Posts about Prince George's
Today, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed the transportation funding bill that passed the legislature this year. The governor also announced a list of projects that would get some of the money, including MARC expansion and studies for the Purple Line and Baltimore Red Line.
The tax will start this summer, and will help fund transportation projects across the state. The increased tax was a key part of O'Malley's 2013 legislative agenda, and is expected to generate $800 million more for transportation each year.
After the governor signed the bill, his office released a list of "first round" projects that will get some of the increased revenues. This list totals $1.2 billion, but over the first 6 years, the tax should generate $4.4 billion.
Of the $1.2 billion, $650 million (54%) will go to transit. However, a large portion of that funds studies rather than actual construction. Money will go to MARC to add weekend service on the Penn Line and 2 new weekday roundtrips on the Camden Line, and to purchase new locomotives.
Here is the full list.
- $100 million for MARC enhancements, including Penn Line weekend service, 2 new Camden Line weekday roundtrips, and new locomotives.
- $280 million for final design for the Purple Line.
- $170 million for final design for the Red Line in Baltimore.
- $100 million for final design for the Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County.
- $125 million for construction of an interchange between I-270 and Watkins Mill Road in Montgomery County.
- $100 million for construction of an interchange at Kerby Hill Road and Indian Head Highway in Prince George's.
- $49 million for widening US 29 to three lanes from Seneca Drive to MD 175 in Howard County.
- $82 million for construction of an interchange on US 15 at Monocacy Boulevard in Frederick.
- $20 million for design of a new Thomas Johnson Bridge between Calvert and St. Mary's counties.
- $60 million for reconstruction of in interchange at I-695 and Leeds Avenue in Baltimore County.
- $44 million for BRAC-related construction near Aberdeen Proving Ground.
- $54 million for construction of a new interchage on US 301 at MD 304 on the Eastern Shore.
I'm biking on the Suitland Parkway Trail to work, swerving around broken glass and under low-hanging tree branches. Highway traffic roars past just inches away. Suddenly, the trail ends.
Friday is the official Bike to Work Day, so on Monday, I did a test-run of a new route from my home in Trinidad to work in Suitland. What I found is that DC, Prince George's County, and the National Park Service, which maintains Suitland Parkway, still have a long way to go to make cycling a viable option for many communities east of the Anacostia River.
Suitland Parkway is a near-freeway connecting neighborhoods like Anacostia, Barry Farm, and Shipley Terrace to employment centers at Suitland and Andrews Air Force Base. Next to it is the Suitland Parkway Trail, a bike highway similar to the Mount Vernon Trail in Northern Virginia, but it doesn't make it out of the District. It appears to be DDOT's responsibility to maintain the trail, but judging from the lack of maintenance, it's clearly not a priority for them.
After a pleasant ride southbound against the commute rush on Martin Luther King Avenue, I turn onto Sheridan Road SE. This on-street section is the western extension of the Suitland Parkway Trail. It could certainly use sharrows or even a bike lane/cycle track, as the travel lanes are very wide.
Construction debris from the unfinished Sheridan Station development litters the sidewalk adjacent to the road. I swerve around something that was burned to the curb cut and a pile of mulch that sprawls onto the trail. There's no clear signage for the trailhead, but this is where it starts.
This is the nicest part of the trail in the city, though. There's separation from the parkway, and weeds and garbage haven't colonized the path yet.
It quickly gets worse, though. In some areas, there's so much underbrush, weeds, plant debris, garbage, and broken glass on the far side of the trail that there's just one passable "lane." I'm now limited to a space 3 feet wide, keenly aware that cars traveling over 50 miles per hour are just inches away.
The trail separates from the parkway for a short distance, where it's quickly overtaken by nature.
Grass grows through cracks in the pavement, reaching the point where the trail needs to be completely rebuilt. The surface is completely broken here.
When I get back to the parkway, the lane farthest from the road is still blocked, whether by trash and dead leaves or by low-hanging tree branches. I either have to get off my bike or move into oncoming traffic to pass it.
There's a speed limit sign placed not next to the trail, but in it. There's plenty of room 4 feet to the right.
