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Time to fast-track the southern Bethesda Metro entrance

Conditions have recently improved in the Bethesda Metro station. Now that escalator renovations are done, the station has much less of a bottleneck.

Photo by Michael Garate on Flickr.

But this busy station desperately needs even more capacity. It's time to build a southern entrance to the station.

Plans have long called for a second entrance toward the southern end of the platform. It was assumed that a southern entrance would be built at some point in the future when the station began service in 1984.

The future started becoming the present when the Maryland MTA started planning for the Purple Line. A new entrance is necessary for a convenient direct transfer between the Red Line and the Purple Line.

While the new southern entrance was conceived as a bank of elevators that would connect the Red Line and future Purple Line, it would also serve as a second entrance to the Red Line, regardless of whether or not a transit rider is transferring. Therefore, its construction is not dependent on Purple Line groundbreaking.

A new entrance would immediately benefit Red Line riders the day it opens. This has made the county interested in financing the new entrance on its own, independent of the Purple Line's engineering process.

Because escalators need to be periodically rebuilt, the single-escalator bottleneck situation in the Bethesda Metro station was largely unavoidable. Realistically, the other escalator that goes between the mezzanine and the platform will need to be rebuilt at some point in the future. And then Bethesda will be right back to being cramped and frustrating.

Like Medical Center, Bethesda only has one escalator bank that connects the mezzanine and the surface. I shudder to think what would happen if there were some sort of emergency down on the platform when one of the mezzanine escalators is under repair.

The slow and cramped conditions on the one escalator would turn into something much worse. Because every escalator eventually needs to be rebuilt, there will be many points in the future where the Bethesda Metro station would be crippled in an emergency situation than under normal conditions.

Because of the ongoing global credit crunch, interest rates remain historically low. Part of the cost of any project is the cost of obtaining financing. As anyone with a mortgage knows, a lower interest rate lowers the monthly payments to service the construction bond.

Montgomery County should issue the construction bonds as soon as possible. Not only will they improve safety and ridership in one of Montgomery's most celebrated pieces of infrastructure, they'll get a good price doing so.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 


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I completely agree. I used to live right near there, and used Bethesda station every day. Having one mezzanine/platform escalator OOC means one-way steps on the other at a very busy station as the single way of getting on/off the platform. Unfortunately, where is the $ going to come from? This would have been a great ARRA project...

by Matt Glazewski on Nov 2, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

I'm surprised they haven't ALREADY built the second entrance at Bethesda. An unfortunate side-effect of building stations so deep is that expanding capacity is always a problem mostly due to the problems of digging that far down.

Bethesda is a prime example - situated within the Beltway with high density development around the station, but only one entrance (and maintenance issues abound).

by John on Nov 2, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

I hope the plan includes adequate plain old stairs in addition to the "bank of elevators" and escalators described, for the emergency egress reasons described among other resons.

by Tina on Nov 2, 2010 10:56 am • linkreport

One small point: they re-built *both* of the mezz-platform escalators this year, so Bob willing it will be a while before I start walking to Medical Center to board on nice days.

by Dave J on Nov 2, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

The county council has already decided that the county will pay for this entrance. The county is already paying for design, which is nearly complete. Construction was originally budgeted to start around now, but last year's budget delayed it until 2015.

This money comes from the capital budget, which is paid for with borrowed funds (mostly). The proposal here is to borrow the money now rather than later. Let's do it.

by Ben Ross on Nov 2, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

That platform was not a lot of fun when trains offloaded while the escalator repairs were taking place. One quick and less expensive fix for alleviating congestion on the platform, or addressing safety issues like Tina mentioned in her comment, would be to add a second entrance/exit from the platform leading up to the current fare gates. It could simply be a set of stairs and would require a lot less time and money than a second entrance to the entire station. Has this ever been looked into?

by Mike Holden on Nov 2, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

Dave J beat me to it, they did rebuild both mezzanine escalators during the 6 month work period. Took three months each. I have to ask, if one night magical gremlins entirely dismantled both of the mezzanine escalators - absolutely nothing left from the platform to the mezzanine - how long would it take for a normal crew of contractors to build two new escalators in their place? Would it take longer or shorter than 6 months?

by IsoTopor on Nov 2, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

So for whom do I vote today, in order to most speedily achieve this goal?

