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Leggett wants direct pedestrian paths except when they'd interfere with traffic

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's isn't giving up on proposals for an anti-urban skybridge connecting the Silver Spring library to a parking garage.

Book-like facade of the new Silver Spring library.

This past weekend, Leggett unveiled concept sketches for the new library at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. It strongly evokes images of "an open book," along with large glass windows said to represent "the openness of government" and limestone similar to that in other Silver Spring buildings. A coffee shop and art gallery will line the ground floor, with artist studios above, followed by three stories of library. Two more floors on top will contain community meeting space and some county offices.

The design also leaves room for a future bridge across Wayne Avenue to the adjacent parking garage. Original plans contained the bridge, but urbanists protested that this costly endeavor would only draw pedestrian traffic off the surface streets, encouraging faster traffic and road designs hostile to those who wish to cross at ground level.

Existing Silver Spring plans prohibited bridges, and the Montgomery County Council voted to sustain that plan, with only Councilmember George Leventhal (at-large) voting for the bridge. Instead, to accommodate persons with disabilities, the library will contain a small amount of handicapped parking on site. Nevertheless, Leggett hasn't given up on the opportunity to put cars above pedestrians by building the bridge, and Duchy Trachtenberg might be wavering on the issue.

In his letter to the County Council this summer (large PDF), Leggett insisted that "accessibility and sustainability" drove his recommendation:

The primary rationale is not one solely of safety; it is primarily one of accessibility and sustainability. The use of the existing underutilized parking garage is a "green" decision which saves the use of materials and taxpayer dollars which would have been otherwise needed to provide new on-site parking for the library. The disadvantage of utilizing the existing garage is the greatly increased travel path to the library for many patrons—including, but not limited to, the elderly and disabled. The bridge is being proposed to address this concern.
It's funny Leggett should mention a "greatly increased travel path." That's exactly what county DOT staff would create with their secret vehicular underpass at the Medical Center Metro that forces pedestrians to walk over 100 feet out of the way, just to facilitate greater car volume in and out of the NIH and future Walter Need National Military Medical Center site. The direct Metro station entrance would have added both accessibility and sustainability, but apparently speeding up cars is more important.

Leggett's and his staff view transportation through the lens of the driver. Sure, Montgomery is a suburban county with a lot of drivers, but it also has fantastic walkable places and some of the best transit of any suburban jurisdiction in the nation. But Leggett sees auto-oriented development as natural and walkable development as dangerous. He views the proper role of streets as carrying as many cars as possible above all, with the needs of pedestrians and transit secondary.

As with Gaithersburg West versus White Flint, Leggett cleverly ties in themes of sustainability, "Smart Growth," and more to justify suburban development patterns and oppose urban ones. His PR staff are remarkably defensive about it, too, saying I "just don't get it." It's Leggett who seems not to get it. He doesn't seem like a stupid man, but is listening too much to traditionalist transportation officials who can rattle off Level of Service letter grades but, despite some terrific examples in their county, don't recognize the value of walkable places designing around people and transit instead of driving above all.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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As a Silver Spring resident well within walking distance of downtown who spends a lot of time walking around there, I don't find downtown Silver Spring particularly walkable. It is well-served by transit, which is great (though the construction at the transit center -- which seems to be going at a snail's pace -- has really disrupted bus service) but walkable isn't the word I'd use to describe it. The major streets like Georgia, East-West, Colesville/29, 16th St., are too wide and are not designed to be accomodating to pedestrians at all -- in fact, they seem almost single-mindedly designed to bring commuters through Silver Spring on their way to and from DC, Columbia and other points North. The streets and traffic lights are set up to maximize car speed, not to facilitate pedestrian traffic. So it doesn't surprise me that new development like the library is running up against some of that same mentality.