Here's an uncharacteristically clear section of the trail. It's right in front of the speed limit sign, though, so I get the feeling it was kept that way so drivers could see the sign.
East of Stanton Road, the garbage littering the path makes me think I've found a mobile automobile repair shop.
A stream culvert passes under the trail and road here. Unfortunately, it narrows the trail.
This is the steepest climb on the trail, though thankfully it's much less steep than taking parallel streets like Good Hope Road or Pennsylvania Avenue. Here, you reach two places where the trail is collapsing due to erosion of the ground below.
After crossing two exit ramps, the trail continues under the Alabama Avenue bridge. The trail is very overgrown here, and I can pick out mulberries, Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), Virginia creeper, and other weedy plants overrunning the pavement.
Under the bridge, the trail is barely 3 feet wide, making it impossible for two cyclists to pass each other here. The lanes of the parkway must be at least 12 feet wide, and they should be narrowed to give enough space for the trail.
If you haven't noticed by now, the parkway itself has a brand-new layer of asphalt, while the adjacent trail has not seen the same level of care or investment.
At Southern Avenue, the boundary between DC and Prince George's County, the trail abruptly ends.
I trudge up the hill through waist-high weeds to get to Southern Avenue. To add insult to injury, there's no gap in the guard rail, so you have to lift your bike over the rail to get to the sidewalk.
Improving the Suitland Parkway Trail is a chicken-and-egg argument: no one uses it because it goes nowhere, so it isn't used, which means it isn't maintained. But if the District and Prince George's County are serious about making cycling a viable option for communities east of the Anacostia River, they have to do a better job of creating trails and other infrastructure, and they have to actually maintain them. If our leaders are serious about all their claims about "One City" and working with our neighbors, they'd sit down together and find a way to make this a priority.
There are rumors that the trail will one day extend to at least the Branch Avenue Metro station, if not farther south to Andrews. In 1994, the National Park Service did a feasibility study of extending the trail, but nearly 20 years later, nothing has happened.
It's also unclear who would be in charge of this construction, the National Park Service or Prince George's County. I'll believe that the local governments actually see some level of priority here when I see shovels in the ground.
In the meantime, DDOT and Mayor Gray should at least send a crew to pick up debris and clear the underbrush so what's there can be used by District cyclists and pedestrians. It's literally the least they could do.
May is a great month to bike to school or work (and so is every other month!) Tomorrow is the national Bike to School Day, Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17, and Greenbelt is having a vintage New Deal-themed bike ride later this month.
Also, there are public meetings to learn about and weigh in on some of the most important questions shaping our communities, like what the Purple Line will look like and how tall buildings should be in DC, a more walkable Route 1 in Fairfax, and Montgomery's Bus Rapid Transit plans, and more.
Here's what's coming up on the Greater Greater Washington calendar:
Purple Line open houses: The Maryland MTA is holding 5 open houses to inform residents about the Purple Line, now looking a lot more likely to actually become a reality. They're tonight (Tuesday) in Silver Spring, Thursday 5/9 in Riverdale, Saturday 5/11 in Langley Park, Tuesday 5/14 in Bethesda, and Wednesday 5/15 at Woodridge Elementary School in Hyattsville. Each is 5-8 pm, except the Saturday one which is 11-2.
Bike to school: If you have children in school and don't bike to school regularly, tomorrow is a great time to try. 17 DC schools are participating, and for the dozen on those which are on Capitol Hill, families can congregate in Lincoln Park for an event featuring Ray LaHood, then form bike trains to the schools. Sandra Moscoso has more on Greater Greater Education.
Walk Route 1: CSG's next walking tour looks at Route 1 in Fairfax, the oft-forgotten highway where big box sprawl has the potential to become eco-friendly, walkable communities. Volunteers will help groups take the bus from Huntington Metro for those arriving by transit. RSVP before it's full!
Height "master plan" meetings: The National Capital Planning Commission and DC Office of Planning are working together on a study that might recommend changes to the federal height limit, or might not. Regardless, the issue is sure to be completely noncontroversial, since as we know nobody ever wants to argue about the height limit. (Kidding.) The first public involvement is next week, with a meeting Monday, May 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Petworth Library, and then Saturday, May 18, 10:30-12:30 at the MLK Library by Gallery Place Metro.