by Taylor on Nov 2, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport

Remember back 20 years ago when an elderly man died when he was forced to climb the Bethesda escalactors? As I recall, it was a power outage problem. Lawsuits too. I echo the hope that the second entrance has a simple set of steps in addition to elevators/escalators. Steps are so much easier to climb. They also can offer occasional landing zones where folks can catch their breath.

by Tour guide on Nov 2, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

It does not make sense to accelerate the timetable for construction for the project because it is so intertwined with the Purple Line and engineering for the Purple Line is incomplete and changes could affect the project. The County is already nearing its debt limit and has a host of other important projects. This one should be folded into the Purple Line so the state and feds can pick up the tab and leave county dollars for other projects. Capacity upgrades at Twinbrook, Rockville and Shady Grove would be better use for this money since Metro is unlikely to pay for additional stairs at those stations and the Purple Line is approaching construction and will be financed by the state.

by Cyrus on Nov 2, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

@Tour guide:
The southern entrance will not have escalators connecting it to the surface, period. It will be linked by 4 elevators (and emergency stairs) - like Forest Glen.

The southern entrance will be made up of 4 levels. From top to bottom:

  • Elm Street @ Wisconsin Ave
    • stairs, 2 elevators
  • Purple Line level (exit to Woodmont Av)
    • 4 elevators
  • South Mezzanine Level (Red Line faregates)
    • escalators, stairs, 2 elevators
  • Red Line Level

Between Elm Street and the Purple Line, there will be 2 elevators and a staircase.

On the Purple Level, passengers can transfer from the street elevators or stairs to the Purple Line or can get on the Mezz-Purple elevators. Passengers can also walk directly out to Woodmont Ave, at the same level as the Purple Line.

From the Purple Line Level 4 high-capacity, high-speed elevators will carry passengers down 125 feet to the South Mezzanine. There will also be an emergency staircase in this location.

At the South Mezzanine, passengers can buy fare media for the Red Line and pass through faregates.

Linking the South Mezzanine with the Red Line will be 1 up escalator, 1 down escalator, 1 staircase, and 2 elevators.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 2, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

Cyrus, you are incorrect on a couple of points:

1) The elevator project is not so closely intertwined with the Purple Line engineering that it would ruin anything. Maryland MTA already knows the Purple Line alignment in Bethesda. Proximity is all that matters in order for a new Red Line entrance to serve as a good transfer.

2) The county's General Obilgation account in the Capital Improvement Plan is currently at 19%.

3) The county has already agreed to fund this project. There is no question there. My post advocates for fast-tracking it to take advantage of the historically low interest rates.

by Cavan on Nov 2, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

That's a bond issue that I'd gladly invest in.

by tom veil on Nov 2, 2010 5:41 pm • linkreport

Cavan you are incorrect:
1) There is no rush to build this project before final engineering is completed for the Purple Line in the next couple years, this is why the project is being delayed becuase liquor revenue bonds were dedicated to it years ago. Any changes in the Purple Line design could could result in costly changes to an already-built elevator bank and it is superior to build the projects together due to less construction disruption. County engineers and officials seem to be in agreement with me on this one.

2) The county is approaching its council-approved debt cap for issuing GO bonds. Going above would be fiscally irresponsible and I could list a 100 other projects that would compete for that money, including public schools.

3) Just because the county decided to fund it does mean that is the correct decision. If the Purple Line is built it makes sense for MTA to incorporate it as part of the construction in the Wisconsin Avenue tunnel. Folding into the entire Purple Line design-build contract will lower construction costs.

by Cyrus on Nov 2, 2010 9:07 pm • linkreport

I'll bite, Cyrus.

You ignored my post about why it should be build sooner. Then you refuted point #2 by just saying the opposite of what I said... except what I said is correct.

Your #3 is a personal opinion so there's no need to argue it because I don't think I'd change your mind.

by Cavan on Nov 2, 2010 11:14 pm • linkreport

The South entrance is essential with Gov. O'Malley's re-election - the Purple Line will now go forward as light rail - its connection will be at the south end.


by Ralph Bennett on Nov 3, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

They should also add signs to the new entrance and to the current elevator to tell people in a wheelchair how to access the bus bays which are kind of hidden.

by kk on Nov 3, 2010 4:38 pm • linkreport

Not denying that Bethesda (and several other stations with only one exit/entrance, like Foggy Bottom for example) needs help

But the reality of the Purple is what year now? And at what cost?

Silver Line isn't even here yet.

by Jim on Nov 6, 2010 12:44 am • linkreport

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