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Bicycling


Check out the final design for connecting two Bethesda trails

A connector trail between the Little Falls Trail and the Capitol Crescent Trail now has a final design. It makes for a longer connection than one of the other options, but it's also safer, cheaper, and will have less environmental impact.


The route Montgomery's planning department is recommending for connecting the two trails.

Right now, the only route between the two trails is through the parking lot of the Bethesda Outdoor Pool. The hard surface trail will run along the south side of Hillandale Road, then along the east side of Little Falls Parkway.

The connector trail will have at-grade crossings at Hillandale Road and one of the pool parking lot's entrances. It will be 860 feet long, and the cost is estimated at $408,000.

The Montgomery County Planning Board recommended this trail over another option, a boardwalk that would have been a more direct connection and would have avoided entrances to the pool, but that also would have cost $200,000 more.

The design process initially included three total options, all coming as results of a trail alignment study. Those options were two shorter routes on the north side of the pool and a longer one, similar to what the planning board chose but with the crossing of Hillendale at the north side of the pool.


Trail Alignment Study Options

Based on community input, especially from the Little Falls Watershed Alliance (LFWA) which proposed the recommended option, these options were refined to two: what's now being proceeded with, and the boardwalk.

The boardwalk would have been 525 feet long, on piers with a concrete deck and a section of concrete paving and stairs. It would have made for a shorter and more scenic trip between the two trails, with fewer places where bikes and cars would have had to share the road. But it also would have cost $617,000 and required construction in the Willett Branch stream buffer and removal of several trees including a 22-foot pine tree.

The planning board recommended the hard surface trail because it will cost less, doesn't run through the woods, and will have less of an environment impact (it will also require construction in the Willett Branch stream buffer, but would only impact, not remove, seven trees, all under 12 feet tall).

Leading up to the decision, the LFWA, Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and Kenwood Forest II Condo Association all supported the hard surface trail over the boardwalk and no-build options. The CCCT opposed the boardwalk, primarily out of a concern for safety. The CCCT believes that the safest place to connect to the Capital Crescent Trail is at the intersection with Little Falls Parkway, where traffic is already slowed down, not farther north where cyclists are up to speed.

Meanwhile, three local residents, including at least one daily bike commuter, supported the boardwalk and another supported the boardwalk and Option C from the original trail alignments. In addition, six individuals, the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association, and about 100 signatories to a petition were against building anything altogether, finding the project to be too costly and environmentally damaging.

The connector trail currently has no funding, and there are no immediate plans to begin construction.

Roads


Rockville misses the forest for the trees with its plan for an 18-lane mega main street

Rockville Pike could one day become a 252-foot-wide mega boulevard with 12 car lanes, 4 bike lanes, 2 bus lanes, and over 50 feet of landscaping. But in designing a street with more than ample room for cars, bikes, and buses, planners abandon any hope the street will be walkable.


The plan for Rockville Pike. Image from Rockville.

Everybody gets a lane!

Rockville Pike is one the most important retail strip highways in the Washington region. Like most 20th Century retail roads, it's designed for cars, and it carries a lot of them.

Rockville wants to make it a more urban main street, so planners there are drawing up a redevelopment plan. It's a laudable goal, and it's not easy on a high-traffic state highway like Rockville Pike.

At first glance, this plan has all the components of a good complete street design: Tree-lined sidwalks, protected bikeways, a center-running dedicated busway. Every mode gets all the street width it could possibly want.

And why not? Why go through the political headache of forcing the community to make the difficult choice between fewer car lanes versus bikes or BRT if you can fit everything in? With a mega boulevard like this, everybody gets what they want, and nobody loses. Right?

Wrong.

Walkability loses, and it's the most important factor

At 252 feet wide, the new Rockville Pike will be practically impossible for pedestrians to cross. It will take multiple traffic light cycles and multiple minutes for anyone to cross.

Instead of a main street, Rockville will have a barrier. And that is a big problem for the rest of the plan.

Transit oriented development doesn't work unless it's walkable. If Rockville Pike is too wide, development on one side of the street will be effectively cut-off from development on the other side. Riders won't be able to easily access the BRT stations. People will drive for even short trips. The concept of a community where people don't need to drive everywhere will break down.

