Posts about Germantown
"We're all drivers. We're all pedestrians. We all just want to get to where we're going," said one Germantown resident at the Action Committee for Transit's public forum on pedestrian issues in upcounty Montgomery County in Germantown on Saturday.
The 50 or so participants ranged in age from elementary school children to senior citizens. The lively discussion pointed to road problems that need fixing and road policies that need changing.
Barbara McCann, founder of the National Complete Streets Coalition, spoke to the residents. Complete Streets are streets that "are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities."
According to McCann, Montgomery County has adopted a Complete Streets policy, but with exceptions "big enough to drive a truck through," and a rating of only 46%.
McCann laid out 4 steps for implementing a Complete Streets policy:
- Changing procedures.
- Educating staff and others.
- Re-writing manuals (such as Montgomery County's road code).
- Establishing new performance measures (for example, adding level-of-service measures for pedestrians, as well as drivers).
The second presenter was Frances Heilig, a Gaithersburg resident whose neighbor, Yessenia Martinez Rivas, was killed at a crosswalk across Muddy Branch Road north of Suffield Drive in Gaithersburg in November, leaving three young daughters. Another pedestrian had been killed at this location in 2009.
Heilig explained that there is a lot of pedestrian traffic at this crosswalk because of the Muddy Branch Square shopping center, but that with a speed limit of 45 mph (and speeding drivers), drivers who stop for pedestrians risk getting hit by other drivers. Another Gaithersburg resident added that southbound drivers focus on the traffic signal further down the hill at Great Seneca Highway, rather than on the crosswalk.
Finally, Clarksburg resident Edward Rothblum talked about how his requests for a marked crosswalk to connect his neighborhood to the elementary school on the other side of Stringtown Road have been repeatedly denied by Montgomery County.
There are curb ramps and a pedestrian refuge here, anticipating a traffic signal one day, perhaps in the far future. In the meantime, though, the county is not willing to put in a crosswalk to help people cross. Catherine Matthews, director of the county government's Upcounty Regional Services Center, said she had spoken with Emil Wolanin, chief of MCDOT's Division of Traffic Engineering and Operations. Matthews said they are now considering a policy of simply not installing any pedestrian features at an intersection until all of the planned road construction is complete.
After the presentations, participants created a list of 5 problematic spots in the county for pedestrian safety, and identified 4 specific actions the county can take to improve pedestrian mobility.
Participants specifically highlighted these problem places, plus all rural upcounty roads, at the meeting for particular pedestrian danger. Image from Google Maps.
Problem places range from rural to fairly urban
The first problem spot is Germantown Road/MD 118 in Germantown, between Wisteria Drive and the I-270 interchange. The stretch of road combines high-speed commuter traffic in up to 9 lanes of traffic with increasing pedestrian (including school) and business activity. Sadly, but not surprisingly, it has been the location of multiple pedestrian deaths recently.
Captain Thomas Didone, director of the Traffic Division of the Montgomery County Department of Police, said that the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) had recently agreed to the county's request to lower the speed limit along this stretch from 50 mph to 40 mph.
A second problem place is the intersection of Dairymaid Drive and Great Seneca Highway in Germantown. As the well-defined goat track shows, people living in the Farmingdale Estates neighborhood use this unmarked crosswalk across Great Seneca Highway to walk to the Kingsview Village shopping center.
Third, at the intersection of Mateny Road and Clopper Road (MD 117) in Germantown, there are (narrow) sidewalks, bus stops, and pedestrian signals, but no pavement markings or signs to alert drivers. Note that there are plans to build 104 townhouses in the former shopping center in the northeast corner of this intersection.
A fourth problem place is the more rural parts of the upcounty, where people do not feel safe walking to playgrounds and parks that are in walking distance. For example, Kings Valley Road in Damascus is a rural two-lane road, but because there are no shoulders or sidewalks, residents feel unsafe walking along the road, especially with children. And crossing Ridge Road/MD 27 on foot, on the way to Damascus Regional Park, is something only a committed pedestrian would dare to attempt.