Learn about, push for BRT: There's a big hearing on Montgomery County's BRT plans on Thursday, May 16, 6-9 pm in Silver Spring. Can you testify? Also, Montgomery transportation planner Larry Cole will talk about BRT as well as MARC expansion at ACT's monthly meeting Tuesday, May 14, 7:30 pm in Silver Spring.
What's up with Pennsylvania and Potomac? The second public meeting on the intersection at Potomac Avenue Metro is Thursday, May 16, 6:30-8:30 pm at Payne Elementary. Have DDOT and its consultants listened made the early designs even better to walk and bike, or have they gotten worse? We'll find out!
Bike to work: Just a little over a week after Bike to School Day (but much farther down our chronological calendar) is Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. Pledge to ride, stop by one of the pit stops around the region, join one of the commuter convoys along popular routes, and support almost all of the event sponsors.
Talk Smart Growth with David Grosso: Ward 3 Vision, the smart growth resident group in upper Northwest DC, is having a meet and greet on Tuesday, May 21, 6:30 pm at Guapo's by the Tenleytown Metro. At-large councilmember David Grosso will be there to hear from you about your vision for a more walkable and vibrant Ward 3 and all of DC.
Roosevelt Ride: Ride around Greenbelt, the New Deal planned community, in your best New Deal-era attire, followed by a picnic. You can also get a free tour of the Greenbelt Museum, which shows how families lived in what was built as working-class housing in 1937. That's Sunday, May 26; the ride starts at 11, the picnic after, and the tours at 1.
Have an event we should consider including on the ? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a URL to a webpage that has the information about your event as well, so that we can link directly to your event.
Prince George's County and Maryland have decided to throw their weight behind putting the FBI at the Greenbelt Metro station, but developer Walton North America hasn't given up lobbying for it to go at the 479-acre, non-transit-oriented Westphalia development out past Joint Base Andrews.
We received an email from the PR firm Edelman about a new website they are launching on behalf of Walton. The site, called "A Welcome Home for the FBI," argues that "Westphalia Town Center would provide a secure, state-of-the-art campus for the FBI within a vibrant community where FBI employees and their families can live, work and play," and that "Westphalia Town Center would be a win-win-win for FBI employees and their families, as well as Prince George's County residents and businesses."
There's even a map, captioned, "Westphalia Town Center provides many convenient transportation options." Does it, now?
While Westphalia is located next to the Capital Beltway and Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent to Joint Base Andrews, it's not on or near a Metro line, MARC train, or the planned Purple Line. I've placed a star around potential spots for the FBI that are on Metro: Greenbelt, Franconia-Springfield (Fairfax's proposal), and two suggestions from Greater Greater Washington contributors, Morgan Boulevard and Suitland.
(This map actually shows Metro in entirely the wrong place. Notice how the Orange and Blue Lines appear under the Potomac around where Smithsonian station would be. The Red Line crosses into Maryland east of DC's the northern point, not west. This map doesn't show the Blue Line out to the Beltway at all, and the southern Green Line actually runs along Suitland Parkway.
It clearly looks as though this map originally had no Metro at all, and the designers hastily slapped the Metro lines on without sizing and positioning them right. Perhaps this illustrates how much Westphalia really thinks about transit.)
Walton is so eager for the FBI that they recently offered to fund a bus line to Branch Avenue Metro. Unfortunately, a bus is unlikely to draw nearly the percentage of FBI workers that a Metro site would. The county has explored ways to extend the Green Line to Westphalia, but no serious planning has been done for it and nobody, including Walton, has any idea of how to pay for it.
As a greenfield, largely undeveloped site, Westphalia will require lots of new, expensive infrastructure whose long-term costs will get pushed onto the public. That spending will ultimately weaken pressure to build in existing communities where there's already underused transportation infrastructure, at the Metro stations. Those communities, however, don't have PR firms to push the government to put jobs there.
