Montgomery removing one useless underpass while planning another
Montgomery County will likely remove a dangerous, unused pedestrian tunnel in the 1960s planned community of Montgomery Village. Redevelopment along the road will create a more walkable retail center, and planners hope to replace the tunnel with a safe and lively pedestrian crossing. At the same time, county leaders seem to be pushing ahead with a pedestrian underpass at Medical Center Metro that will make the same mistakes as the 40-year-old tunnel.
Montgomery Village was designed in 1962, when separating pedestrians from vehicles was the vanguard of urban planning. This tunnel illustrates some of the many flaws in that theory. According to the Planning Board report,
When the tunnel was opened, the residents expressed their concern that using the tunnel was more dangerous than crossing Stedwick Road at-grade. Residents did not use the tunnel because of the lack of a clear line of sight to see the area surrounding the opposite opening and limited escape routes at the tunnel openings for a pedestrian to avoid any potential criminal activity. Crossing Stedwick Road at-grade was preferred because the lines of sight are wide open and not restricted.
Separating pedestrians removes the "eyes on the street" benefit of sharing space, and forces pedestrians to take a more circuitous route. Such under- or overpasses also encourage traffic engineers to design the road solely for cars, since the pedestrians aren't supposed to be there. They're also more work to maintain, as we're already seeing with the Seven Corners skybridge. This tunnel was frequently covered in graffiti and its lighting poorly maintained. Montgomery Village now wants to close the road and build a new commercial center on the north side of Stedwick Road:
This redevelopment could activate Stedwick Road by having the buildings pulled as close as possible to the road ... and providing plazas with outdoor sitting [sic] between the buildings and the road. By activating Stedwick Road, this proposal would encourage pedestrian circulation and activity at street level, which will have a positive impact on the speed of vehicular traffic on Stedwick Road.The Planning Board should approve the tunnel closure and commend Montgomery Village for its forward-thinking perspective. County leaders should bear these lessons in mind before approving a pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike at the Medical Center Metro. That project is on the agenda for TPB to approve as part of the TIGER grant application at today's meeting.
Today, the only entrance to Medical Center Metro is on the west side of Rockville Pike, across the street from the National Naval Medical Center. BRAC will combine Walter Reed into that facility, bringing many more commuters, and making better access vital. A feasibility study compared various options, including a shallow pedestrian tunnel from east to west, a pedestrian bridge, a new elevator entrance directly to the mezzanine, and a combination of tunnel and new elevators.
The new entrance costs the most,
$46-60 million $32 million compared to $16-30 million for the tunnel. Correction: $46-60 would pay for both the entrance and the tunnel. However, the station will see huge ridership gains, passing 16,000 daily employees, visitors, and residents by 2020 according to Metro's projections. The new entrance would save 3.5 minutes per person, and with about 36% of riders projected to access the station from NNMC, that's 357 hours of total time savings every day. The State Highway Administration is already planning to spend $160-215 million on road widenings. A quarter of that money would be better spent on the Metro entrance.
If DoD and the State of Maryland don't want to build the new entrance, then a tunnel is worse than nothing at all. According to the Metro study, pedestrians won't save any time with the tunnel. This isn't like the tunnel at Bethesda, where people go down one floor, cross the street, then continue down. This tunnel would require people to come back up to street level, walk some additional distance, then go back underground. With the time required to go down and up again exceeding the cycle time of the signal to cross Rockville Pike, most people will simply choose to cross at the surface. That already happens at White Flint, which has a similar pedestrian underpass.
The money for the tunnel would be better spent going toward the new elevator entrance or implementing the pedestrian and bicycle recommendations that will come from the study currently underway. Instead, a tunnel would give SHA even more license to turn the Pike into even more of a freeway than it already is. TPB should avoid making the same mistake Montgomery Village made in 1962 and strike the underpass from its TIGER grant application in favor of other, more worthy projects.
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