Finally, participants pointed to the crossing in front of Gaithersburg City Hall in Gaithersburg, where drivers do not stop for pedestrians.
The county and state can do better
To make these and many other unsafe spots better for pedestrians, Maryland could change its law to make the use of a non-hands-free cell phone while driving primary offense instead of a secondary offense. Didone said that it is difficult for police officers to issue citations for cell phone use because they must first have another reason to pull the driver over, such as speeding. (Under Maryland law, texting while driving is a primary offense.)
Second, the county could put up signs at every school for lower speed limits during school hours. In Germantown, for example, there are such signs at Northwest High School and Seneca Valley High School. Didone said that enforcing these speed limits is difficult.
A third action would be repainting worn crosswalks. Dunckel commented that budget cuts had affected many maintenance issues, including crosswalk painting. He advised reporting such crosswalks through the county's 311 system, noting the service request number, and then following up a few weeks later if there were no response.
Finally, we must improve driver awareness as well as pedestrian awareness. Montgomery County does conduct such pedestrian safety campaigns. Enforcement, however, is more often aimed at pedestrians rather than drivers, though there are exceptions.
Dunckel and Didone both emphasized that the upcounty was not built for pedestrians and that, with over 5,000 lane miles of county roads, plus state highways, changes to improve pedestrian safety and mobility cannot happen overnight.
But that's all the more reason for the county to design complete streets from the get-go in new development in the upcounty, such as in supposed-to-be transit- and pedestrian-oriented Clarksburg. And it's all the more reason to keep pushing for change in the rest of the county as well.
Whether you care about parking, bicycling, walking, or all three, in DC, Maryland, or Virginia, there are some important events coming up, from a parking meeting tonight in Georgetown to a forum on upcounty Montgomery pedestrian safety to a bike rally in Richmond.
Talk parking in Georgetown: Tonight (Wednesday, January 16) is a Georgetown community meeting about parking. Topher Mathews reports Georgetown is likely to get some form of performance parking, but before it does, leaders want to hear from residents about their parking needs and desires. The meeting starts at 6:30 at Hardy Middle School.
Make walkable neighborhoods for everyone: Many DC neighborhoods like H Street are becoming desirable, walkable places, but also increasingly unaffordable for many. How can we ensure these places serve everyone, including long-time residents, rather than one small segment of the population?
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the most influential smart growth group in the Washington region, organized a panel with Chris Leinberger of Brookings, David Bowers from Enterprise Community Partners, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute's Ed Lazere. It's Tuesday, January 22, 6:30-8:30 (with some refreshments beginning at 6) at NCPC, 401 9th St NW, suite 500 North. RSVP here.
Talk pedestrians in upcounty: After a spate of pedestrian injuries and deaths in upcounty Montgomery, the Action Committee for Transit put together a forum on pedestrian safety at the Germantown Public Library, 2-4 pm on Saturday, January 26. Barbara McCann from the National Complete Streets Coalition will talk about the area's pedestrian safety problems and possible solutions.
Support biking in DC, Maryland: WABA is inviting folks to its offices on Wednesday, January 23 to talk about bicycle planning in DC and Maryland. The MoveDC initiative and a transportation planning process in Maryland will be collecting a lot of public input.
Stop by WABA's offices in Adams Morgan, 2599 Ontario Road NW, between 5:30 and 9:30 to talk with WABA staff and fellow cycling advocates about how to best weigh in during these processes and what to say when you do.
Support biking in Virginia: In the Commonwealth, the biggest bicycling issues are in the state legislature, where advocates are pushing for 6 specific bills that will make roads safer for cyclists. They are organizing a Bicycling Action Day in Richmond on Tuesday, January 29, starting at 10:30 at the "compass" plaza at Virginia Commonwealth University, followed by a bicycle ride to the state capitol for a rally.