If you can't walk, other multimodal options don't work. Pedestrians are the linchpin to the whole thing.

To be sure, some level of compromise is always needed. If walkability were the only factor that mattered, all streets would be pedestrian-only. We add in car lanes, bike lanes, and transit because we have to make longer trips possible, and that's a good thing.

But there's a balance, and 252 feet veers so far to accommodate long distance travel that it seriously sacrifices short distance walking. In so doing, Rockville undermines the very foundation on which its redevelopment plans rest.


The Rockville Pike plan is wider than Paris' famously wide Champs-Élysées. Photo by Justin.li on Flickr.

Make pedestrians a priority

The Pike needs to be narrower. Assuming the sidewalks, busway, and three general car lanes each direction are sacrosanct, that still leaves a lot of potential fat to trim.

Are the service roads really necessary if the plan also includes new parallel local streets? Do we really need redundant bi-direction bikeways next to both sidewalks? Could we possibly reduce the 74 feet of various landscaping, buffer, and turn lanes?

These would be difficult trade-offs, to be sure. But there are massive negative consequences to an uncrossable mega boulevard.

If Rockville wants the new Pike to work as multimodal urban place, pedestrians need to become a priority.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


During World War II, a ghost town popped up in Silver Spring

During WWII, government officials said a housing project needed to go up in Silver Spring to ease a shortage of housing for defense workers. Residents of the neighborhood said the project diminished their property values and violated their constitutional rights. It's a fascinating case of neighborhood opposition in our region.


Fairway Houses. Photo from the Report of the National Capital Housing Authority for 1944.

In early 1942, Washington's Alley Dwelling Authority began scouting sites in Montgomery and Prince George's counties for temporary housing sites where migrants to the region could live while working in government agencies and defense-related industries. The agency selected two sites in Prince George's. After hitting considerable opposition to a proposed 800-unit development near Kensington, the ADA settled on building in what's known today as South Four Corners.

The War on the Colonel's subdivisions

Four Corners was a sleepy 19th-century agricultural hamlet founded at the intersection of present-day Colesville Road and University Boulevard. In the years between the world wars, Four Corners was an upwardly mobile Washington suburb. It had two country clubs and some of the newest subdivisions in the region, including Northwood Park, where savvy developers built Washington's 1939 World's Fair Home.

Some of the earliest subdivisions laid out in South Four Corners were conceived by Montgomery County political boss E. Brooke Lee—the "Colonel." Through his Fairway Land Company, Lee bought and platted subdivisions with names like Fairway, Country Club View, and Country Club Park between Indian Spring Country Club and Argyle Country Club.

Lee's subdivisions were conceived as upper-middle class communities convenient to golfing, shopping in Silver Spring, and downtown Washington. Pre-war ads touted spacious homes in a "highly restricted community," code for properties with racially-restrictive covenants and minimum house costs. South Four Corners homes completed in the period revival styles popular at the time were selling between $8,400 to $12,000 ($140,000 to $197,000 in today's dollars).


Original Fairway subdivision house built c. 1937. Photo by the author.

In an age before zoning laws and home owner associations, Lee and his many real estate counterparts used restrictive covenants that passed from one property owner to the next to regulate land use, aesthetics, class, and race in their subdivisions. Covenants attached to Lee's properties restricted their sale and occupancy to whites; established building setback lines; required new homes cost at least $7,500; and, that all proposed architectural designs be approved by Lee and his partners or their successors.

Relatively few homes were completed in South Four Corners before the US entered World War II in 1941. Despite plenty of open land and mostly completed infrastructure (streets and sewer), the building lots in Lee's South Four Corners subdivisions remained simply lines in plat maps. Four Corners offered an attractive location to government agencies charged with housing government workers and people employed in wartime industries.

Lee's subdivisions provided government planners with the name for the housing project: Fairway Houses. In July 1942 the Public Housing Authority notified the Fairway Land Company that condemnation proceedings were underway. The properties, comprising about 28 acres, were supposed to be surrendered before August 1, 1942. Because the government's initial declaration of taking failed to include owners who had bought homes in the subdivisions, amendments were filed adding those individuals to the proceeding.

