Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Gaithersburg

Bicycling


Is Gaithersburg the next frontier for Capital Bikeshare?

Gaithersburg is considering joining Capital Bikeshare with up to 21 additional stations. But with turbulent bikeshare rollouts in College Park and Rockville, it may not be easy.


Proposed bikeshare stations in Gaithersburg. Map by the author, using Google.

The Gaithersburg City Council is mulling whether or not to join Capital Bikeshare, and how to fund the program if they join. At a meeting on Monday, the council worked out preliminary plans for 8 initial stations, to be followed by around a dozen more later.

Gaithersburg has a growing collection of mixed-use neighborhoods that will someday be connected by the Corridor Cities Transitway. Adding bikesharing to that mix makes sense, and can help Gaithersburg transition to be a less car-dependent community.

But is expansion even possible right now? And if it is, does Gaithersburg have the right plan?

Trouble in College Park and Rockville

Theoretically the next expansion of Capital Bikeshare in suburban Maryland should be underway in College Park right now. But with Capital Bikeshare's parent supplier company in bankruptcy and reorganization, no new bikes or bike stations are rolling off the assembly line. As a result, College Park's expansion is on indefinite hold.

Eventually the assembly line will start rolling again. But how long will it take, and how huge will be the backlog of existing orders? It may be some time before anybody can accept new orders.

Meanwhile, nearby Rockville has its bikeshare stations already, but they're poorly used.

One big problem appears to be that Rockville's stations are spread too far apart. Instead of placing stations every couple of blocks, Rockville only put one or two stations in each neighborhood. Cyclists have to commit to a long ride to use the system.

Based on the map of proposed stations, it looks like Gaithersburg is shaping up to make the same mistake. It might be better for both cities to rethink their stations, and cluster them together in a smaller part of town.

But implementation details aside, it's great news to see more and more communities looking to progressive transportation options.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Progress at Gaithersburg's two new town centers

Gaithersburg's collection of walkable new urbanist neighborhoods is growing, with impressive construction progress at both the Crown development and Watkins Mill Town Center.


Ellington Boulevard in Downtown Crown, seen from the north. All photos by BeyondDC.

Both neighborhoods are planned around future stations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, which will someday connect a whole string of walkable neighborhoods in upper Montgomery County to Shady Grove Metro station. But with rapid transit service still years away, construction is working from the outside in, focusing first on sections farther from planned transit stations.

Crown

At the Crown development, construction progress is focused on Phase 1, the western half. A mixed-use town center surrounds the corner of Ellington Boulevard and Crown Park Avenue, with blocks of rowhouse neighborhoods to the side.


Ellington Boulevard, seen from the south.


Crown Park Avenue, perpendicular to Ellington Boulevard.

It's clear that serious work and expense went into the architectural details.


Downtown Crown.


Downtown Crown.

To the east, the rowhouse neighborhoods are taking shape as well.


Rowhouses on Hendrix Avenue.

Decoverly Drive marks the boundary of Phase 1, as well as the future route of the transitway. Crown's original plans show an even larger town center surrounding the BRT station along Decoverly. But following actual construction, it appears density has been reduced around the station, and rowhouses line the Phase 1 edge instead.

One wonders if Phase 2 will make Crown a truly transit-oriented place, or if transit will merely run through it.


Decoverly Drive.

Watkins Mill Town Center

A few miles to the northwest, adjacent to the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, Watkins Mill Town Center is taking shape.


Watkins Mill Town Center.

At Watkins Mill, the rowhouses and lower density portions are nearing completion, but the downtown section has yet to begin construction. As a result, a huge field separates the MARC station (and future BRT stop) from the constructed portions of the development.


Urban Avenue, not quite urban yet.

Someday, the Corridor Cities Transitway could make Gaithersburg a second Arlington, a string of walkable communities knit together by transit. Whether that actually happens or not will depend the State of Maryland getting the transitway built, and the City of Gaithersburg insisting on truly transit-oriented places.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


In Montgomery's transportation budget, wider streets are "pedestrian improvements"

As Montgomery County asks the state to spend more on transit within the county, its proposed budget pours money into sprawl-inducing highways instead, while calling road widenings near schools and Metro stations "pedestrian improvements."


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Last week, County Executive Ike Leggett sent his proposed $1 billion transportation budget for 2015-2020 to the County Council. It adds new money to build two $100 million highway segments, Goshen Road in Gaithersburg and the 8000-foot-long Montrose Parkway East near White Flint, and lets environmental studies for the even more expensive extension of Midcounty Highway continue.