Zoning update! And don't forget the Ward 4 zoning update information session, 6:30 tonight (again, Wednesday
MARC is proposing changes to the schedule on its Brunswick Line which significantly improves service to Montgomery County stations. The changes reflect new, recently-released boarding statistics for the line's 19 stations, statistics which can help them better serve commuters.
The data show, among other things, that Montgomery County stations account for roughly half of the line's eastbound riders; Germantown is one of MARC's big stations; riders go to destinations other than Rockville, Silver Spring, and Union Station; and Frederick branch ridership is not meeting projections, probably due to its infrequent service.
In addition, the Brunswick Line is a significant part of MARC's service; Brunswick and Point of Rocks ridership is big but smaller than Montgomery County's; and West Virginia has hundreds of people who ride the train despite infrequent service, long travel times, and ticket surcharges due to lack of state funding.
The Brunswick Line is arguably the most complicated of MARC's 3 lines. It's certainly the longest, running for 73 miles northwest through Montgomery and Frederick Counties and on to Martinsburg, West Virginia, with a 13.5-mile branch line to Frederick.
In addition, like MARC's Camden Line, it runs on tracks owned and controlled by freight carrier CSX. And it is constrained, despite growing ridership, because CSX refuses to allow MARC to add trains until the State of Maryland funds and builds a third track.
On weekday mornings, Brunswick Line trains bring people from Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia to jobs in Montgomery County, the District, and Alexandria and Arlington. On weekday afternoons and evenings, Brunswick Line trains take them home.
Meanwhile, there are big plans for the future along the line. Montgomery County is encouraging transit-oriented development on its part of the Brunswick Line. Frederick County is doing the same in and near Frederick. Even West Virginia is getting in on the act.
But good policy requires good data. So, where do the ridership data come from, and what do they show?
MARC's counting method
The data come from counts conducted on Wednesday, February 8, and Wednesday, March 14. MTA passed out the data at the monthly MARC Riders Advisory Council meeting on April 19.
On count days, conductors are supposed to count everybody who gets on and off their train at each station. The total number of people getting on and off each train is supposed to be equal.
The boarding numbers are misleadingly precise. That is, a count of 123 eastbound boardings on Frederick on March 14 does not mean that exactly 123 people got on. However, the numbers are still useful, as they are probably generally accurate, and anyway, they are the only numbers available.
The Brunswick Line overall
The Brunswick Line accounted for roughly 1/5 of total MARC boardings, while the Penn Line accounted for roughly 2/3, and the Camden Line accounted for the rest. Here is a comparison of Brunswick Line boardings to MARC's other two lines:
|MARC Line||Direction/Total||February 8||March 14|
|Brunswick Line||Eastbound (am)||3,898||4,102|
|Brunswick Line||Westbound (pm)||3,562||3,844|
On both days, there were more eastbound than westbound boardings on the Brunswick Line. This may be a precision error, or there may actually have been 300-some people each day who went to work on MARC and home a different way.
Montgomery County has 11 stations: Silver Spring, Kensington, Garrett Park, Rockville, Washington Grove, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, Germantown, Boyds, Barnesville, and Dickerson. Rockville and Silver Spring are major destination stations as well as origin stations.
9 daily trains in each direction currently make stops in Montgomery County. 2 eastbound and 4 westbound daily trains currently stop at all of the county stations.
Here are the boardings for Montgomery County:
|Direction/Total||Station/Total||February 8||March 14|
The data show three notable facts:
- Germantown is a big station, by MARC standards. It's the biggest station in Montgomery County and on the Brunswick Line overall, and it's bigger, in terms of one-way boardings, than all Camden Line stations and all but 4 Penn Line stations (Odenton, Halethorpe, BWI, and Penn Station). (This comparison excludes Union Station.)
- Rockville and Silver Spring are not the only destination stations in the county. People also ride MARC to jobs in Germantown, Metropolitan Grove, Gaithersburg, Garrett Park, and Kensington.