Putting the FBI in Prince George's County is the right move. The east side of the region has not gotten its share of federal or private jobs, forcing people to travel long distances from east to west. The FBI wants a large security fortress, which is incompatible with potential locations in central DC.
An site that is short walk from one of Prince George's 15 Metro stations, however, could house a large high-security complex and also catalyze walkable transit-oriented development closer to the station. This would maximize the value we get from our existing regional transportation network. With so many available Metro-accessible sites in Prince George's, Westphalia is not a good spot for the FBI.
As design work continues on the Purple Line, Maryland transit planners say they can convert two traffic lanes on University Boulevard in Langley Park for trains without impacting traffic.
It's "a big plus for the community," said Purple Line project manager Mike Madden at a neighborhood work group meeting last night in Langley Park.
As before, trains will run in the middle of University Boulevard between Piney Branch Road in Silver Spring and Campus Drive in Adelphi, where it will continue through the campus of the University of Maryland and on to the Purple Line's terminus in New Carrollton. But instead of trying to keep the 6 existing traffic lanes while adding the Purple Line, the tracks will now replace 2 of the 6 traffic lanes on this section of University Boulevard.
Engineers from the State Highway Administration say that many segments of University Boulevard carry fewer vehicles today than 20 years ago, while elsewhere traffic levels are about the same. With a few changes, the street can carry as much traffic in 4 lanes as it does with 6 lanes today.
While the street will have to be widened to make room for station platforms, the MTA won't need as much room as they did in their previous plan to keep all 6 lanes and add the Purple Line. With less space needed for car traffic, only 8 businesses will be displaced, compared to 25 before.
Reducing the number of car lanes on University Boulevard will cut speeding, meaning that a street where pedestrians are now frequent collision victims will be transformed into a safer and more welcoming place to walk or bike. There will be room for wider sidewalks and possibly even a cycle track, and there will be bike parking at each of the three Purple Line stations along the corridor, at Piney Branch Road, the future Takoma-Langley Transit Center and Riggs Road.
Meanwhile, key intersections will get traffic lights and turn lanes. This will not only make the street safer to cross, but allow trains to move more smoothly, reducing potential collisions with other vehicles or pedestrians.
These upgrades will help the Purple Line fulfill its economic promise. Both Montgomery and Prince George's counties want to transform the aging strip malls along University Boulevard into an urban corridor akin to downtown Silver Spring. Making University Boulevard a safer and more attractive place to walk will support that goal.
This design change is also good news for Montgomery County's bus rapid transit initiative, which proposes a countywide network of dedicated bus lanes. In dense, close-in areas like Bethesda, Silver Spring and Takoma Park that have the most potential ridership, existing pavement is often the only place new bus lanes can go. However, plans to repurpose traffic lanes for buses have met resistance from residents and county officials alike.
If transportation engineers say we can give car lanes to transit on University Boulevard, it can work elsewhere in the region as well. Hopefully, the Purple Line in Langley Park will serve as an example to the Montgomery County Planning Board and County Council as they consider the BRT plan this year.
Why not let buses drive on highway shoulders to get around congestion? According to a regional task force, that can be done, and it does often work, but it's not quite as simple as putting a sign up and saying "let's do it".
With pressure mounting to stretch dollars and improve mobility, creative ideas like putting buses on shoulders are getting more attention. Maryland is considering the concept on I-270 and MD-5, and Virginia hopes to have a pilot project on I-66 in Arlington by 2014.
These would add to the handful of locations around the DC region where buses are already allowed to use the shoulder. The most notable example is the Dulles Access Highway inside the Beltway.
The main complicating issue is that highway shoulders are usually too narrow and not free enough from obstructions to immediately open them up to buses. Interstate highway standards call for 9-foot shoulders, but you need at least 10 feet for a bus, and really 11 feet is preferable. So a typical highway shoulder will have to be beefed up in order to be used as a bus lane.
That's a lot easier, and cheaper, than just about anything else you could do. But it's still a construction project that needs to be planned and funded.