Hopefully, increased pedestrian traffic will force traffic to slow down and thereby make things increasingly more comfortable for pedestrians, but a few design tweaks recognizing the change in patterns would really help too.

by hugo on Oct 27, 2009 1:56 pm • linkreport

While it is unfortunate to have people pushing for the pedestrian bridge, my guess is it's more to do with politics than anything else. How soft are we that crossing a street to get to the Library is such a burden. My guess is the few people who are going to let that detter them wouldn't be making much of a contribution to Silver Spring's street life anyway.
The real shame is that Silver Spring will get another unlovable building, and by various criteria, not very sustainable. I went to some of the "charettes" whereby the architects where supposed to get the community's imput, and they were a farce. There where several polite elderly ladies who's first reaction was "Why is it so ugly?" Because architects aren't supposed to think like a typical user, rather a removed philosopher peering into the soul of the matter. They responded that the building is Modernist because we live in a modern era. But that's the same thinking that want's you to believe you see an "open book" when you look at this building. Until architects actually start taking the public's view seriously, we are going to continue to build an unlovable environment, and consequently one we have no problem seeing as disposable.

by Thayer-D on Oct 27, 2009 2:08 pm • linkreport

Too bad it's actually an attractive building, Thayer. Beautiful at points, I'd say.

by цarьchitect on Oct 27, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

I quite like the way it looks, Thayer, I have to say. I agree with you on the pedestrian bridge, though.

The truth is that while it may get sold as a way to make walking to and from the library easier, it will ultimately do the opposite. As we should know by now, Removing foot traffic from street level ultimately makes walking more, not less, difficult for the most part.

by hugo on Oct 27, 2009 2:20 pm • linkreport

Are those streetcars in the concept drawing?

by Gavin Baker on Oct 27, 2009 2:56 pm • linkreport

Gavin - Those are Purple Line light rail vehicles.

by Ben Ross on Oct 27, 2009 3:05 pm • linkreport

I also really like the way it looks. But I don't see how we can stick a pedestrian bridge into its face at the third floor level without destroying the look. Forget about the bridge.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Oct 27, 2009 4:25 pm • linkreport

I think that looks like an awesome library/community building.

by NikolasM on Oct 27, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

anti-urban skybridge.

Why do people dislike pedestrian overpasses? As a perpetual pedestrian, I kind of love them. In Tokyo and (to a lesser extent) Seoul, they're an integral part of the streetscape. In Hong Kong, enclosed building-to-building overpasses connect pretty much every major building in Central, without adversely impacting (as far as I can tell) the blocks with smaller buildings and storefronts immediately beside.

by Taeyoung on Oct 27, 2009 5:10 pm • linkreport

An awkward, out of scale looking building that only would add novelty to SS's humdrum looking downtown. Except for through traffic, it's an unpleasant place to drive, as well as walk.

by Rich on Oct 27, 2009 5:43 pm • linkreport

Regardless of the overall design, the ground-level experience of the library building seems to be similar to any other brutalist eyesore: raw concrete, threatening overhangs, blank wall panels, oversized vehicle access and driveways disrupting the sidewalk.

A streetcar running underneath a building at ground level is unique in the DC region, and the design should do a much better job of celebrating that configuration, making it an interesting and watchable attraction. Instead, it looks and feels like a run-of-the-mill bus depot. Done up in Howard Johnson's orange.

I'm with the old ladies: Why is it so ugly? Too bad Silver Spring is willing to settle for mediocrity.

by Laurence Aurbach on Oct 27, 2009 8:13 pm • linkreport

"Regardless of the overall design, the ground-level experience of the library building seems to be similar to any other brutalist eyesore: raw concrete, threatening overhangs, blank wall panels, oversized vehicle access and driveways disrupting the sidewalk."

This is exactly what the average person will experience when rubbing shoulders with this building, not that the architects would give two cents. Beyond a matter of taste, there's no denying this building is a failure in terms of how it engages it's urban context, and it is exactly because of the overall design.

It dosen't even seem to have that "new smell" feel and you nailed it (Laurence Aurbach), it's the Howard Johnson's orange (sooo 2007!). Previous generations of a decidedly more Corbusian feel where much better than this version, which points to the architects process. Throw gimicky moves on a wall, and see what sticks. In this case an "open book". Isn't that the same tired concept of Frances new National Library? Nothing of those previous concepts survived to this last concept, which shows an arbitrary view of design more like gold paning rather than a humble but methodical incorporation of site and programatic ques.