Silver Spring's temporary ghost town

The amendments extended the period for those affected to contest the taking. The Fairway Land Company and about 150 individuals who had bought homes in the subdivisions (adjacent to the properties the government wanted) filed counter claims. The company asserted that that the proposed public housing violated restrictive covenants carried with the properties. Neighbors complained that the temporary and less expensive housing would diminish their property values.


The Fairway Houses plan. Image from the National Archives and Records Administration.

"Although no land is actually taken," wrote the neighbors in legal filings, they had "a property interest in the property which has been or is to be condemned in these proceedings." The Fairway Land Company wrote that the public housing development would "destroy [the] restrictive covenants insofar as the parcels taken in this proceeding were concerned." And, it wrote that the federal project would "depreciate the value of the other lots in the development covered by said restrictive covenants."

Work to build the public housing began as the legal case worked its way through federal court. Construction started on October 5, 1942 and was completed in May 1943. Sixty three-bedroom homes and 178 two-bedroom homes were built. Each unit had a kitchen, living room, porch, and storage room. They were rectangular wood-frame buildings constructed on concrete pier foundations. Wood siding clad the exteriors and pitched roofs had asphalt shingles. Utilities included electricity, hot and cold water, and sewer connections. The houses also had a space heater and a five-cubic-foot icebox. Each unit cost the government $4,672 and rents varied from $11 to $46 per month.

After the homes were completed, federal officials built a one-story community building. The Fairway Community Center housed a day camp, health clinic, and nursery school. Recreational activities were programmed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, headed at that time by E. Brooke Lee.

Only white in-migrants to the region employed in the war effort could live at Fairway. Despite being ready for occupancy in early 1943, The ADA failed to attract tenants. Some observers attributed the reasons to its "outlying" location; others to the "starkly plain war-standard dwelling equipment." One Washington real estate professional in 1944 told a Senate subcommittee that the demountable (portable) housing looked like "glorified shacks." He added, "I imagine a lot of people would not care to live in them."


Fairway house. Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.

By the spring of 1944, Fairway remained about 63 percent vacant with only 87 units rented. Washington builder Clarke Daniel told senators investigating the National Capital Housing Authority that Fairway was a waste of government resources. Daniel criticized the addition of a community center to the mostly vacant development. "Another questionable move is the present erection of, in Fairway Village, a community center," Daniel said. "This community center is being erected at an estimated cost of $54,000 for what is practically a ghost town."

The litigation over Fairway wasn't settled until early 1945. Property owners in the Fairway subdivisions failed to get financial compensation for their claims that the public housing devalued their investments. They did, however, get assurances from the government that the houses would be removed within one year after the end of the declared "war emergency."

Disposing Fairway

The Fairway Houses remained in place until early 1954. Current residents and veterans were given the first opportunities to buy the houses. After selling more than half, the remaining houses were opened for sale to the general public. In September 1954, bidding opened on the lots and the community building, which served as a sales office that year.

Between December 1954 and the spring of 1957, the builders and individuals bought the former Fairway properties. Within a few years, all of the former Fairway sites had new brick ramblers and vernacular small houses on them. The community building, which had occupied three lots, was removed and replaced by three single-family homes.


Houses built in former Fairway Houses sites, South Four Corners. Photo by the author.

Today, half a century after the Fairway Houses were disassembled and the federal government left Four Corners, no evidence of the public housing survives in the landscape. Once conceived as an exclusive enclave, the South Four Corners neighborhood has undergone several historically significant development episodes. The brief period as a public housing project and the protracted legal battle fought over restrictive covenants make Fairway one of the most interesting and hidden chapters in Washington's housing history.

Bicycling


Silver Spring is about to get a lot more bike-friendly

Plans for a full network of bike lanes and bikeways across Montgomery County cleared a crucial hurdle last week. New bikeways through Downtown Silver Spring and connections to the Metropolitan Branch Trail should be complete within the next few years.


Image from WABA.