But many transit, bike, and pedestrian projects have been delayed. The proposed BRT system will get a $10 million state planning grant, but no county funds. The $80 milllion south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, which the County Council previously funded over objections from the Department of Transportation (MCDOT), was left alone.

Bicyclists get a speedup in construction for a bike path on Needwood Road, required under the terms of a state grant. But the money comes from slowing down work to complete the far more important Metropolitan Branch Trail. Bike projects on Bethesda Avenue, Frederick Road, and Seven Locks Road are delayed too.

MCDOT learned long ago that cars-first policies had to be disguised with lip service to transit and pedestrians, and this budget continues that tradition. While new roads are the first category in the current six-year budget, the new budget lists them after transit.

At first glance, the proposed transit and pedestrian budgets seem large, but this is a mirage. The numbers are inflated with items that belong elsewhere. The county calls a $70 million dollar garage for school buses and park maintenance vehicles a mass transit facility. Road widenings around new schools, previously classified as road projects, are listed as pedestrian improvements this year. Buried in the budget for a new Metro entrance at Medical Center is the cost of a turn lane a block away at Jones Bridge Road.


Montgomery County's ped/bike budget will pay for a turn lane onto Rockville Pike at NIH. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

A telling example of MCDOT's attitude is how it justifies spending money on bike lanes in downtown Bethesda. The county planning board made us do it, agency officials say. The bike lanes must be built before development can proceed beyond a certain point. There's no thought that they might serve a transportation purpose.

In recent years the County Council has shown increasing willingness to challenge MCDOT's priorities. The council funded the $80 million south Bethesda Metro entrance in 2008 and repeatedly fended off requests to reverse that decision. Two years ago, it put off construction of Goshen Road and Montrose Parkway East and budgeted for the Capital Crescent Trail instead.

But MCDOT still clings to the traffic engineering doctrines of the 1950s. The one completely new big project in the budget is yet another upcounty highway, a segment of Observation Drive whose price tag is likely to wind up north of $50 million a mile. The Bethesda Metro entrance stands as the only major county-funded transit construction project.

The time has come to reject once and for all the discredited idea that wide highways are a cure for traffic congestion. The council should zero out all spending on upcounty highways and end the pernicious practice of forcing developers to widen roads. All of the county's scarce transportation dollars are needed to correct the expensive mistakes of the past with better transit and a street network that works well for pedestrians and cyclists, not just for drivers.

Roads


Will Montgomery County study a transit alternative to M-83?

M-83, also known as Midcounty Highway Extended, is an environmental calamity that will cost hundreds of millions. Yet Montgomery County continues to pursue its construction. Will county leaders consider a transit alternative to a new highway?


Seneca Creek Greenway Trail. Photo by Vickiís Pics on Flickr.

When Montgomery County planners put M-83 on the master plan of highways in the early 1960s, the county's population was 340,000. DC's streetcars had recently gone away. And highways were the future of transportation. Today, the county population is one million, DC is about to bring back the streetcar, and highway removal is common. But M-83, the county's zombie highway, is still around.

This Thursday, the Planning Board will review alternatives for the proposed highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg. But planning staff recommends that they ask the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to study a transit alternative as well, and remove the alternative with the most property takings.

Highway laid out according to 1960s standards

Midcounty Highway was supposed to be an 8.7-mile, limited access, four to six lane highway east of Route 355, connecting the planned corridor cities of Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Clarksburg. The county has built the southern end, a 3-mile divided highway between Shady Grove Road and Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg. And developers recently built the northern end, called Snowden Farm Parkway, in Clarksburg.

The Planning Board last reviewed the remaining middle part of M-83 in 1992, but for over a decade, not much happened due to a lack of money. In 2003, MCDOT began to study building the rest of M-83 along the master plan route. But that route dates from before the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), when planners thought it was a good idea to put highways in stream valleys.

So the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) got involved. And MCDOT had to follow NEPA's requirement to identify alternatives and evaluate the environmental effects.

In May 2013, MCDOT issued its draft report on the environmental effects. The Army Corps of Engineers and MDE then held a public hearing in August about MCDOT's application for a permit to build M-83. They have yet to publish their findings.

Planning staff recommend studying a transit alternative

But this week, the Planning Board will nonetheless review the master plan route and its alternatives. In a report issued last week, planning staff say that MCDOT should evaluate a transit alternative, including the planned bus rapid transit (BRT) route along 355, and that MCDOT's transportation systems management/transportation demand management (TSM/TDM) alternative should also include BRT along 355.

Their analysis suggests that the area can meet its transportation needs through 2040 without M-83. They also note that the 355 BRT corridor would have the second-highest daily ridership of the 10 proposed transit corridors in the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.

MCDOT says they didn't look at a transit alternative because Montgomery County has not adopted any plans for BRT. They also did not consider transit in their TSM/TDM alternative, even though TSM/TDM usually includes transit.

The staff report's recommendation will please M-83's opponents, including Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended (TAME) and the Action Committee for Transit, who have been calling for years for MCDOT to study a transit alternative.

County planners also recommend asking MCDOT to eliminate the alternative route through Goshen, which would involve widening existing two- and four-lane roads. The Planning Board already recommended eliminating the route in 1992. Some community groups have strongly opposed this alternative in favor of the master plan route so that M-83 wouldn't go through their neighborhoods. If the threat from this alternative route goes away, some of the support for M-83 along the master plan route will probably go away as well.

MCDOT's report underestimates environmental and property impacts

In addition, the staff report points out problems with MCDOT's evaluation of environmental effects. For example, MCDOT reports that if M-83 isn't built, 16 intersections will exceed traffic congestion standards. But the staff report notes that at least 6 of these intersections are south of M-83 and would also exceed the standard under all of the alternative routes, including the master plan route.

Similarly, MCDOT's traffic modeling estimates a 55% reduction in travel time for the master plan route and a 37% reduction for Alternative 5, compared to not doing anything at all. (Alternative 5 proposes widening Route 355 and adding service roads.) The staff report notes that the 37% reduction represents a trip that is 3 minutes shorter.

The staff report also points out that MCDOT used a roadway width of less than 150 feet to estimate how many properties each alternative route would disturb or displace. However, 150 feet is the standard roadway width in the current county road code. In addition, MCDOT did not estimate how many properties stormwater management and noise abatement measures might affect. Thus, MCDOT's estimates of the number of affected properties are probably too low.

As for the cost of building M-83, MCDOT estimates for the build alternatives range from $41 million for the TSM/TDM alternative to $357 million for the master plan route. But these estimates are probably too low as well.

According to the staff report, MCDOT's estimates of environmental impacts do not account for stormwater management and the effects of retaining walls. For example, the master plan route would require a retaining wall 400 feet long along Great Seneca Creek, most of which would be in the flood plain within 20-30 feet of the stream channel.

Along Whetstone Run, the master plan route would have to be built on fill, with a retaining wall next to the stream channel. And while the smaller stream reaches may not have delineated flood plains, they have wetlands that function much like flood plains.

What's more, much of the master plan route goes through parkland, including Great Seneca Creek Park and the North Germantown Greenway Stream Valley Park. According to the staff report, the master plan route would have "calamitous" effects on 3 of the largest biodiversity areas in the county, far beyond the official limits of disturbance. And the staff report recommends mitigating impacts on parkland through a combination of trails, environmental projects, and replacement of parkland with land of equal or greater value.

So how much would it cost to build M-83, including parkland mitigation and the environmental requirements of building across streams and along stream valleys? Presumably more than MCDOT estimates.

For now, asking MCDOT to evaluate a transit alternative is a good idea, and so is repeating the Planning Board's 20-year-old request to remove the alternative route through Goshen. But ultimately, it's time for Montgomery County to say no at last to this environment-destroying, obsolete, expensive highway.

Perhaps in the early 1960s, transportation meant moving cars, and the environment was supposed to make way for progress. But it's 2013. Shouldn't we know better by now?

The Planning Board will review the alternatives for Midcounty Highway in Silver Spring on Thursday, November 21, beginning at 6 pm. If you want the Planning Board review to include your thoughts about this project, you can send written comments by e-mail through Wednesday.

Pedestrians


MD highway planners to pedestrians: youíre on your own

If you're a pedestrian who uses a state road in upper Montgomery County, don't expect much help from the State Highway Administration (SHA).


Photo by Gary Kavanagh on Flickr.

That's the message in highway planners' response to a letter from the Action Committee for Transit (ACT) about pedestrian safety in the upcounty. ACT's letter asked SHA to look at 4 problem areas for pedestrians on state roads designed to prioritize driving over everything else.

At one location, SHA agreed to conduct a pedestrian audit, but did not agree to actually use its audit's recommendations. At 2 others, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because not enough people use the unmarked crosswalk. And at the fourth, SHA declined to mark a crosswalk because it would inconvenience people in cars.

The first problem area is Germantown Road (Route 118) between Wisteria Drive and the I-270 interchange in Germantown. This stretch of road has up to 9 lanes of high-speed commuter traffic. At least 5 pedestrians have died there in recent years, including a student at Seneca Valley High School.

ACT asked for a pedestrian road safety audit, and SHA agreed to conduct one. This is a good start. But will SHA then do what its own audit recommends? SHA says only that they will evaluate "which suggestions [from the SHA audit] are warranted and feasible".

The second problem area is the intersection of Great Seneca Highway and Dairymaid Drive in Germantown. People who live in the townhouses and apartments east of Great Seneca cross here and then follow a desire path to the Kingsview Village shopping center. ACT asked for signs, pavement markings, and engineering so that people can cross safely and conveniently.

SHA responded that too few people cross this intersection on foot to warrant a marked crosswalk. In addition, they explained that a marked crosswalk would be more dangerous, because people might then feel safe crossing there, even though crossing there is not safe. How could SHA make crossing there safe? SHA's letter does not say.

The third problem area is the intersection of Clopper Road (Route 117) and Mateny Road in Germantown. Both drivers and pedestrians have died along this stretch of road in recent years. ACT asked for walk signals and high-visibility pavement markings for all 4 legs of this intersection, as well as signs to alert drivers about people crossing the street on foot.

SHA responded that there are plans (it's not clear whose) for improving the intersection for pedestrians, including marking the crosswalks across Mateny north and south of Clopper. Thus, 3 of the 4 legs will have marked crosswalks, instead of just one. This is good news. However, the fourth leg will still not have a marked crosswalk. SHA explained that a marked crosswalk is unnecessary because not enough people cross there.

In addition, SHA said that they would not mark the crosswalks with high-visibility markings because the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) calls for 2 parallel lines.

The last problem area is the intersection of Route 355 (Frederick Road) and Shady Grove Road, between Gaithersburg and Rockville. A pedestrian needs eight and a half minutes to cross the street here. ACT asked for high-visibility pavement markings, signs, signals, and appropriate walk intervals for all 4 legs of the intersection, in conformance with the Shady Grove Sector Plan.

SHA explained that they can't mark the crosswalk in the south leg of the intersection, for 2 reasons. First, if drivers turn from northbound Shady Grove onto southbound 355 using the combined right-turn/through lane, they cannot see people in the crosswalk well. Second, the amount of car traffic makes a separate pedestrian-only signal phase impractical.

Impractical for whom? Presumably for people in cars, since a marked crosswalk with a walk signal would be very practical for people trying to cross the south leg of the intersection on foot.

7 of the 11 pedestrian deaths in Montgomery County in 2013 so far occurred on state roads. The Montgomery County government says that "crossing the street [should not be] a death defying act" and that engineers should design and operate roads so that people on foot can use them safely and conveniently. Wouldn't it be great if SHA learned this lesson too?

Transit


MARC backs away from all-day service on Brunswick Line

In 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration proposed adding a third track to the MARC Brunswick Line, which could make it possible to have all-day, two-way service. With a recent plan update proposing less third track, it's unlikely that this will ever happen.


MARC's Brunswick Line in Dickerson. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The 2007 MARC Growth and Investment Plan proposed a third track from Georgetown Junction in Silver Spring, to Point of Rocks in Frederick County. It would have been built in three stages between now and 2035. In contrast, the 2013 draft update proposes one small portion of third track in Montgomery County and at unspecified locations elsewhere.

This reduces the chance that there will ever be all-day, two-way service. CSX owns the tracks that MARC trains use, and the agency will not allow MARC to run more service if there isn't a third track. If MARC doesn't say where they plan to put a third track, Montgomery County can't reserve the right-of-way for it, making it harder to build the third track later.

Current service on the Brunswick Line consists of 18 daily trains, peak-service headways of 40-75 minutes, one off-peak train on Fridays only, no reverse-peak service, and no weekend service. The Maryland Transit Administration's original plan for MARC called for bringing all-day, two-way service to the Brunswick Line in three stages.

In 2015, there were to be at least 6 additional peak-service trains, or 3 round trips. By 2020, there were to be shorter peak-service headways, plus some reverse-peak and off-peak service. And in 2035, there were to be reverse-commute and weekend service, as well as service to L'Enfant Plaza and Northern Virginia.

As for the third track, first, MTA would build near Rockville and along the Frederick branch of the Old Main Line. In 2020, there would be a third track on Barnesville Hill, roughly between the Monocacy River, west of Dickerson, and the Bucklodge interlocking, west of Boyds. In the long term, MTA would build the remaining sections of track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks.

In comparison, the 3-stage expansion in the 2013 draft update builds up to only marginally more service. There would be no additional trains in the short term. During the 2020s, MARC would add 3 additional trains, including one reverse-peak train.

Between 2030 and 2050, there would be 6 additional peak-service trains (3 round trips), plus some off-peak service and some more reverse-peak service. The draft update only proposes building a short section of third track on Barnesville Hill in the 2020s, with "additional triple tracking" at unspecified locations in the long term.

Why is MTA's 2013 draft update so much less ambitious than its 2007 plan? Perhaps MTA is trying to hold down the costs of the plan. But unlike the 2007 plan, the 2013 draft update does not provide cost estimates for the long-term plans. So reducing the scope of the long-term plans does not affect the total cost in the 2013 draft update.

Or maybe MTA now believes that there will be insufficient demand for all-day, two-way service and weekend service on the Brunswick Line in the future. But this seems inconsistent with MTA's explicit recognition of transit-oriented development (TOD) in the 2013 draft update, including the creation of high-density, mixed-use TOD on existing surface parking lots within walking distance of MARC stations.

In Montgomery County, there are plans for MARC-related TOD at Kensington and White Flint, and construction is already underway at Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Metropolitan Grove. But will there be enough transit to support TOD at these stations, if even MARC's own Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for eventual all-day, two-way service?

And will these plans leave room for an eventual third track, if MARC's Growth and Expansion Plan does not call for one? Montgomery County's draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which proposes a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, also covers right-of-way for MARC. But it only includes a third track northwest of Metropolitan Grove.

All of these projects should maintain a reserved right-of-way for the third track that will make it easier to provide all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line. And for this to happen, MTA's final update of the Growth and Investment Plan must restore both all-day, two-way service and a third track between Georgetown Junction and Point of Rocks as long-term plans.

If you support all-day, two-way service on the Brunswick Line, please e-mail MTA at MGIP@mta.maryland.gov. MTA will accept public comments on the draft update through mid-November.

Development


25 years later, what can we learn from New Urbanism?

It's been 25 years since development started at Gaithersburg's Kentlands, America's first year-round new urbanist community. With a quarter century of experience under our belt, not to mention a major shift in American development patterns, what have we learned?


Kentlands Main Street. Photo by the author.

When new urbanism hit the big time in the late '80s and early '90s, central cities were still declining, and suburbs were still focused around enclosed shopping malls. Generations of Americans had grown up driving around the suburbs, thinking of urban places as crime-ridden ghettos.

New urbanism changed all that. Wherever a new urbanist neighborhood opened, a nice-looking and safe walkable urban place suddenly became accessible to the suburban masses, many of whom had never had one before. New urbanism reintroduced Americans to the concept of urban living. And as recent history tells us, once we learned urban living was an option, people flocked to it.

New urbanism's strength is its weakness

But all walkable communities aren't created equal, and the very thing that made new urbanism initially successful also became its most limiting weakness.

In older urban areas, new urbanist development is indistinguishable from well-designed regular infill. So although new urbanism has many infill projects to its name, the term is more strongly associated with suburban development like Kentlands, where it's more distinct.

Those suburban new urbanist communities have usually turned out to be internally walkable, but poorly connected to their auto-oriented surroundings. Without the critical mass of a huge walkable city surrounding them, they hit a ceiling. Residents can walk to a corner store and a few cafes, but most of them still need cars to get to work, or really to go anywhere more than a half mile away.

So new urbanism boomed, but those who bought into the concept of urban living quickly deduced that larger and older urban communities offer a superior experience. Kentlands is nice, but compared to places like DC, Arlington, or Silver Spring it's still relatively isolated, homogeneous, and car-dependent.

Thus, in a twist of fate, new urbanism's main lasting benefit may be that it's a gateway for suburbanites to become urbanitesa baby step towards regular urbanism. A necessary step, to be sure, but one quickly passed by.

We do still need new urbanism

Despite the fact that regular urbanism is back, and that new urbanism is no longer the progressive cutting edge of city planning, we still need it in the suburbs.

New growth at the suburban fringe will continue to happen, after all. It always has and it always will; even Dupont Circle was once rural. So we will need a steady stream of new suburban places that are more walkable, more mixed-use, less dependent on the 20th century highway paradigm that has failed so badly. New urbanism remains ideally suited for that purpose.

Regardless of whether or not it's true that we still need new urbanism to build good cities, we clearly still need it to build better suburbs.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


Will Montgomery fund a new sprawl highway?

Montgomery County residents say the proposed Midcounty Highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg costs too much, cuts through sensitive park and agricultural land, and won't solve the area's traffic challenges. But will the county decide to build it anyway?


TAME members at last night's public hearing at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.

Midcounty Highway Extended, or M83, first showed up in area master plans in the 1960s. If built as planned, it would be a 6-lane controlled-access highway parallel to Route 355 on the east side of I-270. Montgomery County would pay for the project completely, presumably to avoid complying with stringent federal environmental regulations.

Former County Executive Doug Duncan revived the project several years ago, and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) continues to push the highway forward today. MCDOT just completed an Environmental Effects Review earlier this year and will seek support from the County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett later this year to include the project in next year's budget.

Last night, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers held a public hearing at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown regarding whether they should grant a joint permit to impact wetlands and streams in the highway's path. Dozens of highway opponents from the Transit Alternatives to the Midcounty Highway Extended (TAME) Coalition, many of whom have fought the project for years, turned out in force to testify against the project. There were other voices in the crowd as well, in particular a contingent opposing the alternative through their neighborhood, but supporting the highway if it went through someone else's backyard.


Alternative routes being studied for Midcounty Highway. Image from MCDOT.

MCDOT originally evaluated 11 alternatives, and has since narrowed the field down to just 6, including a no-build option. Alternatives 4, 8, and 9 are the most controversial and involve the most new pavement and right-of-way through environmentally sensitive areas and existing neighborhoods. They also happen to be MCDOT's preferred alternatives. MCDOT estimates that Alternative 9 would cost $350 million to build, though local activists say it could be double that.

Alternative 2, the cheapest option, would make improvements to Route 355 and use transportation demand management (TDM) to give travelers other ways to get around, while alternative 5 involves widening it. MCDOT did not look at any transit alternatives. Their report contains a footnote saying that the community requested a transit alternative, but says that the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan is still too nascent to be considered.

MCDOT contends that new construction would impact only 0.9 acres of wetlands because they propose building bridges over and through wetland areas. Yet it is clear that the construction process to build those bridges will require filling in parts of the wetland areas and compacting their soils, which are key for filtration and other ecosystem functions. Over the long term, more pavement over wetlands means more polluted stormwater runoff into waterways already under threat from other development, such as Ten Mile Creek.


Impacts of each proposed M83 alignment. MCDOT's favored alignments are in dark grey. TAME prefers alignments 2, 5 and the no-build option. Data from MCDOT's executive study and traffic projections.

In addition to water quality impacts, opponents pointed out a litany of other impacts from Alternatives 4, 8, and 9, including additional carbon emissions from induced traffic, impacts to the county's prized Agricultural Reserve, the loss of parkland, the division of neighborhoods, the taking of homes and local businesses, and more.

Local activists also questioned whether M83, if built, would even provide the traffic relief that transportation officials say it would provide. Indeed, MCDOT's own projections show more traffic-jammed intersections if it builds any of M83's more costly alignments.

For the $350 million it costs to build M83, Montgomery County could build Alternative 2 and 20-45 miles of the proposed bus rapid transit plan, if you use the federal average cost per mile to build BRT. This would enable a high quality transit connection and a viable alternative to driving between Clarksburg, Gaithersburg, and points south. But this alternative has never been evaluated.

Looking at the chart above, it's easy to do the math. The county's favored alignments destroy the most acreage of parkland, farmland, and wetlands, take the most property from local businesses and residences, cost the most, and still have more failing intersections than the cheapest, lowest impact alternatives.

Later this year, the issue will go before the County Council, and then to the County Executive, who will both have a chance to weigh in on whether to include funds to continue the project in next year's budget. It remains to be seen whether the County leaders will continue their progressive planning tradition by investing scarce local dollars in transit and smart growth, or whether they sink hundreds of millions into a 1960's-era sprawl highway. If they check their math, the choice should be simple.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and Army Corps of Engineers will accept written comments until August 21. If you'd like to see Montgomery County consider real alternatives to Midcounty Highway, you can contact them using this form.

Development


It's not the "end" of the suburbs, but a transition

A new book by Leigh Gallagher heralds "the end of the suburbs," but it may just be a change in how people want to live and get around in suburban communities. Judging from new suburban developments happening in the DC area, that shift is already underway.


New townhomes with roofdecks at Crown in Gaithersburg. All photos by the author unless noted.

In recent years, there's been a lot of research about how many people, whether young Millennials or retiring Baby Boomers, want to live in places where they don't have to drive everywhere. That's part of the reason why center cities, like DC, have experienced a resurgence in recent decades.

But it leads some commentators to assume that everyone's going to move to the city now, and that's simply not true. Even if we raised the height limit, cities like DC can only hold so many new people. And the false binary between "city" and "suburb" ignores the actual diversity of places on either side of the city line, along with the possibility that people can have the urban, walkable experience they want in a "suburban" place, especially one where they may have grown up and feel connected to.


Site plan of Crown's first phase. (Note the cool street names: Strummer, Hendrix, etc.) Image from the developer.

Take Crown, a New Urbanist development being built in Gaithersburg that I visited last weekend. It was originally an 180-acre farm dating to the early 1800's, but today it's surrounded by office parks, cul-de-sacs and the Washingtonian Center, an early lifestyle center that I call "Green Day urbanism" because it's a sort-of walkable, urban environment.

Urban design firm Perkins Eastman/EE&K laid Crown out as a series of compact, walkable neighborhoods around the future Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit line, which just got design funding from the state of Maryland.

While construction is only beginning, it's clear that projects like Crown represent a very different approach to suburban development. The developer has purposely marketed Crown as an urban place, even naming its website SmartUrbanLiving.com. Most of the over 2,000 homes being built here will be townhouses or apartments. Instead of big backyards, the homes have roof decks, but there will be several public parks.


The Corridor Cities Transitway will have a stop right here.

This project's biggest amenity isn't privacy or quiet, but being close to "Downtown Crown," a 260,000-square foot complex of shops and restaurants surrounding a plaza, the Washingtonian Center, or all of the jobs at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. One of the first things you see upon entering is a sign saying "Future Right-of-Way of the Corridor City [sp] Transitway." Unlike nearby King Farm in Rockville, whose residents have protested the CCT in a neighborhood built around it, Crown residents will buy homes there expecting transit to come.

These amenities might explain why neighborhoods around Crown have some of Montgomery County's highest concentrations of young families. A generation ago, these buyers might have moved to Gaithersburg because it was cheap and they could buy a big house there, even if it was far from everything.

Today, many young families are moving to neighborhoods in the District because they offer a sense of community, easy access to shopping and jobs, and don't require a car. But they're also choosing places like Gaithersburg that are willing to evolve and adjust to meet their needs.

At Crown last weekend, I toured the model houses alongside many young couples with kids. Some of the townhouses here sell for over $700,000, which is certainly out of reach for many families. But it's also a testament to how desirable places like this are, even in a community 20 miles from downtown DC next to a transit line that hasn't even been built.


Media, the kind of suburb Leigh Gallagher says people want more of.

In an interview with the Washington Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Gallagher admits that many affluent car-oriented suburbs, particularly those with good public services like schools, will probably remain sought-after. And she notes that people may be drawn to suburbs like Media, the historic, walkable, trolley-served town near Philadelphia where she grew up.

There aren't a lot of Medias in the DC area, but there's no reason why we can't try to create more places like it. Crown is just one of several transit-oriented developments being built along the CCT in Gaithersburg. And from the Mosaic District in Fairfax County to Maple Lawn in Howard County, the DC area has become a national leader in showing how suburban communities will evolve in the coming decades.

While "The End of Some Places with Suburban Land Use Characteristics and/or Bad Schools" isn't as catchy or provocative a title, it's more accurate description of what's actually happening. People will still be able to live in a big house on a cul-de-sac, if that's what they want. But we'll also see new kinds of suburbs for those who want something else.

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