Minneapolis has an extensive network of over 300 miles of shoulder bus lanes on highways. But it's taken them over 20 years to get there. They have a continuous program that adds a few miles each year. They started with the low-hanging fruit, and have worked up to more complicated stretches.
That's the idea behind Virginia's pilot project on I-66. At first, the section allowing buses will be short. It won't be a busway so much as a spot where buses can jump ahead of a queue of cars. But over time VDOT could lengthen the segment and provide a larger benefit.
For safety reasons, buses are usually only permitted to go 35 miles per hour when using shoulders. Still, that's enough to get by the worst congestion. If traffic is moving faster than that, buses just stay in the regular lanes.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Tuesday morning, I was commuting along my normal route by bicycle when a driver almost hit me in a "right hook" turn. I wasn't especially surprised by that, which is sadly very common, but I was surprised by her reaction.
I commute from Greenbelt to Silver Spring. Generally when I bike, I ride 7 miles to College Park Metro, and park in the bike cage there before continuing my commute by Metro. Much of my route is on off-street paths or streets with bike lanes. Ivy Lane, where this incident occurred, does have bike lanes in both directions.
Ivy Lane is a short street between Kenilworth Avenue and Cherrywood Lane, near the Greenbelt Metro station. It passes through a suburban office park, but because it connects Old Greenbelt with the Metro and Greenbelt West, it is very popular with cyclists.
As I crested the hill on Ivy, I began to pick up speed. About this time, a platoon of cars released by the light at Kenilworth Avenue began to pass me. Most gave me a wide berth, moving into the left-turn lane to pass me, even though I was in the bike lane.
The first of the cars in this platoon was a silver sedan, and as we approached the entrance to 6404/6406 Ivy Lane, the car signaled and turned right without first moving into the bike lane. That car was about 2 car-lengths ahead of me when the driver turned. The second car continued straight ahead.
Then the third car, a maroon Ford Explorer, began to pass me. As the rear wheel was even with my handlebars, the driver initiated her right turn into 6404/6406. I jammed on the brakes, and swerved toward the curb. I missed colliding with her vehicle by less than 6 inches.
As it happened, the security guard who patrols this office park was waiting to turn out of the same driveway. As I was avoiding the collision, I yelled loudly, and having witnessed the near miss and hearing me yell, the guard quickly turned around and went after the motorist. I followed.
When I caught up to the guard, he had flagged down the driver and was talking to her. As I biked up, I heard her say, "I didn't hit him." I responded, "You only missed me by about 6 inches."
Her response stunned me, and probably goes a long way to describing the plight of cyclists in this country. She said to the guard and me:
I had my signal on. You were supposed to stop for me.In the first place, this is completely inaccurate. When driving on a street with bike lanes, the bike lane is considered a regular lane. You always have to yield to cyclists in the bike lane if you need to turn across it.
And the appropriate maneuver is to first merge into the bike lane before turning right. In this case, she should have merged behind me, since she did not have room to pass first.
In the second place, because she initiated the turn before she passed me, I really had no way of knowing that her signal was on anyway. Yes, cars have signals on the front, too. But as the front of her car passed me, I was focused on watching the car in front of her, because I did want to be right hooked by that driver either.
The woman told the security guard, "I really need to go. I don't have time for this." And I said, "I'm happy to let you go, but first I want to make sure you understand what you did wrong. You could have seriously injured me or killed me."
I explained that she should have moved into the bike lane first. I also said that if she didn't believe me, that she should look up the law for herself.
She said "sorry." (By her tone, she clearly wasn't).
I told her that I didn't want her to be sorry. I wanted her to not do this again.
At this point, we both went on our ways. But I thought about the experience for the rest of my ride.
I wondered whether I should have acted differently following the near-miss. I did not call the police. I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that since there was no contact, they wouldn't consider it worthy of followup. But a friend of mine who has had experiences like this in Greenbelt says that the GPD will follow up to educate a driver if a cyclist or pedestrian reports a tag number after an infraction.
It's clear that the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration doesn't do enough to educate new drivers about how to interact with cyclists.
But the State Highway Administration and local jurisdictions could also do more. The woman who almost hit me was probably in her late-40s. No amount of improvement to the driving test would have captured her.
