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Rockville, Gaithersburg races involve transit and growth

Voters in Rockville and Gaithersburg will choose at-large members of their city councils tomorrow. The choices voters make could affect how much these cities encourage and welcome development around transit and transit around existing development.


Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

Rockville has several councilmembers, including Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, who rode into office 2 years ago on a platform partly based on slowing down growth in the dense core of this small city. She had successfully kept away a mixed-income housing development within walking distance of the Metro.

The Gazette endorsed Piotr Gajewski to unseat Marcuccio tomorrow. Unfortunately, Gajewski voted with Marcuccio on one of the Rockville council's most embarrassing moves this year: a recommendation to reroute the Corridor Cities Transitway away from King Farm.

This development, close to Shady Grove, was explicitly built around a central boulevard with a very wide median that could accommodate a light rail line in the future. Yet some residents afraid of a transit line have organized against bringing the line where it was always meant to go. Marcuccio and Gajewski both voted to ask the state to reroute the line.

Gajewski, who lives in King Farm, said the line would provide "no benefits." It's strange to think that a quick ride to the Metro in one direction and jobs in the other wouldn't benefit residents. Fortunately, the state isn't heeding this bad advice.

Patch contributor and lobbyist Richard Parsons wrote a useful summary of the growth and transit issues in Rockville. He says that few candidates in either city want to reform the damaging Adequate Public Facilities laws that hinder walkable development while encouraging sprawl. These laws, designed to ensure development doesn't overcrowd schools or roads, actually end up just stopping growth in the core and pushing it to less dense outer areas which will create more traffic and a need to build schools in the future.

Parsons' summary of Gaithersburg's races, on the other hand, are a lot more suspect because he was previous paid by Johns Hopkins to promote their so-called "Science City" development. The Gaithersburg council opposed the project at its proposed size, and Parsons criticizes this decision without disclosing his conflict of interest.

2 challengers to the Gaithersburg incumbents are criticizing that decision, which Parsons applauds on behalf of "those who want to see a more aggressive approach to job creation and transit-oriented development." "Science City" could have been true transit-oriented development by locating around Shady Grove or other underdeveloped Metro station areas; instead, Johns Hopkins brought enormous pressure and lobbying dollars to approve widely-scattered "towers in the park" office parks, connected by a winding bus route, and stamped as "transit-oriented development."

Gaithersburg voters should make up their own minds, but be wary of any recommendations around "Science City" from anyone who made some real money in exchange for promoting this lousy project.

Transit


Rockville City Council votes to reroute CCT out of town

Rockville's City Council voted Tuesday to ask the Maryland Transit Administration to move the Corridor Cities Transitway out of King Farm, a new urban community that was designed around the proposed line, after residents complained about its potential impact on their homes.


King Farm Boulevard was designed for the CCT. Photo by the author.

Both Montgomery County and the City of Rockville planned a dense, mixed-use community at the King Farm site for decades before the community finally opened in 1997. Today, the 430-acre development has been recognized by both the Congress for New Urbanism and the EPA as a good example of walkable, transit-oriented design.

The neighborhood has 3,400 homes, a "village center" with apartments over shops, and a substantial office district where the Department of Health and Human Services is considering relocating. King Farm Boulevard, the neighborhood's main street, connects all of these uses; from the beginning, it was designed to carry cars in addition to transit vehicles. Two stops on the CCT are planned within King Farm.

The Corridor Cities Transitway's winding route has long been criticized by urbanists for being too circuitous, though plans to bring the line through existing and emerging activity centers like Crown Farm and "Science City" will make the line more effective and useful to riders. Unlike past adjustments, routing the CCT around King Farm would hurt the project, avoiding thousands of people who would otherwise live within walking distance of the line.

Some activists may be hoping that if they can stymie the CCT, they might stop Science City, officially called the Great Seneca Science Corridor (formerly Gaithersburg West). When that controversial master plan for the area was approved, it included staging requirements that Montgomery County build the CCT before most development can proceed. The possibility of having many workers use transit was one of the arguments in favor.

However, there's enough momentum and muscle behind Science City at this point that if the CCT doesn't happen, the Council is more likely to simply waive the staging requirements. That will just mean even more traffic on the area's roads.

Joan Hannan founded the Coalition for the Preservation of King Farm after realizing that transit vehicles could run in front of her condominium on King Farm Boulevard. She claims that the builder never told her about the CCT and fear that it could force the closure of through-streets in the neighborhood.

The Gazette reports that seven people spoke against the CCT in King Farm at Tuesday's City Council meeting, though the online petition Hannan is circulating has just one signature.

Nonetheless, four out of five City Council members were swayed by opponents' arguments. Rockville Central reports that Councilmember Piotr Gajewski, a King Farm resident, said the Corridor Cities Transitway would give "no benefits" to the neighborhood while being "incredibly disruptive."

Another Councilmember, Mark Pierzchala, made a motion to suggest moving the line to the middle of I-370, which would bypass King Farm entirely. Only Councilmember John Britton, who noted that the Corridor Cities Transitway will serve King Farm residents going to the future Science City and other destinations in the upcounty, voted against the route change.

Meanwhile, residents in the New Urban community of Kentlands in Gaithersburg, to which King Farm is often compared, not only support light-rail for the CCT but have also gotten the MTA to consider rerouting the line into their neighborhood.

Rockville officials should look beyond the immediate, knee-jerk anti-transit views of a few King Farm officials. The whole city will be far better off with the CCT giving people a real alternative to driving right through Rockville, whether from communities like King Farm to jobs downcounty and in DC, or from points south and east to the new jobs in Science City and elsewhere.

Transit


MTA considers a better Corridor Cities Transitway

Three potential alignment changes for the Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed light rail or BRT line running north from Shady Grove Metro through Gaithersburg, will let the line reach the walkable neighborhoods near its route and substantially increase ridership at relatively little cost.


A bus traveling part of the future CCT route. Photo from EPA.

In 2006, planners ignored the many walkable, urban neighborhoods near the route and instead opting to locate stations near large parking lots. Around the same time, Montgomery County's Action Committee For Transit proposed a U-shaped realignment that would have solved those problems, but would have required a fairly dramatic re-planning effort.

To their credit, MTA heard the criticism and responded. They are now strongly considering a series of three realignments that would dramatically improve access to walkable destinations and increase expected ridership on the line.


Three proposed realignments shown in green, red, and yellow.

The first two realignments, those shown in green and yellow, would more directly serve dense, walkable, mixed-use developments. The green one would move to run through the center and densest part of Crown Farm, a massive TOD-to-be. The yellow alignment would provide a station at Kentlands, the famous New Urbanist development.

The red alignment will more directly serve the so-called Science City. Although that won't be a particularly walkable destination, it is dense with jobs and will provide a significant boost in expected ridership.

All together, these three changes are expected to increase ridership from somewhere between 21,000-30,000 daily (depending on mode and other factors) to between 29,000-42,000 daily, at a cost of about $100 million on top of the estimates for the original alignment. That's such a phenomenally good deal that it would set the Corridor Cities Transitway as one of the most cost-effective projects in the pipeline in the entire country, therefore positioning it excellently to receive federal funds.

MTA should adopt all three realignments. Each one improves transit access to important destinations over the original route, and each improves Maryland's chances of receiving federal funds.

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