Score one for the avant guard, zero for Silver Spring's sence of place.

by Thayer-D on Oct 28, 2009 10:31 am • linkreport

You both are really desperate to hate this building, enough to imagine concrete that isn't there and decide that doing something twice (but not really) is "tired."

by цarьchitect on Oct 28, 2009 11:04 am • linkreport

Actually, I am desperate to like the building. I expect I will be using it a lot, just as I use the other nearby libraries a lot currently.

by Laurence Aurbach on Oct 28, 2009 11:15 am • linkreport

I'm baffled that you don't appreciate or can't seem to acknowledge differences in taste. Even your snide remarks don't make much sense.

"You both are really desperate to hate this building" Desperate to hate? That's a bit dramatic. If you keep hyperventilating, I'm liable not to take you seriously. I wonder if the elderly ladies at the charette where desperate to hate, or if you'd have the guts to challenge them publicly for simply stating their opinion. Oh right, the public's opinion isn't the issue when building for the public, my bad.

by Thayer-D on Oct 28, 2009 11:19 am • linkreport

Im backing Thayer on tis- Thayer has aesthetics unlike the modernist crowd. W

Where is the ornament?

Where is the architectural sculpture?

where are the beautiful fresco paintings or mosaics?

Architects should not be in the business of making "spaces" alone- they need to make "places" we can use and live in w/o wanting to kill ourselves.

Institutional modernism is the millstone around the necks of our society and it keeps real artists from making a living by watering down beauty to some kind of formulaic and reductionist atrocity.

I for, love the Baroque and Gilded Era excess.
We need more lovely , authentic buildings like Cluss and Furness built - and less of the FLWright and Mies garbage that is so damn common with these developer bums who have NO IMAGINATIONS AT ALL.

by w on Oct 28, 2009 11:40 am • linkreport

Thayer, again, you're projecting emotions. I'd take your opinion more seriously if you didn't attempt to tie it in to the bad experiences you had in college or suggest that your opinion is the public one. Likewise, it's obnoxious to only hear about differences of opinion from you only when you're on the defense. And my remarks weren't snide.

Lawrence, fair enough, but your comment sounds came across as not giving the building a fair shake. Have you seen more drawings or renderings than the ones at JUTP?

by цarьchitect on Oct 28, 2009 11:46 am • linkreport

I sincerely hope someone comments on w's refusal to accept aesthetic differences of opinion. That would be a testament to one's principles.

by цarьchitect on Oct 28, 2009 11:50 am • linkreport

modernism rejects 5000 years of architectural history and demands that the architect is some kind of god.

for most of human history- the architect was the flagship of the arts- he /she would bring along a stable of professional artists to emblazon his/her creations and make them work - beyond just the "space" considerations.

Modernism is all about arrogance, totalitarian, and just plain


by w on Oct 28, 2009 12:42 pm • linkreport

The missing bridge was a big mistake and decreases the value of county investment in the garage and library. They are going to build it sooner or later, its less disruption to build it during major construction. I'm suprised at all the opposition. Does Montgomery County always have to screw everything up?

by Cyrus on Oct 28, 2009 6:45 pm • linkreport

Well, sure the design, at least as far as I can tell from the little thumbnail, is kind of ugly. But it's not offensively ugly. It's not brutalist. We're not going to get an elegant and attractive library with a highfalutin' architect designing the pile, so this is probably as good as one can hope for. It's something one can live with, at least, even if it has a kind of cheap 70's vibe to it. Don't complain or they'll inflict something worse on your city.

by Taeyoung on Oct 28, 2009 6:46 pm • linkreport

The other façades of the building are more attractive, I think, than this one (on Wayne Avenue). David Dise from MoCo explained the design still has to be finalized - they want to open up the blank wall you currently see now. You'll see a final version at a community meeting on November 7, but in the meantime, you can check out the current renderings at <<a rel="nofollow" href="arel="nofollow"href="">arel="nofollow"href="">Just Up The Pike.

by dan reed on Oct 29, 2009 10:38 am • linkreport

Sorry about the link mangling. I upgraded some of the libraries and the one that does this link stuff changed in some weird way. I'll try to get this fixed.

In the meantime, if you enter URLs without the HTML tags around them, it automatically makes them into links, like this:

by David Alpert on Oct 29, 2009 10:46 am • linkreport

Wow, some of you really have it backwards about traffic and pedestrians. I'm all for reasonable traffic volumes and speeds on our streets, but making pedestrians -- mothers with heavy book bags and small children trailing behind them in the case of the library -- sacrificial lambs for moderating traffic on Wayne Avenue is over the top.

The fact is that the majority of users of the Silver Spring library drive to the library, and probably even more will do so after the move. Yes, I often walk to the library, but not when I have a really heavy bag of books to return or in really cold or wet weather, and never when I was taking my then young son to story time for two year olds. Bottom line: Many people have good reasons to drive to the library.

If the new Silver Spring library isn't convenient for these people, they will will simply drive farther to another library where they can park conveniently, like Long Branch, Chevy Chase, Kensington, or Wheaton. That will not only add to pollution, it will also reduce the number of people coming to downtown Silver Spring, which is hardly a desirable goal to support our revitalized urban downtown. If they don't come to the Silver Spring Library, they won't shop or dine downtown on that trip either.

So I've concluded the bridge isn't anti-urban; it is pro-urban and will help sustain downtown Silver Spring. In fact, supporting revitalization is why many of us pushed for building the new library downtown rather than rebuilding on the current location in the first place. We wanted to bring people downtown. That goal won't be met if people go elsewhere to use a more convenient library.

Not only does the bridge make sense from the viewpoint library users and supporting downtown Silver Spring, it also makes sense economically. The library is required by law to provide ADA compliant handicapped parking. Building the bridge is the least expensive way to get the required ADA compliant parking. Putting that parking in the new library building would be extremely expensive; I've heard estimates in the several million range. It is much cheaper to use the existing garage for the required handicapped parking, but using the garage is ADA compliant only with the bridge.

The opposition to the bridge really amazes me. Everybody cheered the plans for Unither' "double helix" bridge over Cameron Street. The library bridge could be equally attractive -- and a lot more beneficial to downtown Silver Spring.

by Bob on Oct 29, 2009 12:11 pm • linkreport

Bob - I think you are missing the whole point. There's convenient parking right across the street, so people can certainly drive - that's a good thing. And there's absolutely no reason why crossing Wayne Avenue has to be a hardship for pedestrians -- indeed, that's the whole point -- but if you divert traffic away from street level, you are almost guaranteeing that it will be. There is a long history of unnecessary raised walkways and pedestrian bridges absolutely gutting urban areas. What initially appears to be a convenience or safety aid to those walking quickly becomes nothing but an excuse for aggressive driving, total lack of safety, and pedestrian-unfriendly design at street level.

A raised walkway doesn't make walking safer or more convenient - it ultimately makes walking less safe and less convenient at the expense of through traffic, which already describes too much of downtown Silver Spring.

by hugo on Oct 29, 2009 1:09 pm • linkreport

Maybe, just maybe, Silver Spring library users know something that David Alpert doesnÂ’t.

The Silver Spring Library Advisory Committee and the Silver Spring Friends of the Library strongly support a pedestrian bridge from the garage to the new library. So, too, does the disabled community. A survey taken of Silver Spring library users on Saturday indicated that 43 percent of those asked intended to drive to the new library – and a whopping 79 percent of them thought a pedestrian bridge convenient or necessary.

The Silver Spring Library will have a large resource collection for the disability community. For the disabled, for seniors, for parents with small kids and big bags of books – all of whom will be the core patrons of the library -- a pedestrian bridge would ensure easier, safer, and direct access to the library. Mr. Alpert would have these users struggle with their bags of books, mobility tools, and strollers on a street that has no retail rather than use an existing asset with safe and convenient access to the library. Something is wrong with that.

And, guess what?, a pedestrian bridge would be less expensive than all the other, less effective alternatives being explored to try to accommodate the disabled community and others with special needs.

This is wholly in keeping with the County ExecutiveÂ’s longstanding commitment to increasing transit and encouraging walkable communities, whether at Gaithersburg West, White Flint, or Silver Spring.