Montgomery County recently unveiled plans a protected bikeway that will run the length of Spring and Cedar Streets around the edge of the Silver Spring Central Business District, but protected cycling on several blocks around the periphery of downtown Silver Spring will not, on their own, create stress free routes for bicyclists to travel from point A to point B in the area.

While Montgomery County is aggressively pursuing a comprehensive countywide bicycle master plan, few other concrete proposals had been made in Silver Spring beyond this bikeway, which would have been the first in the eastern half of the county.

Recognizing this need, County Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a significant increase in the Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Area funding for the next five years. Last week, the Council's Transportation and Energy Committee, consisting of Tom Hucker, Roger Berliner, and Nancy Floreen, voted unanimously to fund it.

The new proposal sets aside money for the following:

  • In 2016, the Spring/Cedar Street protected cycle track.
  • In 2017, a bike lane the length of Cameron Street, plus a bikeway and/or bike lane on Second/Wayne Avenue, west of Georgia Avenue, which is still the interim Georgetown Branch Trail until the Purple Line project is complete. (Note: The Montgomery Department of Transportation is handling the cycle track on Wayne between Colesville and Georgia, the old "Interim Transit Center" by the Discovery Building, as a part of the Silver Spring Green Trail, so those two blocks do not hinge on this plan).
  • In 2018, cycle tracks on Dixon Avenue (among many new high rises there), and Fenton Street and Wayne Avenues past Downtown Silver Spring.
  • In 2019, Fenton Street from Wayne Avenue to Montgomery College (the length of Fenton Village), to connect with the newly finished Metropolitan Branch Trail.
  • In 2020, a bike lane on Blair Mill Road past the newly rebuilt Blairs complex, and a cycle track on 13th Street through South Silver Spring to connect to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

In all, this plan allows ten segments of key bicycling routes to become safer for all users. With a full network of usable routes, virtually all trips within the densest part of Silver Spring can safely be accomplished by bike, and all of the benefits of a robust cycling network can be realized, just as urban centers across our region and nation are now seeing. "Moving these bike lane projects forward will be so important to enhancing the livability of Silver Spring," said Hucker after the vote.

The plan calls for an increase in the county's Capital Improvement Plan for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas from $1 Million to $2.5 Million per year. The Silver Spring plan uses no more than $1.75 Million in any year, so remaining funds will be allocated towards other urban centers across the county where plans are not yet as advanced. Grosvenor, Glenmont, and Wheaton were specifically mentioned.

This way, as the plans for Silver Spring evolve, and lessons are learned, the successes can be copied elsewhere in the county without having to start the entire process over again.

"I am thrilled we got this done—now we need to apply the network approach to building protected lanes to other parts of the county. We have a lot of momentum—as well as a long way to go—for making biking safer," said Riemer after the committee approved his plan.

The next step for the bike network is a full council vote in May, as part of the county's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which is expected to pass, as a majority of the council has spoken in favor of it.

To get involved, follow WABA's updates on this issue, contact your councilmember, and don't forget to contribute to Montgomery County's crowdsourced Cycling Concerns Map.

Transit


To save money, Silver Spring's Purple Line station will be farther from the Metro

The winning bidders for the Purple Line project, Purple Line Transit Partners, proposed a few changes that would save the state of Maryland money. One of those changes is to relocate the Silver Spring Purple Line platforms farther away from the Metro.


Concept sketch for the original station location. Image from MTA.

In the original plan, the Purple Line platform was going to be in a a new elevated structure between the existing Silver Spring Metro station and the new Silver Spring Transit Center. The new plan moves the Purple Line platform to the other side of the transit center, closer to the intersection of Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue.


Plan of the new Purple Line station design. Image from PLTP.

This design means that people going between the Purple Line and the Red Line will have a longer walk. However, the new platform will now be level with the top floor of the transit center, giving people a shorter walk to buses, taxis, and the kiss-and-ride. It's also slightly closer to the heart of downtown Silver Spring.

Moving the Purple Line station also consumes a lot of land next to the transit center that was originally set aside for development, though those plans have since fallen through. But the change makes it unnecessary to demolish one building, 1110 Bonifant Street, which the original plan required.

