Greater Greater Washington

Posts about MCDOT

Roads


A new highway would improve access to walkable White Flint, but for whom?

The Maryland State Highway Administration wants to build a new highway in White Flint, one of the region's most celebrated transit-oriented redevelopment efforts.


Project map by the author from SHA base map.

White Flint supposedly needs the grade-separated highway to improve access to new developments and the Metro station, bring down congestion, and improve safety. But how well will the project really do these things, and for whom?

The highway in question is Montrose Parkway East, a planned $119m, 1.6 mile divided highway running between Rockville Pike to the west and Viers Mill Road to the east, paralleling the existing Randolph Road, just north of the White Flint Metro station.


Base image from Google Maps.

Montrose Parkway has been on the drawing board in various iterations since it was originally conceived in the 1960's as part of a mostly-mothballed Outer Beltway. After years of controversy, Montrose Parkway West opened in 2010 between Tildenwood Drive and Rockville Pike (MD-355).

The highway would "improve" access, but only for people in cars

In engineering-speak, the project would "improve" access for though-traveling motorists by cutting the number of lights they encounter between Rockville Pike and Viers Mill Road.

But those are the only people whose access would "improve." The project would bring a massive single-point urban interchange (SPUI) to Parklawn Drive. This kind of interchange is the exact opposite of walkable and transit-oriented, which is what's being cultivated elsewhere in White Flint.


Proposed SPUI interchange at Parklawn Drive and the proposed Montrose Parkway East. Diagram from SHA.

According to emails MCDOT (to whom SHA would eventually turn the project over) has exchanged with Friends of White Flint, the agency supports modifying the exact layout of the SPUI to support the community's desire to see a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly solution. That's encouraging. The project proposal also incorporates ten-foot mixed-use path on one side and a five-foot sidewalk on the other.

But any intersection and highway of this scale, regardless of the exact configuration, presents a major challenge to knitting a walkable urban fabric. The large scale of the highway and interchange would create a visual and geographic barrier that would discourage walking across such a long distance to reach destinations on the other side.

SHA built a similar intersection a block west from where the SPUI would be built,at Rockville Pike and Montrose, in 2011. There, missing sidewalks force pedestrians to walk on narrow shoulders and across dirt paths, while the crosswalks that do exist are placed at the foot of high-speed on/off ramps.


Pedestrian conditions at the existing interchange between Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway. Images from Google Streetview.

Congestion is declining, even without a parkway

SHA project documents estimate that average daily traffic along the existing Randolph Road will reach 42,000 vehicles by 2020, and suggest that the capacity increases the parkway brings would help mitigate that projected congestion.

Leaving aside that it's widely understood that giving roads more capacity just leads to more people driving on them, traffic in the area is currently declining. SHA's own traffic counts for Randolph show that traffic there has decreased by 32% since 2002, falling to 23,052 in 2014.


Graph by the author.

Part of what SHA wants is to improve a railroad crossing

The project's purported safety benefits relate to an existing at-grade rail crossing on Randolph Road.

The new road would divert much of today's existing traffic away from the existing at-grade CSX railway crossing at Randolph Street, to a new above-grade crossing on the Parkway. But it would leave open the existing at-grade railroad crossing at Randolph Street, leaving open the possibility of collisions.

More to the point, an MNCPPC analysis found the number of railroad accidents at the existing intersection was negligible compared to the number of collisions between cars.

The highway mindset is still common

This isn't the first time the State Highway Administration has tried to push through plans for over-engineered roads in White Flint. Last year, the agency provoked an outcry when it sought to widen Old Georgetown Road, backing down only when the County Council threatened to pull funding for the project.

While this gulf between projections and reality may be jarring, it is typical. Transportation and land-use patterns are in the midst of a structural shift, one which many transportation agencies have been unable or unwilling to acknowledge.

The White Flint community supports walkable transit-oriented development, not highways.

Many local residents don't want to see Montrose East move forward. Residents, property owners and elected officials in the White Flint area have consistently supported the area's redevelopment into a walkable, transit-oriented activity center, and are organizing with the help of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Also, Friends of White Flint is organizing an effort to make the project at-grade and walkable.

Montrose East would be a major blow to the walkable, urbanist White Flint vision. Not only would the project extend a physical barrier through the heart of the community, county tax dollars would fund it, at a time when the county cannot afford to advance the Rapid Transit System and is laying off teachers to close a $50m budget gap.

MCDOT's comment period for the project closes this Thursday.

Transit


Rural Montgomery residents write their own transportation proposal

Boyds, a rural town in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve with a MARC station, is a commuting destination for the residents of Clarksburg, a rapidly growing town just north. To handle increasing traffic and make transit more accessible, Boyds residents want to move both a central road and the MARC station.


Boyds, Maryland today. Note that the MARC station's location is off; it's actually one block west of the Clarksburg/Clopper intersection. Base image from Google Maps.

Clarksburg is transit-oriented development without transit. 1994 plans included comprehensive regional and local bus and rail networks. Today, Clarksburg residents only have two weekday-only bus routes and a circuitous trial shuttle to the Germantown MARC station.

Increasing numbers of people are driving through Boyds from homes in Clarksburg and Frederick County to jobs in Germantown and the I-270 corridor. This leads to traffic back-ups at the bottleneck in Boyds where Clarksburg Road meets MD 117 (Barnesville and Clopper Roads) in a double intersection separated by an underpass.

Soon, Clarksburg's Cabin Branch section will have 2,386 housing units, an outlet mall, and an outdoor amphitheater. The adjacent Ten Mile Creek will have 500 houses. The Boyds MARC station would be reachable with a short trip south on Clarksburg Road.

But there are no buses to the Boyds MARC station, and its 15-space parking lot is often full.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is currently studying a bus turnaround and some 40 additional parking spaces for the Boyds MARC station. Their favored site for both may be the future Boyds Local Park, which sits south of the intersection of Clopper Road and Clarksburg Road and a block downhill from the train station. But would the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), who owns the park, agree to that? The M-NCPPC wants to put cricket fields in the park.

Also, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is studying traffic signals and/or roundabouts to speed car travel through the intersection-underpass-intersection bottleneck in Boyds. The results of the study may be ready in late spring.

While the Boyds community has asked MCDOT for improvements to the MARC station for years, residents are wary of the suburbanizing effects of MCDOT's and SHA's ideas on an area whose master plans designate it as rural and historic.

Boyds residents propose their own possible solution

In an effort to participate in the planning process, the Boyds Civic Association has asked SHA, the Maryland Transit Administration, MCDOT, and M-NCPPC to study a two-part proposal.

The first part is to relocate part of Clopper Road either over or under the railroad tracks. This would form a single, modern, more efficient intersection between Clopper, Clarksburg Road, and Barnesville Road. It would also keep traffic away from the Boyds Historic District and out of Boyds Local Park.


The proposed new locations for the MARC station and Clopper Road. The intersection could have a roundabout or traffic signals. Image from the author.

The second part is to move the MARC station from its current location in the Boyds Historic District to a three-acre industrial storage lot just to the east on Clopper Road next to the proposed new bridge or underpass.

The new station would be much larger, with space for 300 cars and for buses that would run between Clarksburg, Boyds, and Germantown. The additional parking would also delay the need for a parking garage at Germantown, the next station to the east on the Brunswick Line.

SHA's traffic study and MCDOT's park-and-ride study are short-term plans. In contrast, the Boyds Civic Association's long-term, comprehensive idea, if feasible, would both remove the traffic bottleneck in Boyds and greatly expand car and bus access to the Boyds MARC train station. Boyds residents hope that their idea is a vision for the area that everyone can share.

Public Spaces


Change is coming to the Montgomery DOT. Will things get better for residents?

Montgomery County leaders and residents want walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, but the county's department of transportation has a reputation for putting cars over everything else. Now that two of the agency's top officials have departed, will new leadership bring the department in line with a changing county?


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

MCDOT's former director Art Holmes retired at the end of last year. Holmes had brought little vision or leadership to the department. Instead, most of the on-the-ground decisions fell to Deputy Director for Transportation Policy Edgar Gonzalez, a dyed-in-the-wool champion of designing roads for more and more cars to the exclusion of all else.

Last month, county officials announced that Gonzalez, too, was leaving the department, to become deputy director of the Department of Liquor Control. Gary Erenrich, who ran the county's transit programs, will fill the post on an acting basis, reporting to MCDOT's acting director, Al Roshdieh.

Gonzalez's legacy: Lanes yes, walkability no

While an accomplished planner, Gonzalez prioritized building of highways over other priorities. He relentlessly pushed to extend the Midcounty Highway (M-83) from Gaithersburg to Clarksburg over protests from both neighbors and county councilmembers. MCDOT even protested a bill from councilmembers Hans Riemer and Roger Berliner that would require narrow, low-speed street designs in urban areas like Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Despite Montgomery's vision for a walkable, urban White Flint, Gonzalez fought the plan every step of the way, pushing an extension of Montrose Parkway through the area, and resisting calls from residents to make Old Georgetown Road less of a traffic sewer.

A change in leadership is an opportunity to bring the county's transportation policy in line with its planning and economic development policies, which promote walkable neighborhoods around transit hubs.

At a time when the county's fastest growing areas are near Metro stations and driving rates have plateaued, that only makes sense. New leadership is a signal to anyone who supports sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit that MCDOT is ready to work with them.

Has MCDOT turned over a new leaf?

To be fair, the department has made some big strides in recent years. Last fall, Montgomery County got its first protected bikeway, on Woodglen Drive in White Flint, and the DOT decided to allow the narrower, slower-speed design for Old Georgetown Road than the county's plans originally called for. After a years-long fight with parents at Wilson Wims Elementary School in Clarksburg, MCDOT agreed to install a crosswalk across a busy road.

New director Al Roshdieh has expressed an interest in focusing on pedestrian and bike infrastructure and wants to reexamine all of the county's policies. He wants to combat the perception (though rightly earned) that the agency is "pro-car."

But there are signs that elements of the old, highway-focused culture remains. Roshdieh insists that the county's proposed bus rapid transit line on Route 29 won't work without building highway interchanges. And though Roshdieh said there isn't room for new roads, the department recently recommended building the most environmentally-destructive route for Midcounty Highway.

Change might not come all at once, but neither are merely small changes (or just words and no changes) enough. Roshdieh is evidently angling to become permanent director, and he'll need to take bold action to fix an agency deeply out of touch with a county that's changed significantly since the 1990s.

Meanwhile, it seems a little ironic that Gonzalez, who spent much of his career pushing for transportation and land use patterns which force people to drive, now is in charge of liquor. Car dependence all but forces people to drive home from restaurants and bars where they want to drink, while people who can walk or take transit home need not worry about driving drunk. Gonzalez will now be in charge of mitigating a problem he himself exacerbated in the past.

Roads


White Flint's holiday gift: a safe Old Georgetown Road

White Flint residents were frustrated to hear that Maryland transportation officials wanted to push a wide, eight-lane road through the new urban center they anticipated. But on Christmas Eve, they got an early holiday gift: Old Georgetown Road will get to be a boulevard after all.


Old Georgetown Road and Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Montgomery County's award-winning master plan for White Flint, approved in 2010, would transform an aging commercial strip corridor into a new downtown. A new street grid, complete with bike and pedestrian infrastructure, was a central element in the plan, which specified the number of auto and bike lanes, target speeds and other details for new and redesigned roads.

But community leaders, advocates, and the business community alike were distraught to learn that state transportation officials required that Old Georgetown Road be built wider than what the master plan dictated and without bicycle and pedestrian paths. They said the road needed to handle more car traffic from a redeveloped White Flint.

So it was welcome news when County Executive Ike Leggett said in a December 24th press release that the county's department of transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration had agreed to reduce the number of lanes on Old Georgetown Road. Instead of eight lanes, the new street would have five, with two through-lanes in each direction and a shared left-turn lane at a new intersection with Hoya Street.


Comparison of the two cross-sections. Rendering from of Friends of White Flint. Click for larger version showing more of the road.

The decrease in lanes will significantly improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by reducing crosswalk distances, and will also allow space for on-street bike lanes and an off-street shared use path between Hoya Street and Grand Park Avenue, as called for by the master plan.

In the press release, Leggett said, "I want to thank our partners at the State Highway Administration for working with MCDOT and my office in approving a forward thinking solution that helps us reach our goal of creating a more walkable and bikable community in White Flint--right from the start."

While advocates and community members are thrilled by this development, there's a feeling that this battle shouldn't need to be won street by street. Behind this success story lies the continuing tyranny of traffic models, which are notoriously wrong in their predictions but still used to prevent local jurisdictions from building the walkable places they want. Montgomery County, like most places around the country, has been witnessing a decline in driving, yet the models continue to predict otherwise.

Even in White Flint, where a rare alliance of community leaders, elected officials, advocates, and the business community has rallied for years around a vision for a walkable community, Montgomery County was on the brink of building yet another dangerous eight-lane road through their showpiece redevelopment, against their wishes, due to the state's requirements to deal with likely incorrect traffic forecasts.

Thankfully, Montgomery County's executive and councilmembers have been supportive of a new approach, and it appears that MCDOT's new acting director Al Roshdieh is on board as well.

"We must continue to transform our transportation infrastructure to be even more transit-oriented, bikable and walkable," he said in a recent interview, adding that he "plan[s] to take a hard look at all of MCDOT's policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with our emphasis on smart growth principles."

When people are clearly driving less and desiring to live in walkable places, it's well past time to remove the antiquated, auto-oriented barriers in place that continue to limit the creation of healthy, sustainable, inclusive places like White Flint.

Roads


White Flint is at a crossroads, and traffic engineers should follow the path the community chose

Montgomery County leaders and residents have worked for years to re-plan White Flint as a pedestrian-friendly urban place. Now that redevelopment is finally beginning, county traffic engineers insist on suburban-style road designs rather than complete streets. In this letter to the editor, County Councilmember Roger Berliner demands the Department of Transportation honor the community's urban plans.

Our county is at a crossroads. Literally and metaphorically. There has been a long-running battle over how many lanes of traffic should be built on the portion of Old Georgetown Road that runs in front of the new Pike & Rose development just west of 355 and one block from Metro.

On a certain level, you kind of shrug and say, really, is this so terribly important? And the answer is a most definitive YES.


Old Georgetown Road and Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Indeed, for many of us, this fight over the number of lanes is about the future direction of our county. It is about honoring the hard work our Planning Board and County Council put into transforming a classic suburban strip mall into the new White Flint, a huge boon to our residents. It is about old school transportation thinking versus new school.

It is about making multimodal transportation options—walking, biking, transit and driving—attractive, rather than just maximizing the throughput of cars. It is about placemaking, about being "context sensitive," about supporting the experience of consumers enjoying the amenities of one of the hottest new developments in the region.

It is a fight that has been going on for years, most of the time under the surface, and occasionally, as now, boiling over into the public domain—where it belongs.

And here is what it isn't about. It isn't about the developer, Federal Realty, who had the confidence from the beginning to be the first real mover in White Flint, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, and producing what everyone acknowledges to be a top-of-the-line mixed-use project, and who most definitely has skin in the game. And it isn't about the Friends of White Flint, who have been vigilant and valiant guardians of the vision our planners and Council have held for White Flint.

Our vision of this portion of White Flint is unambiguous. It is to reflect the best of transit-oriented development and the new urbanism. Bike lanes and shared use paths were part of the plan. And the plans being developed by the Executive Branch would eliminate them in order to facilitate eight lanes of traffic. That is not the plan or the vision we worked so hard to adopt.

So why is the vision at risk? The threat of worse traffic. Using old-school and debunked methodologies, assumptions at odds with reality, and not reflecting the use of the new street grid, these engineers maintain that intersections will fail. And if you use the new methodologies, more realistic assumptions, and disperse cars throughout the new grid that is to be created, the intersections don't fail.

Our planners and council understood the traffic implications of this plan. And that is why our council insisted on advancing the construction of Hoya Street, the four lane street that will connect southbound 355 with Old Georgetown at Executive Blvd. It is a much better route for those traveling north or south via Old Georgetown. With that option available and the new grid of streets we are creating, we don't need to sacrifice bike lanes, pedestrian facilities or the new urbanism experience we are trying to create.

County officials say our hands are tied by the state who will insist on eight lanes on their state road. State officials, as recently as last week, told me that they are following the county's lead. And so our county must lead. Strongly. And regrettably, none of the people who have been involved in this struggle from the beginning believe we have fulfilled that fundamental responsibility.

The County Executive, in response to the hundreds of community members who have written expressing their alarm over the threat to our vision of White Flint, framed the issue as "not if, but when" we are able to realize our vision. The traffic engineers of course argue for eight lanes for now and reduce it later if conditions permit. The rest of us want that scenario reversed—get it right the first time.

We can always add more lanes at a later date, but if we don't build the bike lanes and shared use paths at the onset, we will undermine both our ability to meet our own non-auto mode-share goals in this area and our vision of White Flint.

I have been in the midst of this struggle from the beginning as the district council&why;member, chair of our transportation committee, and active member during our consideration and passage of the White Flint Sector Plan. I, for one, am not about to go quietly into the night on this fight. It is way too important. And make no mistake about it—a lot is riding on whether we realize our collective vision of the future of White Flint and our county.

Author's note: In the interest of full disclosure, several weeks ago I put down a deposit on one of the apartments in the Pike & Rose development.

Roads


How a road in White Flint is like a ski area

White Flint's master plan calls for a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly road. The Montgomery County DOT (MCDOT) is disregarding that plan and says it can only build such a road once traffic declines. That's a backward way to look at changing travel patterns.


Photo by Owen Richard on Flickr.

Would you build safe ski trails only after novice skiers showed up?

People for Bikes uses an excellent ski area metaphor to explain why creating a complete grid of safe walking and cycling infrastructure is so critical. Especially in suburban areas, bicycling and walking most places would be considered a black diamond adventure, not for the faint of heart.

Ski areas design their trails so that the vast majority of people who are not expert skiers can find a safe and easy way all the way to the bottom. No ski area would build only black diamond runs and then announce that it would be happy to create some green circles, but only once there are already a lot of novice skiers on the mountain. The novice skiers only come when there are appropriate trails for them. The same goes for walkers and cyclists.

DC has proven that changes to street designs cause shifts in travel patterns. Its transportation department has invested heavily in a network of new bike lanes and protected cycle tracks in recent years. Just last week, new census figures showed that the number of bike commuters in DC shot up from 2.2% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2013, placing DC second only to Portland.

DC didn't wait to prove that there were a lot of cyclists on a particular road before making it safe for cyclists. Instead, it made cycling more attractive, and the cyclists showed up.


Old Georgetown Road in White Flint. Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Road designs drive change; they don't need to wait for change

The White Flint Sector Plan, which came out of a long planning process, extensive public input, and county council action, clearly calls for a four-lane road with bike lanes, sidewalks, and a shared-use path that's part of a Recreation Loop.

County transportation officials are instead planning road that's eight lanes if you count block-long turn lanes, with no bike lanes and no Recreation Loop path. They say state rules require a wider road in White Flint until traffic levels decline, when they could rebuild the road to match the plan.

The logic of re-building a road twice makes little sense. If this is really a state requirement, then White Flint provides the perfect opportunity to change or get an exception to whatever regulation prevents the safe street design promised to residents.

The goal of the White Flint sector plan is unmistakable. The first sentence reads, "this Sector Plan vision establishes policies for transforming an auto-oriented suburban development pattern into an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit."

More specifically, the plan aims to increase the number of residents getting around without a car from 26% to 50%. It should go without saying that the county will never reach those goals if it spends its limited dollars making it more difficult for people to walk and bike.

But MCDOT and the state are focusing first and foremost on moving cars. If land use changes and a better-connected road grid also make car traffic decline, they maybe they will redesign the roads to accommodate those pedestrians.

This is the wrong approach. The road design inherently encourages or discourages people from walking or biking. When people see a brand new, wide open road, they see it's easier to drive and are more likely to do so. When they know there's a wide, safe path all the way to Metro, they are more likely to opt to bike or walk. Conversely, when they have to cross eight lanes of hot pavement only to walk on a dirt path where the sidewalk is missing or there's just a narrow sidewalk next to high speed traffic, they make that choice only if they have to.

As White Flint community leader Ed Reich wrote, "I know that having to cross a road that wide will be a substantial deterrent to going to Pike & Rose, despite the great restaurants and shops starting to open there."

Travel patterns already are changing

While it's a mistake to wait for patterns to shift before making roads safe for non-auto users, the patterns in fact are already shifting anyway.

In the last ten years, Montgomery County added 100,000 residents while driving leveled off and started to decline.


Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't. Graph from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Meanwhile, as more people have begun to move into the White Flint area, Census data shows that already 34% percent of residents in the surrounding census tract are commuting by transit, carpooling, walking, or cycling, and 58% own one or zero cars.

White Flint can transform into a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented area. But to do that, it needs roads that match this vision, rather than ones that hold the vision back.

Roads


Montgomery DOT ignores promises to the community and sabotages the White Flint plan

When the White Flint Sector Plan was adopted in 2010 after years of collaboration between residents, property owners, county officials, and civic leaders, it was hailed as a triumph of responsible, sustainable development. Now, county engineers are poised to undo years of work by pushing through a road design that does not include any of the elements the plan promised the community.


MCDOT's proposed design for Old Georgetown Road would make it even more unfriendly for pedestrians than it is today. Image from Google Maps.

Transforming White Flint into a vibrant, walkable area requires balancing new development, which brings growth and amenities, with the pressure to move through traffic around the area. It does this with a multi-modal transportation network that diffuses traffic across a new street grid, known as the Western Workaround. That will relieve traffic on Rockville Pike while providing safe and attractive ways to get around on foot, bike or transit.

Because these elements are so important to the plan's success, it prescribes specific details including the number of lanes, speed limits, and the location and character of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. For Old Georgetown Road between Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike the plan is unequivocal: it should have four lanes (two in each direction), on-street bike lanes in both directions, sidewalks and a broad shared-use path, which forms part of a sector-wide Recreation Loop.


Planned bike lanes and walking/cycling paths in White Flint. Map from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The County Planning Board and County Council both passed this plan, with all its specifics, and the community overwhelmingly supported it. Despite all this, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) designed a road that has no bike lanes, no shared-use path, and widens the road to one that is effectively eight lanes wide, and has nearly advanced that version of the project to the 70% design stage.

This will create an Old Georgetown Road that is even less safe for bikers and pedestrians than it is today. It also leaves a gaping hole in the Recreation Loop, one of the area's signature planned amenities.

MCDOT splits hairs to excuse a dangerous design

In trying to defend their plan, MCDOT officials argue that their design technically contains only two travel lanes in each direction. The additional lanes, which extend nearly the entire length of the roadway, are "merely turning lanes."

This obfuscation may hold water for traffic engineers, but for anyone unlucky enough to bike or walk along the road, that distinction provides little comfort. Under the MCDOT proposal, a pedestrian must traverse eight lanes of traffic to get across Old Georgetown Road. For cyclists, the lack of dedicated lanes means they must take their chances staying safe among four lanes of traffic.


Comparison of the two cross-sections. Rendering from of Friends of White Flint. Click for larger version showing more of the road.

In reality, the effect of this design will be even more pernicious. By prioritizing driving over everything else, MCDOT will fulfill its own skewed vision for mobility in the county: fewer people will walk, bike or take transit, even though they want to but won't feel safe. They'll, instead, choose to drive for every single trip, adding to congestion and undermining the entire premise of the White Flint Sector Plan redevelopment.

Even more galling, MCDOT has proposed redesigning Old Georgetown Road twice: once now to maximize auto traffic, and again, sometime in the future, to incorporate the elements in the sector plan only if conditions warrant and funding is available.

Drivers struck 454 pedestrians in the county last year. 13 were killed. Just this summer, a pedestrian was killed crossing the Pike down by North Bethesda Market. I frequently receive emails from residents concerned for their safety on and along Old Georgetown Road. These are the stark consequences of MCDOT's "windshield mentality."

With this action, the county government breaks the community's trust

Safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a Recreation Loop were key elements that helped the plan gain public support. Since the plan passed, White Flint residents have consistently voiced their support for safer bike/pedestrian accommodations.

The Western Workaround is the first of many planned transportation and infrastructure improvements in the White Flint area. If MCDOT is willing to push through a design for this project that so plainly violates the sector plan, how can the public trust the agency will implement any other pieces of the plan faithfully?

The residents and stakeholders of White Flint deserve better. Please join the Friends of White Flint and Coalition for Smarter Growth in calling on County Executive Ike Leggett to uphold the promises made to the community and hold MCDOT accountable.

Roads


Berliner presses for a transit alternative to Montgomery sprawl highway

Montgomery councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) took an important step toward defeating plans for the costly and damaging Midcounty Highway and replacing it with transit.


Berliner discusses M-83 at the Council's budget hearing.

Berliner, who chairs the council's Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and the Environment, sent a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett asking him to direct the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), to study a robust transit alternative to the highway project, dubbed M-83.

MCDOT is nearing the end of an 11-year environmental review of M-83 and its alternatives, and hopes to receive a federal environmental permit later this year. In all that time, the agency has avoided considering a transit alternative, despite repeated requests from the community.

When Montgomery County Council's transportation committee discussed M-83 during their budget review last month, the committee voted to allocate no future planning funding beyond the highway project's current environmental review. Berliner made his opinion clear to MCDOT officials then:

It's been part of my own goal with respect to our county's approach to transportation to move into a transit first orientation. From my perspective, I want some assurance that we've looked at every transit option in this corridor prior to our getting a recommendation with respect to this project.
He joins four other councilmembers, Phil Andrews (District 3), Marc Elrich (at large), George Leventhal (at large), and Hans Riemer (at large) who have called for a transit alternative.

Berliner's letter urges MCDOT to consider all viable transit options, including combinations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, express bus service on I-270, two-way service on the inner portions of the Brunswick MARC line, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on MD-355, and completion of the Clarksburg Town Center to reduce local trip demand.

One of the options in MCDOT's road study, Alternative 5, would have added a service lane along MD-355 for cars. Berliner urges MCDOT to study the possibility of transforming that concept into a transitway for BRT. 355 BRT to Clarksburg would provide a straight, rapid transit option for Clarksburg, Germantown, and Gaithersburg commuters to Shady Grove, Rockville, and points south.

Comparative travel times from other BRT systems suggest a 25 minute ride from Clarksburg to Shady Grove Metro, including wait times, which is comparable or better than driving, depending on traffic.


BRT plan for 355 to Clarksburg. Map from Communities for Transit.

According to MCDOT head Art Holmes, the County Executive "is not in favor of moving M-83 forward into construction," but Leggett hasn't yet made clear to the public or his agency what he plans to do instead to improve transportation for gridlocked upcounty communities.

The question remains whether Leggett will stand up to his own agency, which has a reputation for favoring roads over transit, and demand they take a serious look at transit alternatives.

Roads


Turn on a bulb-out to protect White Flint pedestrians

If Montgomery County is serious about creating walkable places, it must fix dangerous intersections like Hoya Street and Montrose Road in White Flint. Drivers turning right from southbound Hoya to Montrose can't see pedestrians beginning to cross. A bulb-out would make pedestrians visible and the intersection safer.

Last fall, my mother tried to cross here, and told me that she would have been run over here if she had crossed when the walk signal turned green. So I went to see for myself. Recent pedestrian safety improvements had not made the intersection safe. Drivers turning right from Hoya onto Montrose can't see pedestrians on the north side of Montrose Road because a wall at the Monterey Apartments complex blocks drivers' view.

That wall was there before the pedestrian improvements. Why hadn't the changes included a solution for this hazard?


Image from Google Maps.

The Hoya/Montrose intersection was part of the $117 million Montrose Parkway West project. Before 2010, Montrose Road intersected Old Georgetown Road here, before crossing Rockville Pike and becoming Randolph Road on the other side. But in 2010, Montgomery County finished building the adjacent Montrose Parkway at a cost of $70 million.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) also finished their own $47.2 million project, which removed the intersection between Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. The end result is that Montrose Road now ends at what used to be part of Old Georgetown Road, now renamed Hoya Street, while Old Georgetown meets Rockville Pike farther south.

Pedestrian safety improvements followed between 2010 and 2012: new curb ramps, a pedestrian refuge in the median of Hoya Street, an improved pedestrian island between the main part of Montrose Road and the slip lane onto southbound Hoya Street, and a marked crosswalk across the slip lane. And yet, nobody in MCDOT or SHA fixed the hazard the wall causes. Why not?


Photo by Peter Blanchard on Flickr.

When asked via email how to make this intersection safe for pedestrians, Bruce Mangum, head of MCDOT's signals engineering team, said that they will add two signs reading "Turning Traffic Yield To Pedestrians." One will put one on the traffic signal and the other at street level just behind the curb.

Mangum added that "[n]o amount of engineering (signs, signals, pavement markings) can assure safe intersection operations unless motorists and pedestrians alike know and recognize their respective responsibilities." But a few more signs won't make this intersection safe. Research shows that these signs don't significantly increase the likelihood of drivers yielding to pedestrians during right turns. So extra signage likely won't help. And that's at intersections where the drivers can see the pedestrians. Even the most responsible drivers and pedestrians can't see through a wall.

Fortunately, there actually is an engineering solution that can make the intersection safe: a bulb-out (also called a curb extension), where the sidewalk extends farther toward the middle of the road.

With a bulb-out into Montrose Road, a driver making a right turn would be able to see pedestrians waiting to cross. Also, pedestrians would only cross one lane of traffic, instead of two.

It's true that a bulb-out would reduce westbound Montrose Road from two lanes to one at the intersection. But since Montrose Road no longer connects with Rockville Pike, it doesn't need two lanes there anyway. Plus, since this intersection is part of Montgomery County's transformational 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, pedestrian safety and walkability should be the priority.

Signs alone won't make this intersection safe for pedestrians. Sooner or later, a right-turning driver will hit a pedestrian here. Installing a bulb-out would prevent this from happening. MCDOT, please do it.

Roads


Engineers find a new approach to solve traffic congestion and pedestrian delays

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Drivers and pedestrians alike often have to face unacceptable levels of delay when they drive or walk around roads in the state of Maryland and Montgomery County. Engineers recently announced new approaches that they believe will make these problems disappear.


Image from photo by Google Earth.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is developing a new Pedestrian Level of Service standard to ensure that pedestrian delays are not unacceptably long, while the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will make traffic changes that ensure smoother flow of traffic.

On state highways, pedestrians sometimes have to cross three legs of an intersection, as SHA often does not stripe a crosswalk on one leg. Under federal guidelines, walk signals must last long enough for those on foot to traverse the crosswalk. But the crosswalks need not go straight to a pedestrian's destination, so the state and localities often remove crosswalks so avoid having a long walk signal.

The new Pedestrian Level of Service (PLOS) will address this. It will work similarly to the motorist Level of Service, which grades intersections based on how long people have to wait to cross. Vehicular LOS defines an intersection as "failing" if, on average, a driver has to wait 90 seconds or more to get through the intersection.

Since a pedestrian trying to go straight across the leg where the crosswalk doesn't exist has to cross the other 3 legs of the intersection (waiting for the signal each time), they often encounter more than 90 seconds of delay, so SHA will instead define a failing intersection as one where a pedestiran has to wait 3600 seconds or more to cross.

A statewide analysis of intersections under these new standards to determine which intersections need to be upgraded didn't find any problem spots. Deputy Administrator Ida Driven is pleased. "Clearly, this study shows that Maryland is doing well with pedestrian safety. Over the past 15 years, SHA has spent tens of dollars to make sure that active transportation users can get around safely."

A representative of AAA, Hugh Jestkarr, lauded the change. "Clearly the study shows that pedestrians benefit from roadway improvement projects. It shows that drivers can have fast roads and pedestrians can still get what the government defines as adequate."

The State Highway Administration hopes the new standards and the study will help determine where to spend money. As has been done in many areas, if the PLOS does show a poor grade, state officials will simply remove the crosswalk to ensure that the intersection continues to meet the standards.

Meanwhile, MCDOT has been conducting a detailed analysis of places where the vehicular Level of Service is too low. The test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection, but the county has faced increasing difficulties in meeting this test.

County rules, in fact, block construction where roads have a "Level of Service" that is too low. This test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection.

A particular problem is left turns, which slow down the performance of each intersection. Therefore, beginning next year, left turns will be banned throughout the county.

"When turning cars aren't in the way," explained chief traffic engineer Ample Wandering, "drivers get through intersections faster." Current LOS defines an intersection with an excessively backed-up left turn lane as "failing," but the same intersection passes when left turns are forbidden.

LOS rules prescribe how fast cars must go through intersections, noted deputy transportation director Edsel Gasoline, but they say nothing about how quickly drivers get where they are actually going. "Our drivers will finally be free from the curse of failing intersections," boasted Gasoline.

If any intersections still have Level of Service F without left turns, the county will ban right turns there too.

AAA's Jestkarr cheered the plan. "Drivers," she said, "will at last have the fast-moving roads we crave."

Support Us