Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Rockville Pike

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.

Transit


Better sidewalks? A tunnel? How can Bus Rapid Transit work in Rockville?

Under Montgomery County's newly-approved Bus Rapid Transit plan, two BRT lines would converge in the heart of Rockville. How can the city fit them into its space-constrained downtown?


Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

BRT lines would run along Route 355 between Clarksburg and Friendship Heights and on Veirs Mill Road from Wheaton to Rockville, meeting at the Rockville Metro station. Both lines are currently under study: the State Highway Administration expects to have a preferred alternative for Veirs Mill later this year, while Montgomery County has received state transportation funds to begin studying 355 this year.

But BRT will have to contend with busy roadways, a major transit hub, and a town center still being built out. "[BRT] would provide our residents with more travel options, so that would conceptually be a good thing," Rockville planner Andrew Gunning told the Gazette, "but we have challenges, too." We asked GGW contributors how they would approach this problem, and these were the principles and ideas they suggested.

Make walking safer and more comfortable

One key issue will be creating an inviting and safe environment for pedestrians trying to access BRT stations. Both 355 and Veirs Mill are currently dangerous environments with multiple lanes of traffic that alternate between congested and high-speed, depending on the time of day. It's a long way across 355 even with surface-level pedestrian improvements, and sidewalks are typically narrow and right against the roadway.


How Route 355 (Rockville Pike) in White Flint could become a boulevard. Image from the White Flint Partnership.

Wider sidewalks with buffers, shorter crossings for pedestrians, more time to cross at lights, and protection around crossings for median stations would be excellent first steps to creating a more welcoming environment for pedestrians, and could create more of a boulevard, as is planned for White Flint further south.

Rockville could also consider working with WMATA to improve the at-grade pedestrian entrance to the Metro station, which currently features a fence and two narrow, inconvenient walking routes.

Accept lane repurposing

To avoid creating an even more unsafe pedestrian environment, it's critical that Rockville repurpose street space for transit. Widening 355 to add bus lanes runs the risk of making it even more inaccessible to people on foot.

Last year, Montgomery County planners found that there's more than enough forecasted ridership to justify dedicating an existing lane for transit on both Veirs Mill and 355. Already, Ride On's 55 bus, serving 355 from Germantown to Rockville, carries an average of 8,000 passengers each weekday, making it one of the busiest bus routes in Montgomery County.

A broad study of cities that reduced street space for cars, even in congested areas, showed that traffic stays the same, or even disappears. With Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle and other cities moving to repurpose lanes for transit, Rockville would be in distinguished company.

Balance local convenience with corridor function

One of the central questions facing planners will be whether to stay on 355 or deviate onto local streets to better serve Rockville Town Center. Having a stop at the Metro station to facilitate transfers seems obvious, but all of Rockville's main destinations, including the county government, shops, and restaurants, are closer to East Middle Lane and North Washington Street.

Keeping BRT on 355 would speed up running times and provide an impetus to make it more of a pedestrian friendly boulevard, but deviating could pick up more riders by serving the popular town center. On the other hand, existing local bus service could connect the town center to a BRT stop at the Metro station, particularly for those that have limited mobility.


Montgomery College Rockville campus map.

Serving Montgomery College, many of whose 60,000+ students are transit dependent, will also be critical, but it's not yet clear where the best station location might be. Currently, buses deviate from 355 onto Mannakee Street to serve the college. However, it is not a far walk to the corner of 355 and Mannakee, and an improved walking path could make it desirable to keep BRT on 355 to save time. An alternative could be a BRT station between Mannakee Street and North Campus Drive, where a new path could provide a shorter connection to classroom buildings.

Think creatively

Planners should consider how underutilized spaces could play a role in accommodating BRT. One example is Metro's parking lot just north of the Rockville station across Park Road. This area could become a BRT station, or have buses rerouted there to make room for BRT directly in the existing bus bay.


Parking lot adjacent to Rockville Metro to the northwest. Image from Google Maps.

Alternatively, a station at the Rockville Metro could utilize an existing vertical asset: the pedestrian bridge crossing Route 355. A station in the median of the road directly below the bridge with staircases or elevators going up could provide a direct, covered connection to the Metro.

While we're dreaming, a really ambitious overhaul of the area from the intersection with Viers Mill to the Metro station would create a Dupont Circle-like intersection that carries express traffic on 355 under Route 28 and continues underground past the Metro station. With through traffic passing underground in a tunnel, the city could extend the local Rockville street grid to reunite its town center with the Metro, creating a much more connected and attractive access to Metro, MARC, and BRT.

Ben Ross, David Versel, Dan Reed, Ethan Goffman, and Dan Malouff all contributed to this post. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Transit


Transit projects top Montgomery's priorities list for state transportation funding

This week, the Montgomery County Council and County Executive Ike Leggett sent their transportation priority letter to state officials. Topping the list were funding for Metro's Momentum plan, the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, and bus rapid transit, though some road projects remain.


A Route 29 bus stuck in morning rush hour. Photo by the author.

The letter, which will help Maryland decide which projects get state funding, expressed a commitment to investing in alternatives to driving. Also included are WMATA's Priority Corridors Network, which will add express bus service to popular Metrobus routes, and funds to continue studying Bus Rapid Transit on routes 29 and 355.

It places high importance on funding WMATA's Momentum plan, which will allow Metro to buy 8-car trains sooner, reduce crowding on the Red Line, and run all trains to Shady Grove and Glenmont during rush hour. Metro asked Maryland, Virginia, and DC for funding this year. Yesterday, the three jurisdictions agreed to a $75 million down payment and to negotiate a multi-year agreement that would cover the plan's entire cost.

The list still includes some interchanges and road widenings. While an earlier proposal included four interchanges along Route 29, Leggett and the council settled on a compromise of two interchanges, at Tech Road and Fairland Road, and made them a lower priority. At over $100 million each, the two interchanges would equal well over half the cost of Bus Rapid Transit from Burtonsville to Silver Spring.

Studies for BRT on Route 29 will begin this year, giving the council an alternative to building the interchanges. It's expected that next year's council will redo the letter, offering another chance to rethink how to address Route 29's transportation needs.

The discussion at yesterday's full council session made it clear that most councilmembers agree that we need transit to address congestion by providing alternatives for people who can't or don't want to drive.

District councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda), Phil Andrews (Rockville-Gaithersburg), Nancy Navarro (Wheaton), and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring), and at-large councilmembers Hans Riemer and George Leventhal all echoed their support for the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and the Priority Corridors Network.
At-large councilmember Marc Elrich went further, saying in his ideal world they would build the transit projects first, and then evaluate if the road projects are still necessary.


Existing and projected vehicle miles traveled in Maryland. Image from the State Smart Transportation Initiative.

With annual vehicle miles traveled continuing to fall below projections both nationally and in Maryland, it makes sense to invest in projects that support the demographic shift towards driving less. This letter shows that Montgomery County is moving in the right direction.

Development


See a strip mall become a neighborhood in White Flint

The first phase of Pike + Rose, the massive strip mall redevelopment on Rockville Pike, is scheduled to open this fall. Recently, I got to tour the construction site as it slowly transforms into a neighborhood.


Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets at Pike + Rose. All photos by the author.

When it's finished several years from now, Pike + Rose will contain 9 city blocks with 3.5 million square feet of apartments, offices, shops, and restaurants, as well as a movie theatre and music venue. I'll be five times the size of Bethesda Row, which developer Federal Realty also built.

After about 18 months of construction, Pike + Rose is beginning to look like a place. Cladding is beginning to cover the buildings' frames, and windows are starting to go in. Grand Park Avenue, envisioned as a bustling street lined with storefronts and dining patios, is still a mud pit, though it now has curbs.


The future Muse Alley.

Around the corner is Muse Alley, the first of several public spaces in the development. Evan Goldman, Federal Realty's vice president of development and my tour guide, explained that the lower level would be a deck with movable tables and chairs and surrounded by a "forest" of birch trees. Overlooking it will be a beer garden.

There are three buildings in the first phase. Two are apartment buildings: Pallas, an 18-story building that's still being framed, and PerSei, a mid-rise building that will open this spring. Aaron Kraut at BethesdaNow got to take a look inside PerSei last week.


Looking at PerSei from across the street.

Like many new apartment buildings, it's been designed to look like several smaller buildings in an attempt to break down its block-long size. Goldman said that the developer wanted to draw from the area's history. One section is designed to look like a repurposed warehouse building, while the cream-colored section pictured above will get a mural inspired by a bakery that was once located nearby.


11800 Grand Park will contain offices over a movie theatre and other venues.

The third building, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, contains several floors of offices atop a health club, a high-end movie theatre, and a four-star restaurant. Federal Realty worked with Strathmore, whose music hall is a mile away, to create a jazz club as well. It was originally supposed to be an open-air space, but instead will have sliding glass walls, allowing it to double as a corporate meeting space during the week.