In my experience biking in this section of Greenbelt, the right hook is probably the most common issue.
It seems that drivers need to be better educated about how they're supposed to behave around cyclists. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices does include sign R4-4, which applies when a right turn lane is present to the right of the bike lane.
But the MUTCD does not seem to include any signage for when there is no right turn lane. I created a modified version of the R4-4, which could serve in situations like this. But it will likely take a while for anything new to make it into the MUTCD.
Local jurisdictions, though, could have a freer hand in situations like this. Ivy Lane, after all, is a Greenbelt city street.
The Greenbelt Police Department does have a history of doing targeted driver education and enforcement, so that's another way the city could work toward resolving the issue.
As Maryland moves forward with planning for the Purple Line, station designs are being released. They range from simple sidewalk shelters at the smaller stations to landmark aerial cylinders at Silver Spring and Riverdale Park. Here are 6 renderings, illustrating the range of designs.
Bethesda, in a subway.
Silver Spring, elevated.
Langley Park, at-grade.
Riverdale Park, elevated.
Typical at-grade side station.
Typical at-grade center station.
More graphics are available at PurpleLineMD.com.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Following a rash of pedestrian-car collisions across the state, Maryland legislators have proposed requiring all drivers to wear helmets. While driving activists are split on the issue, area pedestrians say it's about time drivers took responsibility for themselves.
Yesterday, state delegate Arundela Mills (D-MCDOT) announced that she plans to amend House Bill 339 to require all drivers to wear helmets. The original version of the bill, which has languished in committee, would require adult cyclists to wear helmets.
Delegate Mills notes that the number of cars hit by pedestrians in recent weeks has skyrocketed. In the past month alone, pedestrians walked into cars in Columbia, White Marsh, and Bowie, causing indecipherable damage to vehicles and making their drivers slightly late for work.
And Friday morning, three pedestrians walked into a car driven by Richard Phillips, 38, who was passing through a crosswalk in Germantown on his way to work. Phillips was unhurt, but according to a police report the car's recently-polished grille sustained minor smudges from one pedestrian's bag. The pedestrians all walked away from the scene and have not been charged.
In an interview, Delegate Mills credited the Washington Area Drivers Association (WADA) for the idea. "Helmets will protect drivers from collisions, making it safe to allow drivers on all roads throughout the state," she said. She quoted a study from the Maryland Department of Transportation that found that helmets are the "single best way to avoid head and face injuries."
Driving activists are unsure about the bill's merits. Rental-car agencies note that travelers from out of state rarely pack a helmet, while even members of WADA have distanced themselves from the legislation.
"Studies in Australia show that when helmets are required, driving declines by 35%," said WADA president Penny Farthing. "MDOT is quoting junk science."
In Prince George's County, officials welcomed the proposed legislation. Bai To Hitachi, director of the Department of Public Works & Transportation, noted that cars clearly do not belong on roads meant for pedestrians. "DPW&T cares about public safety and is concerned when members of the community ... knowingly commit acts of high-risk behavior as a mechanism to achieve a public action," Hitachi said.
Hitachi called for additional legislation to require helmets for drivers in parking buildings, where heavy pedestrian traffic puts them in danger. "I'd feel safer walking on the Capital Beltway than driving in the parking building at the New Carrollton Metro Station," he added.
Community leaders look forward to the institution of more helmet laws for any and every situation. "Fifteen years ago I wound up in the intensive care unit of the Georgetown University Hospital neurology department," said Montgomery County Councilmember Flora Noreen. "I don't really know what happened, but I do know that I was not wearing a helmet."
The bill remains in committee and with one week to go before the General Assembly adjourns, opponents of the bill are optimistic that the session will end without action.
In the meantime, police advised drivers in a recent press release to stay alert while crossing sidewalks; to drive cars in bright visible colors or even in reflective paint; to always use controlled intersections; and, before driving, to look left, then right, then left again to check for any pedestrians.
"Parents are the most important models of proper driver behavior for children," said the press release. "Remember, be an engaged driver. It may save damage to your car."
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch