"Pedestrian crossing" options oddly resemble interchanges
Montgomery County DOT has released design alternatives in their study of a "pedestrian crossing project between the National Naval Medical Center and the Medical Center Metro station."
The alternatives could improve the experience for pedestrians crossing Rockville Pike/MD-355, but also look a lot like the vehicular interchanges that MCDOT staff insisted were not the purpose of the study. Meanwhile, the purely pedestrian options don't exist except as part of larger vehicular options.
The interchange alternatives do look much better than the "not a secret plan" plan suggested by Clark Construction, which would have sent pedestrians far out of their way through a tunnel with a sidewalk to cross from Medical Center Metro to Navy Med.
These alternatives, by contrast, sink Rockville Pike down to pass under the connecting road between the two, and provide other connections for vehicles to that roadway. One adds a ramp from Rockville Pike to the north to the NIH side of the road, while the other creates a diamond interchange. Pedestrians are still traveling on a road with a sidewalk, but at least it's an overpass.
The study maintains the pedestrian-only options originally studied by WMATA to add a new elevator entrance on the Navy Med side or to build a pedestrian underpass or bridge across 355, but only as part of other options that also add vehicular capacity. One adds the jughandle interchange, while another adds additional left turn lanes from 355 in both directions.
For a project usually described as a "pedestrian crossing," it's notable that the alternatives are named based on their vehicular impacts, not on their effect on pedestrians. There's "Alternative 3: Grade Separation w/NIH Jug Handle" and "Alternative 4: Grade Separation w/Diamond Interchange." Even the alternatives that don't add an interchange are named based on the vehicular movements: "Alternative 5: Double Left Turns w/ one of five WMATA alternatives." It's clear where the MCDOT officials' and consultants' minds were focused.
This project is a great illustration of how agencies can manipulate the EIS process to get what they want. As one agency official told me, the Purpose and Need statement is key. By wording it in a certain way, officials can shape the outcome.
In this case, the project was originally a Metro station access project. But MCDOT officials wanted it to be a vehicular access project. Therefore, they first started calling it a "multimodal" access project, then put vehicular movements into the Purpose and Need, and presto, we have some interchanges with sidewalks.
The full evaluations of the alternatives will come out next. But spending considerable money to lower Rockville Pike and speed traffic is unlikely to be a worthwhile use of Montgomery County's limited money. Instead, they should build the direct elevator entrance to the Metro station to maximize ridership of the existing rail line, and focus on transit, pedestrian, and bicycle projects that increase those modes' share of trips on the Pike instead of speeding up vehicles.
The County is accepting comments until May 25th. You can send them to Kenneth.Kendall@montgomerycountymd.gov.
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