Having this many entertainment venues next to each other, and all opening at once, could create a critical mass of activity in White Flint almost instantly. It's similar to the way that restaurateur Joe Englert sought to make H Street NE a nightlife destination by opening several bars and restaurants at once. "This will be the entertainment center of the county," Goldman says. "We hope this is that place everyone goes on the weekends."


Looking out at White Flint's skyline from the health club deck.

This building includes a number of outdoor spaces; the restaurant, health club, and jazz venue all have roof decks. Today the views are of parking lots and strip malls, but over time, it'll fill in as White Flint grows a skyline.

Back on the street, 75% of the retail spaces have been leased, including several restaurants. Many of them are chains, but there are places that only have a few other locations nationwide, meaning they'll be the only ones in the DC area.


Restaurants will fill the ground-floor spaces on Old Georgetown Road.

Some of these restaurants will face Old Georgetown Road, a busy state highway. This fits in with the county's vision to make it a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly street, though both Montgomery County and Maryland transportation officials have been reluctant to do so. Hopefully, creating activity on Old Georgetown now will push them to redesign it as an urban street.


What's left of Mid-Pike Plaza.

In May, work on Pike + Rose's second phase will start by demolishing the rest of the main strip mall, while a small retail building at the corner of Rockville Pike and Old Georgetown Road will get a facelift to help it blend in with the new buildings. Most of the remaining tenants have left; some have moved to other Federal Realty-owned shopping centers along Rockville Pike, while Chipotle, Starbucks, and La Madeleine will move to new spaces on-site.

The second phase should open within two years, but Federal Realty has no timeline for the rest of the site, including the building on the corner. Plans show that it could eventually become a high-rise office building, though that probably won't happen until there's funding for a new entrance to the White Flint Metro across the street, which would make that site much more valuable.

White Flint has been in planning for years, and it'll take decades for it to fully become a more urban place. The first phase of Pike + Rose offers us a glimpse of White Flint's future, but also suggests a path forward for other aging shopping centers around the region.

Check out this slideshow of Pike + Rose under construction.

Roads


In Montgomery's transportation budget, wider streets are "pedestrian improvements"

As Montgomery County asks the state to spend more on transit within the county, its proposed budget pours money into sprawl-inducing highways instead, while calling road widenings near schools and Metro stations "pedestrian improvements."


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Last week, County Executive Ike Leggett sent his proposed $1 billion transportation budget for 2015-2020 to the County Council. It adds new money to build two $100 million highway segments, Goshen Road in Gaithersburg and the 8000-foot-long Montrose Parkway East near White Flint, and lets environmental studies for the even more expensive extension of Midcounty Highway continue.

But many transit, bike, and pedestrian projects have been delayed. The proposed BRT system will get a $10 million state planning grant, but no county funds. The $80 milllion south entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, which the County Council previously funded over objections from the Department of Transportation (MCDOT), was left alone.

Bicyclists get a speedup in construction for a bike path on Needwood Road, required under the terms of a state grant. But the money comes from slowing down work to complete the far more important Metropolitan Branch Trail. Bike projects on Bethesda Avenue, Frederick Road, and Seven Locks Road are delayed too.

MCDOT learned long ago that cars-first policies had to be disguised with lip service to transit and pedestrians, and this budget continues that tradition. While new roads are the first category in the current six-year budget, the new budget lists them after transit.

At first glance, the proposed transit and pedestrian budgets seem large, but this is a mirage. The numbers are inflated with items that belong elsewhere. The county calls a $70 million dollar garage for school buses and park maintenance vehicles a mass transit facility. Road widenings around new schools, previously classified as road projects, are listed as pedestrian improvements this year. Buried in the budget for a new Metro entrance at Medical Center is the cost of a turn lane a block away at Jones Bridge Road.


Montgomery County's ped/bike budget will pay for a turn lane onto Rockville Pike at NIH. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

A telling example of MCDOT's attitude is how it justifies spending money on bike lanes in downtown Bethesda. The county planning board made us do it, agency officials say. The bike lanes must be built before development can proceed beyond a certain point. There's no thought that they might serve a transportation purpose.

In recent years the County Council has shown increasing willingness to challenge MCDOT's priorities. The council funded the $80 million south Bethesda Metro entrance in 2008 and repeatedly fended off requests to reverse that decision. Two years ago, it put off construction of Goshen Road and Montrose Parkway East and budgeted for the Capital Crescent Trail instead.

