing to move it away from the sidewalk. "We talk about Silver Spring being this urban, vibrant place, but our biggest asset, our front door, is horrible," they said. "What is a chain-link fence for us to be presenting to the region when we're trying to attract people to live here, to work here?"

Moving the fence even 20 feet away from the sidewalk, they argue, could still keep people out of danger while creating space for aesthetic improvements or other activities. "This can significantly improve the experience of people who use the transit center," they say. "You could add some trees and planter boxes, so you could move them easily."

This isn't the first time community members have discussed the land around the transit center. Earlier this year, Councilmember Hans Riemer and former Planning Board chair Gus Bauman proposed turning it into a park.

The sign-hangers say that's not their goal. "It's a prime development site, not a future long-term open space site," they say. "But we can enjoy it while it's here, and help inform what happens here in the future."

So far, the two signs immediately outside the Metro station have been taken down, but the other signs on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue remain.

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. 


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I saw those signs this weekend. Well done on the sign-hangers part, that space is wasted right now and it is perfectly safe.

by bk on Jul 21, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Couldn't agree more. This is our front door. We need to show the intention to the region that we as a community value and celebrate our public spaces!

by Silver Spring Resident on Jul 21, 2014 1:14 pm • linkreport

I have to admit, I can't imagine hangin' out right on Colesville Road just for fun as the traffic whizzes by.

But, yes, that space could be used for SOMEthing. I'm just not sure what it is.

by Capt. Hilts on Jul 21, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

Opening next year is rather vague are they talking about March/April or perhaps December

by kk on Jul 21, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

I couldn't think of a better place for a picnic then the storm water runoff area next to an unfinished parking garage, between a major intersection and the train tracks.

I walk past there a minimum of 4 times per day. I've never thought of that as a space i'd like to use for anything.

by jwad on Jul 21, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

Whether you want to use is as a park or not, at least it is a faster cut through than walking all the way around the fenced area.

by SJE on Jul 21, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

How many years until WMATA reaches a deal with a new developer for the joint development of the land around the station? ...2, 3, 5 years? This is a no brainer to take the fence down and let the public use this space. Such an eyesore currently.

...don't forget the sledding potential next winter!

by mds on Jul 21, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

The land was supposed to be developed with high-rise hotel and apartment buildings by Foulger-Pratt. After the nonsense of the transit center the JDA contract between F-P and WMATA has been terminated. WMATA should find another developer asap that construction can commence as soon as the transit center is finished (whenever that may be).

The land shouldn't be impulsively turned into a park. While that would be an excellent short term use, experience has shown that you can't give Montgomery County residents something and then expect take it away later.

Case in point #1: When the county finally got around to building the SS Civic Center on the artificial turf lot a couple north of the transit center a few years ago, residents threw a fit and wanted the turf to stay permanently.

Case in point #2: In the 1990's the County decided to convert the Georgetown Branch rail line into an interim paved multi-use trail, with the expectation of it being used as a transitway in the near future. Now that the Purple Line is nearing construction along the same ROW, residents along the trail, as well as a cadre of trail users who supposedly care about the environment, are kicking and screaming. This, despite the fact that the Purple Line project will actually improve the trail and properly connect it to the MBT.

by King Terrapin on Jul 21, 2014 3:55 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the location of the fence is motivated by liability issues. Just a thought.

by Vinnie on Jul 21, 2014 5:04 pm • linkreport

Great post, Dan. Thanks for chronicling. I miss the days, the good old days, of the old bus terminal.

by John Muller on Jul 21, 2014 8:12 pm • linkreport

King T -- I don't think that contract was "terminated" by the land owner. F-P decided not to go through with it, given the market conditions at the time. It was cancelled long before the problems with the Transit Center construction were revealed. It seems eminently developable to me though.

by Richard Layman on Jul 21, 2014 8:16 pm • linkreport

"The Montgomery County election has just happened; people have gotten reelected."

Last time I checked, the general election isn't until November. No councilmember has been reelected yet.

by Robert Dyer on Jul 22, 2014 5:19 am • linkreport

Yes, I am sure the grounds of a public spending albatross that is apparently unsafe for use and whose involved parties will spend years in court hashing it out, will open up the grounds to everyone.

Nope, I see no problem with that at all.

by Shells on Jul 22, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

Ugh, even when it was just the parking lot/bus bay thing, at least you could walk through it if you wanted to walk out up and over to Georgia Avenue, or in that general direction. They've had that whole block chained off and uselessly turned into a super-block since the fall of 2008! What a waste. Kudos the the sign hangers.

by Daniel on Jul 22, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

Daniel you can walk from the transit center to Georgia Ave: the Metropolitan Branch Trail is completed and has been open for months between Colesville Rd. at the metro entrance up to Ripley St. next to the Solaire Apartments. On the trail, you actually get a really good view into the transit's a great vantage to dream of it activated with buses and people ;)

by Woodsider on Jul 22, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

@ King Terrapin --- I agree with you that we should be cautious about turning the space over for recreation/park, as people might grow used to it and then complain bitterly when it is taken back to be developed. The examples you cite are "right on"!

by Tina Slater on Jul 22, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

@ King Terrapin-----Even moving the fence back 10-15 feet would free up some space for a decent streetscape with benches and trees for commuters. MUCH better than a chain link fence that screams dilapidation!
As for your comments about residents not giving up what they get for temporary uses, last time I checked the Civic Center was built and running successfully since the past 2 years. If anything the public discourse improved the quality of the design of the final plaza. Who is public space for, it not the citizens?

by Silver Spring Resident on Jul 23, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

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