Posts about Bethesda
Forbes recently named Bethesda America's 17th coolest city, causing some to wonder if Montgomery County is becoming Portland on the Potomac. While their ranking and definition of a "city" are suspect, there's still plenty to be excited about.
The magazine based their rankings on several factors, including the number of restaurants, availability of recreational amenities, cultural diversity, and unemployment rates. Houston topped the list, followed by DC, while Baltimore was #14. Cities normally touted for their coolness, like Minneapolis and Austin, were lower on the list, while hipster capital Portland was nowhere to be found.
Not surprisingly, people in the area are confused. "Did someone redefine cool or cities or Bethesda?" wrote county planner Claudia Kousoulas on the Straight Line blog. A commenter on Bethesda Patch grumbled that Bethesda is "still pretty much white bread." And the Huffington Post has a poll asking whether the title should have gone to Fairfax.
However, this prize doesn't belong to Bethesda alone. When Forbes says "Bethesda," they're referring to the "Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick Metropolitan Division," a term used by the Census Bureau to break down the larger Washington metropolitan area. It contains Montgomery and Frederick counties. The rest of the region, including D.C., Northern Virginia, and Prince George's, Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland, belongs to the "Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Division."
Left: Denver is a less cool place than Montgomery County, according to Forbes.
Right: Portland didn't make the list at all. Photos by the author.
Forbes has lavished Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick with many plaudits in recent years, including 2nd Smartest City, 9th Geekiest City, 5th Most Secure Place to Live, 21st Best-Performing City, and even 2nd Most Livable City. Montgomery alone has gotten its fair share of awards too, being named Utne Reader's "Most Enlightened Suburb" and making the Atlantic Cities' list of Creative Class Counties.
Still, very few people would conceive of Montgomery or Frederick counties, which together cover an area over 60 miles long, as a single "place," let alone a city. After all, some people in Kensington won't even go to Wheaton, a mile away. As a result, the Columbia Journalism Review has called Forbes' use of Metropolitan Divisions manipulative and wildly misleading.
But is that the magazine's fault, or the Census Bureau, who drew these lines in the first place? As Jarrett Walker points out, the boundaries of both metropolitan areas and cities are often arbitrary and have no relation to actual communities or social or economic connections.
The Census may lump Montgomery and Frederick counties together, but as a resident of Silver Spring, I spend more money in and have more social ties to DC than I do to Frederick. However, not only is it in another Metropolitan Division, it's in another state, sort of.
"Portland on the Potomac" deserves a fitting theme song. Video (mostly) by the author.
Whether or not Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick deserves to be called one of America's coolest cities, the facts supporting that title still hold. With 1.2 million residents, it's comparable to the metropolitan area Salt Lake City. It has one-fifth of Maryland's jobs and 600,000 jobs and just 5 percent unemployment, compared to 8 percent nationwide.
Montgomery County has a majority-minority population with 164 countries represented in its public schools. It's got everything from the headquarters of a major media corporation to punk houses and a town lovingly called the "People's Republic." The county is even planning to build one of the country's largest rapid transit systems.
We may not be the coolest, and we may not be a city in the proper definition, but there's still plenty to be proud of. And unlike Portland, the sun actually comes out in Montgomery County.
Drivers in a parking lot ought to yield to pedestrians. At least one Montgomery County driver doesn't know this. Is this her fault or the consequence of a confusing parking lot striping design?
Greater Greater Wife and I stopped at the "Shops at Wildwood" shopping center at Old Georgetown Road and Democracy Boulevard in North Bethesda this morning. This has the fairly classic layout where the stores are in a line, a roadway runs along the stores, and then each row of parking spaces extends perpendicular to that roadway.
We parked in one of the rows and walked toward a store. A driver was coming up to the corner where we waited. There's a speed bump, so she slowed down. We waited for her to stop. Instead, as we waited, she slowly rolled on over the speed bump and past us.
I made a quizzical shrugging gesture, and the driver shouted, "crosswalk!"
Crosswalk? What crosswalk? Ah, on the next row over, there's a crosswalk connecting the aisle to the stores, but there was no crosswalk on our row or some of the other rows.
Perhaps this crosswalk is there because that row has some disability parking spaces or something. Did this driver really think that everyone is supposed to walk from their row over to this other row and use the crosswalk to get to the stores?
My first instinct was to simply conclude that some drivers don't understand how to drive in parking lots, but does the fact that some have crosswalks and some don't create extra confusion?
What do you think? Bad driver or bad design?
Meanwhile, Eric Fidler took this photograph of a driver actually parked in a Dupont Circle Capital Bikeshare station.
Even if this station were entirely empty when this driver parked here, which is possible, it seems like a stretch for them to conclude that this is a parking space.
This appears to be a New York license plate; if it's from anywhere in or around the city, they'll probably get used to what these bikeshare stations are as soon as the system launches there.
Honest Tea wanted to do a good thing for its community and fund some bike racks in downtown Bethesda. Unfortunately, a salesman sold them some awful racks that don't allow effectively locking up bikes, and the Bethesda Urban Partnership apparently failed to check bike rack standards or talk to the experts
Richard Hoye writes,
I pointed out that the 100 bike racks the Bethesda Urban Partnership approved for the CBD streetscape and funded by Honest Tea violated basic design standards for bike racks. [Seth Goldman of Honest Tea] didn't even know there was a codified body of knowledge on bike rack design and, it appears, neither did BUP.This style of bike rack was very common decades ago, and you still see them in some places, often college campuses. But they don't work well for locking. They're not designed to get the bike's frame close enough to the rack to allow locking the frame, wheel and rack all together.
I asked Tom Robertson, retired bike planner for the County Planning agency, who now works for Transportation Solutions in BUP's offices about this collaboration. Even he was not consulted on the project.
On many racks like this, people instead lift the bicycle up and place it so that the wheel goes over the rack and the rack's top bar sits behind the wheel. This rack seems to make even that difficult, as the top bar is much thicker and square.
Section 7.2.9 of the draft new zoning rules for Montgomery County specifies bike rack standards:
Where required bicycle parking is provided via racks, the racks must meet the following design and dimension standards:Montgomery County DOT has also created a fact sheet detailing how to best design and install bike racks. Many cities have very thorough manuals, like Toronto's.
- The bicycle frame and one wheel can be locked to the rack with a high security lock;
- A bicycle can be securely held with its frame supported in at least two places;
- Racks must be offset a minimum of 30 inches on center;
- The rack must be durable and securely anchored; and
- The locking surface of the rack should be thin enough to allow standard u-locks to be used, but thick enough so the rack cannot be cut with bolt cutters.
It's not that unusual for well-meaning people to install bike racks entirely wrong. Someone installed 9 "inverted U" racks at HD Cooke Elementary in Adams Morgan, but put them too close together and too close to a wall to be usable. DCPS subsequently relocated the racks.
Hopefully Honest Tea and the Bethesda Urban Partnership can go back to the company that sold them these noncompliant racks and switch them for something better.
Last night, the Montgomery County Council affirmed its support for the Purple Line, Capital Crescent Trail, and building the Bethesda Metro's new entrance as soon as possible, rather than waiting 6 more years. But the decision didn't come without a fight from County Executive Ike Leggett.
Leggett's budget stripped funding for the Metro entrance until 2018, and he's been lobbying against restoring the funding. The entrance is a key part of the Purple Line project, to allow Purple Line riders to easily access the Metro station.
Leggett says Montgomery County needn't start funding the entrance until after Purple Line construction starts. But councilmembers say that Montgomery needs to show its support for the project by following through on its portions of the project. More than that, the benefits of a new entrance go beyond the Purple Line.
Last night, in the straw vote, the council unanimously agreed to defer 3 road projects which Cavan Wilk argued aren't necessary right now: Montrose Parkway East, Goshen Road South, and part of Snouffer School Road.
Marc Elrich (at-large) joined in, but not without a few complaints. The Examiner wrote:
"It's becoming harder to tell when you're entering Montgomery County and leaving another jurisdiction," said [Elrich], saying that the difference in road quality between Montgomery and neighboring counties used to be obvious.Repairing roads is important, but perhaps instead of spending lots of money just to make sure Montgomery's roads are even better than perfectly usable ones in neighboring jurisdictions, the county could invest in signs to help people know when they've crossed its borders.
The vote repudiates Leggett, who argued in a letter that those 3 projects are absolutely necessary because of growing population and congestion. One point he ignores, however, is that the Bethesda entrance and Purple Line also respond to growing population and more severe congestion.
The entrance makes sense on its own as well
The Purple Line is the primary reason for building this entrance, but there is ample reason to push ahead with the project even ignoring the Purple Line. Since before the station opened, people have bandied about the idea of adding a second entrance. There are many reasons to build it.
It would reduce crowding: Bethesda is one of Montgomery County's densest job centers, and it continues to grow. New housing, offices, and retail mean increasing demand for the station. Already the third busiest Metro stop in Maryland, ridership will grow, and the station needs improved accessibility to accommodate this growth.
It would provide an alternative during escalator replacement: The escalators at Bethesda Metro station are scheduled to be replaced in 2014. Considering the depth of Bethesda station, closing escalators will potentially be very disruptive. A second entrance would ultimately make replacing escalators a much safer and easier proposition.
The entrance will take years to build, so it may already be too late to build it in time for the scheduled 2014 escalator replacement. However, if Montgomery started on the second entrance soon, then it might make sense for Metro to push the escalator project back a couple of years.
At Dupont Circle, Metro is currently replacing the escalators at the 19th Street entrance. Luckily that station has a second entrance, but Metro trains still bypass the station if anything goes wrong with the north entrance.
It would put more of Bethesda within walking distance of Metro: A new southern entrance would greatly expand the area of Bethesda that is within walking distance of the Metro stop. Properties further south along Wisconsin Avenue would come into easy walking range, while those already in range would have their access to transit greatly enhanced.
Additionally, the new southern entrance could provide a direct connection to the Capital Crescent Trail, one of the most popular multi-use trails in the region.
If delayed, it might not be ready for the Purple Line: Deleting funding from the six-year Capital Improvement Plan would push construction of the new entrance back to 2018 at the earliest. The Purple Line is scheduled to open in 2020. Pushing back funding might mean that the new entrance wouldn't be ready for the start of service on the Purple Line.
Without that direct connection, riders will face a walk of several blocks to change trains. Such a disincentive would have a strong negative effect on ridership.
The Maryland Transit Administration, which is building the Purple Line, says that construction on the second entrance must start in 2016 at the latest in order to be ready to open with the Purple Line. Pushing construction back 2 years is a bad idea for that reason alone.
Under Leggett's proposed timeline, there is no room for error. Any additional delays would result in the Metro entrance not being ready for the Purple Line. Not having a southern entrance to Bethesda station on the Purple Line's opening day would severely reduce the light rail's utility, and might even delay the opening of Purple Line altogether.
The design can be ready: One argument for waiting is to make sure the design is right. The entrance will open onto the Purple Line station in the Bethesda tunnel, and the county needs to decide the elevation.
Under initial plans putting the Capital Crescent Trail into the tunnel, engineers would excavate the floor of the tunnel to place the Purple Line below the current grade. If the trail doesn't go in the tunnel, as MTA now recommends, the station would be at the level of the floor today.
The County Council's Transportation and Environment Committee recommended last week to construct the Purple Line without deepening the tunnel.
While the full council hasn't yet voted on a final decision, that will come soon, and final design for the station can move ahead.
Montgomery County needs to fund the second entrance to make sure it's ready for the Purple Line, and improve mobility in Bethesda. The county is committed to getting the Purple Line built, but even if the Purple Line never opens, Bethesda residents and commuters will benefit greatly from an alternative to the current entrance.
Bethesda generates much of the employment and tax revenue for the county to pay for schools and other services. The new entrance and the Purple Line benefit all residents, even those who might never ride the Metro to Bethesda or take the Purple Line.
It'd be very expensive to keep the Capital Crescent Trail and the Purple Line in the same tunnel in Bethesda. The Maryland Transit Administration analyzed some options, but there is no silver bullet. The Montgomery County Council will have to make a tough choice between spending a lot of money or taking the trail out of the tunnel.
The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) runs in a former railroad tunnel under 2 buildings and Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Plans call for building the Purple Line in this tunnel, with a station under the Apex Building and elevators connecting to the Metro.
Officials have long promised to keep the CCT in the tunnel with the Purple Line, but the cost turned out to be much higher than expected.
The MTA looked at a number of alternative approaches:
The original plan: This design, the "locally preferred alternative," calls for lowering the floor of the tunnel to make room for an elevated CCT above the Purple Line. The Purple Line station would sit under the Apex Building, adjacent to the planned elevator connection to the Red Line.
Don't keep the trail in the tunnel: Another option would be to create a new trail alignment through Elm Street Park and along Bethesda Avenue. The tunnel would not have to be lowered, and the Purple Line would run alone in the tunnel. The station would be located in the same spot as in the original plan.
Don't put the Purple Line in the tunnel: The Purple Line could terminate east of the eastern end of the tunnel, letting the trail to remain in the tunnel. Passengers transferring to the Red Line would have to walk approximately ¼ mile to get to the new southern entrance to the Bethesda Metro.
Tear down and rebuild the Air Rights Building: Tearing down the Air Rights Building, above the tunnel, would make it possible to create a wider tunnel and fit the trail and train station side-by-side. It would require a slightly longer walk for transferring passengers than the original plan. It would also cost a lot of money to purchase and demolish the Air Rights Building on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue.
Have a narrower Purple Line through the tunnel: Several alternatives looked at using single track or gauntlet track in the tunnel. Station locations included placement in the original location or farther west in the Woodmont Plaza.
The County Council's Transportation and Environment Committee will discuss this issue on March 1.
The findings are disappointing to those of us hoped to escape making a very hard decision. All of the new alternatives for keeping the trail in the tunnel would either seriously degrade the level of service and operational capabilities of the Purple Line, or have an unreasonable cost.
The MTA draft report could do a bit more to persuade everyone by giving more details about why they rejected some alternatives. For example, the report says that operational models showed that the reduced transitway width alternatives didn't work, especially since the Bethesda station will be the end of the line.
But the report gives no information on the method and assumptions behind the simulations. It would be easier to accept the conclusions if they made those available for review. In any case, the MTA is likely right about this. I can find no examples of successful single-track operations for a terminal station with a short headway.
As much as I wish it were otherwise, we are back to the hard choice: either spend a now-estimated $50.9 million and take considerable construction risk to keep the trail in the tunnel in an overhead structure, or develop the alternative surface route across Wisconsin Avenue.
The right choice is to develop the surface route to the fullest extent possible. $50.9 million is simply too much money to spend to avoid one at-grade crossing for the trail. That cost will double the total cost of rebuilding the CCT, putting the whole trail project at much higher risk of being abandoned in these very difficult budget times.
Also, the elevated trail will involve a narrow switchback to climb above the tracks, and then run in a cage above the tracks. This will not be attractive to most trail riders, and certainly not inviting enough to justify spending $50.9 million.
There is also too much risk that digging under the APEX building will destabilize the entire building. The Silver Spring transit center turned into a fiasco because engineers underestimated the risk of a construction method. Nobody wants another mess like that along the future CCT in Bethesda.
Most likely, the council will decide against taking on the cost and risk that comes with keeping the CCT in the Bethesda tunnel. The political blowback from this decision will be intense; some of that has already started in the comments to the Washington Post's story about this report.
"Save the Trail" advocate Pam Browning and others are advocating for a third option: kill the Purple Line. But they have the tunnel vision that comes with thinking that CCT means "Chevy Chase's Trail." They care little about whether the CCT is ever completed into downtown Silver Spring, and would have us obsess about one trail crossing at Wisconsin Avenue while overlooking the many other at-grade crossings east of Bethesda that will be eliminated as a part of the Purple Line project.
A version of this article originally ran at Silver Spring Trails.
Montgomery officials say there isn't enough money in the capital budget to pay for both a new Bethesda Metro entrance and redeveloping Wheaton. But there is plenty of money, if only the county deferred some of the new and wasteful highways that will only worsen sprawl and shift the county's growth away from the places that can best accommodate it.
Wheaton residents are eager for a redevelopment project which will bring new offices, residences, a hotel and a town square to the area around the Metro station. Meanwhile, to prepare for the Purple Line (and ease crowding today), the county needs to add a second entrance to the Bethesda Metro.
County Executive Ike Leggett's budget eliminated funding for the Bethesda entrance, and general services director David Dise told the Wheaton Redevelopment Advisory Committee that the county could probably not fund both the $40 million Wheaton plan and the $80 million Bethesda Metro south entrance.
Actually, it can, easily. And it can afford $12 million for the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which Leggett also cut from the current capital budget. All the county has to do is defer some of the $359 million in new highways in the 6-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP). That $359 million is all for new capacity, over and above the necessary cost of maintaining the county's existing roads and bridges.
The projects include widening Goshen Road, which costs $129 million, but the justification in the CIP suggests it's not needed until 2025. Building Montrose Parkway East, for $56 million, will further despoil Rock Creek Park, while the completed western portion has already created a "Berlin Wall" that will hamper a future walkable, mixed-use neighborhood growing north of White Flint.
Widening Snouffer School Road and Snouffer School Road North, 2 projects costing $45 million, would meet "demands of existing and future land uses" in an area which "is experiencing growth with plans for future residential and commercial development."
Why does the County Executive claim that it doesn't have enough money for the Bethesda Metro, a necessary step for the Purple Line in the part of the county that generates the most tax revenue, and Wheaton, a prime spot for new mixed-use growth and an already-thriving community right on top of another Metro station, but can spend money on new roads in car-dependent areas which may grow in the future?
These new road projects would increase traffic congestion through induced demand, offer no economic development, and destroy irreplaceable Chesapeake Bay watersheds. Montgomery County has already agreed, through long public debates, to make the Purple Line, the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and growth in Wheaton top priorities. But Leggett's budget does not reflect this.
This is an unfortunate pattern with this County Executive. The Leggett administration consistently cries poverty when it comes to smart growth-oriented projects like these, or making Rockville Pike a boulevard in White Flint. However, it seems that no sprawl-oriented road project is too expensive to fund.
Whether it's putting up roadblocks to BRT, pushing harmful skybridges and underpasses, or a bizarre focus on resurrecting bad "zombie road" proposals from the 1960s, the County Executive's decisions do not embody Montgomery County's and Maryland's stated smart growth policies.
Fortunately, it appears the County Council does not share the County Executive's misplaced priorities. A council committee has since voted to restore funding for the Bethesda Metro entrance, and the full council will consider it soon. The council should also restore funding for the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Despite claims to the contrary, these worthy projects need not compete with each other. The council can simply choose the least valuable of the plan's many expensive road projects and use the money to ensure Wheaton, Metro riders at Bethesda, the future Purple Line, and a valuable bicycle connection from Silver Spring to DC get the attention they deserve. Our county, state and region cannot afford more delay.
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- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- Prince George's County struggles to get trails right