- On the March 14 count day, there were more eastbound boardings at Montgomery County stations than at all other stations on the Brunswick Line combined.
The Frederick branch
The Frederick branch has 2 stations: Monocacy and Frederick. The trains run on a 13.5-mile line that branches off just east of (and not connecting to) the Point of Rocks station. The State of Maryland built and owns most of the track. Currently, 3 eastbound trains leave from Frederick between 5:12 and 7:10 am, and 3 trains bound west for Frederick leave Union Station between 3:50 and 6:30 pm.
Here are the boarding numbers (all eastbound) on the Frederick Line:
|Station||February 8||March 14|
The Frederick branch opened in 2001 with 3 eastbound and 3 westbound trains. Projected ridership was 1,600 by 2005, with double the number of trains. Obviously, Frederick ridership is still much less; on the other hand, the number of trains is still the same as in 2001. That more frequent trains would increase ridership is a reasonable assumption.
Brunswick and Point of Rocks
There are also 2 stations in Frederick County that are not on the Frederick branch: Point of Rocks and Brunswick. Currently, 6 eastbound trains leave Brunswick between 5:00 and 7:40 am, and 6 daily westbound trains stopping at Brunswick and Point of Rocks leave Union Station between 3:35 and 7:15 pm.
Here are the boarding numbers at Point of Rocks and Brunswick:
|Direction/Total||Station/Total||February 8||March 14|
|Point of Rocks||448||485|
|Point of Rocks||1||2|
Brunswick is the second-biggest origin station on the Brunswick Line, and Point of Rocks is roughly tied for third with Gaithersburg.
The eastbound boarders include residents of Virginia and West Virginia as well as Maryland. However, there do not seem to be any data on how many.
Some of the westbound boardings may represent West Virginia residents who work in Kensington, Gaithersburg, Metropolitan Grove, or Germantown, and transfer from a Brunswick-bound train to the West Virginia super-express that leaves Union Station at 4:55 pm. In Montgomery County, the super-express stops only in Silver Spring and Rockville.
West Virginia has 3 stations: Harpers Ferry, Duffields, and Martinsburg. Currently, 2 eastbound trains leave Martinsburg at 5:25 and 6:30 am, and 3 trains bound west for Martinsburg leave Union Station between 4:55 and 7:15 pm.
Here are the boarding numbers (all eastbound) at the West Virginia stations:
|Station||February 8||March 14|
West Virginia no longer contributes to MARC funding. Eastern Panhandle legislators are trying to do something about this. Meanwhile, since 2009, West Virginia riders have paid a surcharge of $2 per one-way ticket, $20 per weekly ticket, and $80 per monthly ticket.
Upper Montgomery County does not have enough regional transit. Improving access to the Brunswick Line MARC train station in Boyds is one way for the county government to fix this.
The upper county is growing. Between 2000 and 2010, Clarksburg added 11,932 residents, and Germantown added 30,976.
And this is just the beginning. The Montgomery County government is planning for more growth. Clarksburg is to have 43,000 residents and millions of square feet of new retail and office space. Germantown is to become "the center of business and community life in upper Montgomery County."
Yet the demand for regional transit in the area already exceeds the supply.
The parking lots are full at the Germantown Transit Center, where there is a RideOn shuttle bus to the Shady Grove Metro Station. There is also an express bus to Bethesda with a higher fare, at the nearby Milestone Shopping Center park-and-ride in Germantown.
At the Germantown MARC train station, the parking lots are also full, and expansion will probably require construction of a parking garage. The planned Corridor Cities Transitway is as yet purely notional and would not go all the way into Clarksburg, ostensibly a transit-oriented community.
In 2006, the Maryland Transit Administration tried to close the Boyds station, along with another station on the Brunswick Line and two stations on the Camden Line. But community protest and emergency legislation introduced by State Senator Rob Garagiola kept all of the stations open. Three eastbound and four westbound trains now stop at Boyds daily.