This design includes a large bridge over Colesville Road. As planned all along, the Purple Line will rise over the existing Red Line tracks, the Silver Spring Transit Center, and the large hill behind the transit center, before coming down to ground level near the intersection of Bonifant Street and Ramsey Avenue. At some places, the tracks will be over 60 feet high.


Proposed Purple Line vehicle interior. Image from PLTP.

This plan is part of a large report PLTP submitted to Governor Hogan, which includes drawings, maps, and even renderings of potential Purple Line vehicles. In the coming months, the state will work with PLTP to create a final design for the Purple Line. Construction is scheduled to start later this year and the line could open in 2022.

Transit


Maryland has named a firm to build and run the Purple Line

After more than a year of uncertainty and delay, Maryland has selected a firm to build and operate the Purple Line. With Purple Line Transit Partners in place to run the 16-mile line, the project is ready to move forward.


A rendering of the Purple Line. Image from Montgomery County.

After Marylanders elected Governor Larry Hogan in November 2014, it wasn't clear whether the long-planned light-rail line would even happen. But following a prolonged public show of support, Hogan announced that the Purple Line would get built if Montgomery and Prince George's Counties committed more funds and trains ran less frequently.

Four teams submitted bids in December, and Maryland selected Purple Line Transit Partners. Some have questioned the bidder's plan to purchase railcars from a company that made some of Metro's least reliable cars and has been plagued with delays in other cities.

Update: After a series of state and federal approvals, construction should start late this year for a planned opening date in spring 2022.

Development


Town and gown clash over development in Takoma Park

Montgomery County's rapidly-growing community college, Montgomery College, wants to expand its northern Takoma Park campus. A number of Takoma Park residents don't like the idea, and are pushing for the college to expand in nearby Silver Spring instead.


Montgomery College sits partially in Takoma Park (inside the red line) and partially in Silver Spring. Image from Google Maps.

With campuses in Takoma Park, Rockville and Germantown, Montgomery College serves more than 60,000 students a year, a number that's growing quickly. Its first campus was built in northern Takoma Park in 1950, and in 2004 it expanded by adding new buildings in Silver Spring.

The college's board of trustees recently approved a new Facilities Master Plan for 2013-2023. The Master Plan is full of proposals and ideas for the Takoma Park campus, such as a new math and science center building, a new health and fitness center, and a new library. According to the plan, Montgomery College's Takoma Park campus has more capacity constraints and "obsolete or dysfunctional existing structures" than Rockville and Germantown.

The plan notes that enrollment has increased 18% over the past five years and is projected to increase another 27% by 2023. All of those additional students will need space for classes and laboratories. In order to achieve greater square footage without acquiring any new land, the plan calls for taller, wider buildings to replace the current ones, which are mostly smaller, two-story structures built to blend into the residential character of northern Takoma Park.

All of that has the college wanting to expand the Takoma Park campus, to the tune of over 56,000 square feet.

RenovationNew ConstructionDemolitionNew Growth
Takoma Park/Silver Spring9,295170,532(113,983)56,549

In the image below, the six buildings colored in yellow are those planned to be demolished and rebuilt, while the orange building is planned for renovation. It's worth noting that the college's daycare center (located on the right side and noted by the letters "DC") will be closed with no plans to reopen, meaning students with kids and some local parents will need to find a new childcare option.


Maps from the Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan.

Neighbors are opposed, but the college says it can address concerns

At a Takoma Park City Council meeting on January 20, 2016, Montgomery College Takoma Park campus provost and Montgomery College vice president Brad Stewart described the draft master plan to both residents and the council.

According to Historic Takoma, a non-profit organization founded to preserve the heritage of Takoma Park and the Takoma neighborhood of DC, the college agreed in writing in 2002 to consult with neighbors and the City Council on any proposed plans that could impact the neighborhood. While Mr. Stewart claims that two neighborhood discussions about the plan occurred (one in Takoma Park and one in Rockville), neighbors of the college claim that nobody told them.