Alpert’s evocation of a “secret” vehicular tunnel to link Bethesda Naval with the east side of Rockville Pike and the Metro there is similarly fact-challenged.

One, the tunnel in question is multi-modal – accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists now but allowing for the possibility of limited vehicular traffic between the two campuses at some future point. This formulation gives the County a better opportunity of obtaining federal funds to help mitigate further the congestion caused by the BRAC move of Walter Reed Hospital operations to Bethesda Naval. Without a multi-modal focus, the chance of getting funding for anything like this is close to zero, given fierce competition for scarce dollars.

Second, thereÂ’s no secret. The proposal was discussed at two community meetings, including one at which two reporters (though not Alpert) were present. In addition, the proposal has received support from the surrounding communities and those who are most impacted by the expansion of Bethesda Naval.

Patrick Lacefield
Montgomery County Office of Public Information

by Patrick Lacefield on Oct 29, 2009 2:08 pm • linkreport

Hugo, I think you are missing the point. Without the bridge, the parking isn't convenient for a lot of people.

It may be easy for you or me to park in the garage, go down on the elevator, walk the half a block by the hotel to the corner, cross several lanes of traffic (and soon the Purple line tracks), walk another half block back to the library entrance, and take another elevator up to the library. But it isn't nearly as easy for a mother herding small children and carrying a bag of heavy books, or for many of the elderly, or for the disabled. In fact, I wonder how easy or safe it will be to cross the Purple Line tracks in a wheelchair.

But even if you can't put yourself in these people's places, surely you can put yourself in the place of the average taxpayer. Taxpayers will have to pay to meet ADA parking requirements at the library one way or another. That will cost maybe $750,000 for the bridge or up to an amazing $5,000,000 (so I've been told) for 5 handicapped spaces in the building. So $750,000 for a bridge to serve everyone, not just the disabled, or much much more to serve only the minimum number of disabled with parking in the building. The choice is obvious.

We need the bridge both to serve all library users and to save money.

You also mentioned pedestrian safety. It's hard to believe that putting pedestrians in the street with several lanes of traffic, not to mention trains every three minutes or so, is safer than letting them cross on a bridge directly from the third floor of a garage to the library on the third floor of the new building. We shouldn't use pedestrians as tool to calm traffic, which seems to be what you are advocating. The current level of traffic on Wayne already and trains to come are certainly enough to deter aggressive driving.

Concerning pedestrian friendly design at street level, having to accommodate the Purple Line tracks through the building and forcing the library up to the third floor undoubtedly will do much more to create a "pedestrian-unfriendly design at street level" than the bridge will.

The bridge is by far the best solution to the problem of access to the library for all.

by Bob on Oct 29, 2009 7:16 pm • linkreport

If walking one block out of the way is an intolerable imposition on drivers, why not put a crosswalk and a traffic light in the middle of the block? For that matter, why not put a crosswalk and a traffic light in the middle of every block?

Transit riders who want to use the Poolesville Library outside of rush hour have to walk seven miles on roads with no sidewalks. Yet it's an intolerable imposition if drivers have to cross the street.

by tt on Oct 29, 2009 7:26 pm • linkreport

I am constantly amazed by the insensitivity we continue to show to those who are less able and more vulnerable to circumstances (building a library in a highly traveled urban area, without direct street access (3 stories above street level), competing with major rail lines), and who lack the seemingly simple advantages we who are more mobile and more capable possess. A bridge from the parking garage to the new library will not only enhance the useability and functionality of the less than ideal library location, but makes economic and practical sense for many of the reasons previously cited here by other posters. The cost/benefit ratio of using an existing structure to provide required and neccesary access to the library in lieu of building/creating far fewer parking spaces within the proposed library structure is only one of the many valid reasons for building the bridge. So why are we reading so many negative, personally self-serving and obvious political posturing by so many posters? How is the bridge a detriment to commercial interests or the by-product of some political grandstanding by the County Executive? It seems that in a time of economic hardship, proper stewardship of public funds to obtain the most cost effective solution to provide maximum access by all county residents is laudble; after all, the money we talk about spending to provide 4 - 5 parking spaces for disabled patrons is our money (well over $2 million vs less than $100k for the bridge) - let's spend it wisely.