At the moment, the parking lot has room for only 19-20 cars and is often full. The nearest bus stop is over a mile away. And pedestrians and bicyclists face high-speed commuter traffic on dark, winding roads with no shoulders.
But the county government could fix these problems with a few relatively simple improvements to bicycle, transit, and car access.
Improvements for bicycle access could include:
- Installing a bike rack. (MARC only allows folding bicycles on the train.)
- Adding bike facilities to MD-117 between the Boyds train station and the Germantown Community Center, consistent with the County bicycle master plan.
- Extending the planned bike paths along MD-121 in Clarksburg south from West Old Baltimore Road to MD-117.
Improvements for transit access could include:
- Extending RideOn bus #71 or #78 from western Germantown to the train station. (Indeed, there are already Boyds MARC riders who live in the neighborhoods served by these buses.)
- Extending RideOn bus #75 from Clarksburg to the train station, when the planned commercial and office space at Cabin Branch is built. This would connect Clarksburg residents to the Boyds train station, as well as people who live further west along the Brunswick Line to jobs in Clarksburg.
Improvements for car access could include:
- Leasing spaces in a church parking lot 500 feet south of the station. However, people would have to walk along a narrow, dark road on which a sidewalk is not allowed.
- Buying or leasing a vacant quarter-acre lot next to the station (once occupied by a house a freight train derailed on in 1986) and/or a vacant half-acre lot across the tracks (where the station was until the 1950s).
- Leasing land for parking on the future site of the Boyds Local Park, 500 feet east of the station. The lot would be integrated into the park, if the park were developed. In addition, putting in a bicycle/pedestrian crossing at the intersection of MD-117 and MD-121, as well as a sidewalk from the intersection to the station. This crossing would also improve the Hoyles Mill trail connection from South Germantown Recreation Park to Black Hill Regional Park, next to the future Clarksburg development at Cabin Branch.
Parking lot expansion would include a bus turnaround, as well as pervious surfaces because Boyds is in the Agricultural Reserve. Also, as a historic district, Boyds probably could not accommodate more than 75 parking spaces. This emphasizes the need to improve non-car as well as car access.
Yes, there would probably be objections that Boyds would no longer be a "home in the country," that people should just drive 5 miles west to the Barnesville station or 3 miles east to the Germantown station, that stopping at Boyds makes the trip from Brunswick or Frederick longer, and that small stations are inefficient and take away from service to the big stations.
However, the current and planned future growth in Clarksburg and Germantown will inevitably make Boyds less rural, regardless of train station access. If people can get to the train more conveniently, more people will choose the train. Stopping at Boyds adds only a minute or two, which is not a meaningful difference for a 90-minute trip. And future expansion on the Brunswick Line will allow MARC to improve service to both big and small stations, by running more expresses and locals.
Of course, these small improvements by themselves cannot solve the big problem of insufficient regional transit in the upper county. But, together with lots of other small improvements, they would be a good start.
In Part 3, we looked at MARC expansion proposals, which would increase transit service in the I-270 corridor for much less than the $3.8 billion the Maryland State Highway Administration wants to spend to widen the freeway. The Action Committee for Transit came up with a more specific dream package of transit proposals, which I turned into a map.
This map includes the following:
- Extension of the Red Line to Germantown. The Red Line would use the I-370 and I-270 right-of-way from Shady Grove to Germantown, then end in an underground station at Germantown Town Center.
- All-day, bidirectional MARC service to Frederick. A new station near White Flint, to serve the planned, dense, transit-oriented development in that area. And through-routing of MARC trains down at least to King Street.
- A MARC extension to Hagerstown, using an old and abandoned right-of-way.
- The Corridor Cities Transitway, using the less circuitous original alignment and an extension to Clarksburg Town Center. With the Red Line, riders from north of Germantown wouldn't have to ride all the way through the office parks west of Gaithersburg to get to Rockville, Bethesda or DC.
- A streetcar along Route 355 (Rockville Pike/Hungerford Dr/Frederick Rd) from the White Flint Mall to Gaithersburg. It would stop at the various Metro stations, Montgomery College, Gaithersburg MARC, and Lakeforest Mall before turning west to a new Red Line station and Metropolitan Grove MARC, where it would connect to the CCT.
According to ACT's calculations, all of this, including light rail on both the CCT and the 355 line, would cost less than the current proposal to widen the freeway and build a bus rapid transit CCT. Plus, Maryland could build these individually instead of all-or-nothing.
Should Maryland execute this plan? It depends. If the state is intent on spending $4 billion in the 270 corridor, then this is far superior. Drivers would benefit, too, because this transit would shift enough trips off of I-270 that the existing road could handle the remaining auto trips.
However, this area isn't the best place to put so many jobs and so much infrastructure at all. Eastern Montgomery County has been waiting for its transit for a long time. There are many development opportunities at Wheaton and Glenmont, and plenty of parts of Silver Spring still eager for the promised revitalization. Matt and Reza's map showed how underutilized our existing infrastructure is in the east, especially in Prince George's County. Between the planned development at White Oak and White Flint, Montgomery could already accommodate its expected growth for the next 20 years without a lot of new jobs way up there. There's plenty of room for biotech growth in Baltimore, too, and they have an ambitious transit plan of their own.
The 270 widening is a bad idea for two reasons: it increases auto dependence, and shifts the epicenter of jobs and housing westward away from the developed part of the region and the state. An all-transit alternative would accomplish all of the mobility goals in the corridor for the same or less money. But the even smarter planning would put some of the transit and a little bit of the growth over on this side of the county, and put more in the other, better, and needier areas.
- Part 1: Planning Board staff latest to ignore better way for Gaithersburg
- Part 2: Old, tired formulas generate old, disastrous solutions
- Part 3: What else can you get for $3.8 billion?
- Part 4: Why emulate Tysons' existing road network?
- Part 5: What you callin' a city?
Planning officials are continuing their blind rush toward building cookie-cutter, sprawling, traffic-generating development patterns in and around Gaithersburg. We've already discussed how SHA only really considers more lanes as a solution to congestion on I-270, and the Planning Board only considered suburban office-park density for the JHU Belward Farm development. Now, the Planning Board staff has issued their recommendations for the area, which disregard everything the region has learned about development since World War II.
The Planning Board staff recommends widening I-270 by up to four more lanes, two in each direction. Between Clarksburg and Rockville, they suggest adding four express toll lanes, which would make I-270 a full 12 lanes wide, possibly even with extra space to grow to 14. North of Clarksburg, they recommend two reversible toll lanes, for a total of six lanes.
As for the Corridor Cities Transitway, which makes this a "multi-modal" corridor study, they recommend using Bus Rapid Transit on a circuitous route, winding through many far-flung office parks between Gaithersburg and Rockville. They also dropped two planned CCT stations, in Gaithersburg and Germantown.
The I-270 widening would require demolishing many new townhouses, which represent some of the densest housing that's been built in this area, to fuel more sprawling, detached housing development in Clarksburg and north to Frederick County. Meanwhile, estimates predict this version of the Corridor Cities Transitway to carry fewer than half the riders of the Purple Line. Despite JHU's claims that many of its workers would take transit, this plan is just a recipe for a slow, poorly used transit line and huge numbers of new auto trips.
This isn't what Montgomery County needs. The county should look instead to the greater foresight its own leaders had in past decades, when it focused much of its growth in creating new, walkable, truly transit-oriented places like Bethesda and Silver Spring. If Montgomery County really wants to develop the Rockville-Gaithersburg-Germantown corridor, it should instead plan to enhance the existing MD-355 corridor with mixed-use, walkable development and high-quality transit, and use congestion pricing to manage demand on I-270. That would push housing and job growth onto the corridor, where residents can use transit, instead of forcing them to drive from Clarksburg and beyond.
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