Members of the City Council sided with the college's neighbors and chided Mr. Stewart about what they said was a lack of coordination on the college's part. Neighbors also complained that the larger, wider buildings contemplated in the master plan would be more appropriately located on the western side of its campus, which borders an urban, commercially zoned area on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Mr. Stewart tried his best to allay concerns, noting that that Master Plan is not the final document with regard to actual design and construction. He assured the City Council that additional outreach will be done the school hires architects and starts considering building designs.

Regarding the building heights, Mr. Stewart responded that the college's architects heard neighborhood concerns and created setbacks on the top floors of buildings facing neighboring homes.

You can watch residents raise their concerns at the City Council meeting here, beginning around 13:20, with Mr. Stewart's presentation to the City Council starting around 2:02:00.

Residents and the college have clashed before

As noted above, during the January 20th City Council meeting a few local residents alleged that the college failed to conduct adequate consultation with the local community. But deeply embedded in the Master Plan is a section discussing the college's relations with its Takoma Park neighbors that brings into question whether opposing residents' demands about community involvement are reasonable.

Here's the critical part:

New development proposals on the Takoma Park side of Campus are nonetheless still opposed by a vocal minority of neighbors, who insist that the College shift all development to the Silver Spring side of Campus, or acquire new properties along Fenton Street and locate College programs there.
Jokingly referred to as "The People's Republic of Takoma Park," the neighborhood has a rich history as a community that is unafraid to challenge moneyed and other powerful interests. A recent blog post by Granola Park explains that in the 1970s the college sought to condemn and demolish 22 adjacent Takoma Park homes for new school buildings, but neighbors fought and won against the college.

Silver Spring development could be in Montgomery College's future

Interestingly, and perhaps as a result of repeated neighborhood opposition, the Master Plan does gesture towards future development on the Silver Spring side of the campus. The following map shows possible expansion sites:

Three of the four lots above are rather sterile space. The two on the east side of the railroad tracks are a combination of storage buildings, auto body shops and local rental car companies. One lot on the west side of the railroad tracks is a parking lot owned by the college's foundation and the remaining one abuts Jesup Blair Park where the college built a walkway to cross the railroad tracks and connect the campus.

Future expansion into Silver Spring would activate this space and make it more pedestrian oriented, which is great since the college is only six blocks from the Silver Spring Metro station and abuts the planned Met Branch Trail. But all of this would require the college to acquire these lots and then redevelop them, which is more costly and would take longer than to simply redevelop the buildings they currently own.

Crossposted at Takoma Talk.

Bicycling


Here's what Silver Spring's new bikeway will look like

A new protected bikeway is coming to Silver Spring. We recently got a better idea of what it will look like.


Image from Montgomery County.

At a recent public meeting, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation shared three maps (1, 2, 3) and details about the project, which will start construction this spring. The bikeway will be an important link between bike lanes, trails, and the Purple Line in the Silver Spring area.

A pair of one-way separated bike lanes will run on either side of Spring and Cedar Streets, stretching 0.8 miles from Second Avenue to Wayne Avenue. Because travel lanes are wider than necessary on this corridor, the bikeway will fit into the street without removing any travel lanes and only removing a few parking spaces.


Map of the proposed separated bike lanes. Image from Montgomery County.

The bikeway will be primarily protected by parking spaces, a painted buffer, and flexposts. At intersections, bike boxes, green paint, and two-stage queue boxes will make it easier for cyclists to safely turn to/from the bikeway.


Bikeway intersection. Image from Montgomery County.

However, at some intersections there will be mixing zones where vehicle traffic must cross over the bikeway to turn right. Similar mixing zones on the L Street protected bike lane in DC have been called confusing and dangerous.

One unique element of the plan is floating bus stops. Medians between the bikeway and the roadway will serve as bus stops, providing another form of separation between the bikeway and the roadway, and curbing possible conflicts between cyclists and buses.


Bikeway mixing zones and floating bus stop. Image from Montgomery County.

Once this project is finished, Montgomery County will have 1.6 miles of protected bikeways, passing Arlington County's current total of 0.7 miles. Planning is underway for additional bikeways in White Flint, Shady Grove, and other parts of Silver Spring.

Montgomery County is taking comments on the project until February 19th.

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