Why can't we look at the broader picture of providing needed services for all of our citizens at the most inclusive, cost effective methods possible. It's really isn't that hard.

by John on Oct 29, 2009 8:49 pm • linkreport

That will cost maybe $750,000 for the bridge or up to an amazing $5,000,000 (so I've been told) for 5 handicapped spaces in the building

Does that sound right to you? Because to me it sounds a lot like the real concern has nothing to do with the disabled (by the way, I share your concern for them. Parking in a large parking lot or garage is arguably far more dangerous for someone in a wheelchair than crossing the street - a huge portion of pedestrian-car accidents occur in parking structures and wheelchairs are often hidden by cars, making it doubly dangerous). I think the real concern is making sure that traffic through downtown Silver Spring can continue at what I consider to be unsafe and pedestrian-unfriendly speeds.

Now, I don't think building the bridge itself makes a huge difference either way because, as was pointed out by the gentleman from the county, the majority of patrons will not be driving to the library. I just think we need to consider the convenience and safety not only of the minority of patrons who are driving there, but the majority who will be getting there by other means. If the bridge and entrance can be done in such a way that doesn't impede pedestrian access, fine. But too often one is favored at the expense of the other.

By the way, I don't think I've ever visited the library without my 2-year old daughter and a large mass of books in tow.

by hugo on Oct 30, 2009 10:31 am • linkreport

Without a bridge from the parking lot, getting into the library will be like a MAZE to get into. I don't want to have to go downstairs from parking garage, then upstairs to the library entrance floor, then change elevators to to the adult floor. It becomes like a MAZE! Though I don't have kids in strollers and am phyically able , I still want to be able to go to straight to the library from where I park. Just think of when you are in a mall. Do you prefer walking along 1 level, or going up and down escalators? Why do you think multi-story department stores have been folding? A walkway from the garage makes the library MORE PSYCHOLOGICALLY ACCESSIBLE!

by Marie on Oct 31, 2009 9:39 am • linkreport

tt: the mid-block crossing option was studied last spring -- and rejected by the county for a number of standard traffic engineering reasons.

As for the bridge making the road less safe, I don't buy that. I believe the county plans to improve the intersection anyway, so it's not an either/or issue.

by KS on Nov 2, 2009 11:36 am • linkreport

The MCDOT seems to use "traffic engineering" as an excuse to oppose anything that will slow down car traffic. At White Flint, they contend that on-street parking on Rockville Pike will be unsafe during rush hours but safe at other times. They impose a flat-out ban on new angle parking throughout the county.

If MCDOT really cared about whether people have to walk out of their way to get to the library, they would support a mid-block crossing. The bridge is about removing pedestrians from the streets so cars can move faster. Nothing else.

by tt on Nov 2, 2009 11:53 am • linkreport

tt said: "The bridge is about removing pedestrians from the streets so cars can move faster. Nothing else."

That is pure nonsense. I'd put it more strongly, but you know what I mean.

Cars are never going to move fast on that block of Wayne except, maybe at 2 a.m. Traffic on Wayne is already slow; there are stop lights on both ends of the block that some times require more than one light cycle to get through and there are very busy driveways into and out of the Wayne Avenue garage (often with cars stacked up to make the left turn into the garage), plus the entrance/exit driveway for parking under the new apartment or condo building. Add the Purple Line tracks and the street will be even more congested.

The bridge isn't about allowing traffic to move more quickly. It's about getting library users, especially the handicapped and people with small children in tow and lots of books, to get to the library without walking half a block in one direction, crossing a congested street and light rail tracks and then walking a half a block back to the library. And it's about saving money. The bridge is the least expensive way to meet ADA handicapped parking requirements.

I suppose some people might jaywalk directly across the street even when cars aren't backed up that far waiting for the lights. That could conceivably slow traffic, but only at the risk of pedestrian injury and death. Do we really want that? I don't think so.

by Bob on Nov 3, 2009 4:02 pm • linkreport

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