But MCDOT still clings to the traffic engineering doctrines of the 1950s. The one completely new big project in the budget is yet another upcounty highway, a segment of Observation Drive whose price tag is likely to wind up north of $50 million a mile. The Bethesda Metro entrance stands as the only major county-funded transit construction project.

The time has come to reject once and for all the discredited idea that wide highways are a cure for traffic congestion. The council should zero out all spending on upcounty highways and end the pernicious practice of forcing developers to widen roads. All of the county's scarce transportation dollars are needed to correct the expensive mistakes of the past with better transit and a street network that works well for pedestrians and cyclists, not just for drivers.

Development


See White Flint's Pike + Rose development under construction

Today, the Montgomery County Planning Board reviews plans for a second phase of Pike + Rose. Meanwhile, the first phase of the new urban neighborhood at Rockville Pike and Montrose Road inches closer to opening next year.


Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets in Pike + Rose. All photos by the author.

When finished, Pike + Rose will have housing, offices, shops and restaurants, a high-end movie theatre, and a hotel, along with several public open spaces. A redevelopment of a 1960's-era strip mall, it'll be multiple times the size of developer Federal Realty's other projects in the area, Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square.

According to Evan Goldman, Federal Realty's vice president of development, the first phase will start opening next year. In the meantime, let's visit the construction site.


Bricks going in at PerSei.

Back in July, the first of three buildings in the first phase, a 174-unit, five-story apartment building called PerSei, topped out. Units here will start renting late next spring, Goldman says. You can see cream-colored brick going in on one side.

Like many new apartment buildings, PerSei has been designed to look like a block of smaller buildings. The windows on Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue, one of several new streets, are more modern, with large panes and less ornamentation. But around the corner, the windows have smaller panes and more detail, almost like those on a warehouse.


11800 Grand Park Avenue. The movie theatre and music venue will be on the right-hand side.

Across the street, 11800 Grand Park Avenue, an office building, has topped out as well. It'll open in fall 2014, along with 150,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space in both buildings. 75% of the retail is already leased and will include a high-end iPic movie theatre, a music venue operated by Strathmore, several restaurants, and a Sport & Health Club.

Read on and see additional photos at the Friends of White Flint.

Transit


Events roundup: Shutdown edition

The federal government may be closed, but this week you can still talk about the future of Franklin Park, celebrate walkable urbanism with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and author Jeff Speck, and explore Bus Rapid Transit on Rockville Pike at events across the region.


Photo by Cambridge Brewing Co. on Flickr.

Join us for happy hour: Tonight, join GGW contributors and readers for the latest installment of our regular happy hour series in Arlington. From 6 to 9pm, we'll be at Fire Works Pizza at 2350 Clarendon Boulevard, just two blocks from the Court House Metro station. As our commenters duly noted, they're running happy hour specials until 6:30pm.

Party with CSG: Tomorrow night, the Coalition for Smarter Growth hosts Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, at its annual social and fundraiser. The event will feature refreshments and runs from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Eastern Market. Tickets are only $25 and proceeds will help CSG continue their work to strengthen walkable and inclusive communities in our region. To learn more or RSVP, visit their website.

Franklin Park's new future: [Note: Due to the shutdown, this event has been postponed until further notice.] Also tomorrow, the DC Office of Planning and its Franklin Park partners will hold a kick-off public presentation and open house about how to turn Franklin Park into one of the country's premier urban parks. Come share your ideas for how to improve and enhance the visitor experience of the park. Attendees will hear a project overview and an initial site analysis and conditions report. The project team also will hold a visioning and programming workshop to gain a deeper understanding of desired park uses and current issues.

The meeting will be from 6 to 8pm at the Four Points by Sheraton at 1201 K Street NW. You can RSVP at the project's website.

Talk about BRT on 355: Do you live, work, or travel along Route 355, also known as Wisconsin Avenue and Rockville Pike? Join CSG, Communities for Transit, and other local organizations hosting an educational event for residents and business owners along 355 between Friendship Heights and Clarksburg. Speakers will include Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson, county planner Larry Cole, and Chuck Lattuca, BRT system manager at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

With 44,000 projected riders by 2040, a BRT line along 355 is likely to move forward early on in the development of Montgomery's rapid transit network. The event will take place on Thursday, October 3 from 6 to 9pm in the cafeteria of the Executive Office Building at 101 Monroe Street in Rockville. Click here to RSVP or for more information.

Update on the Purple Line: Next week, the Action Committee for Transit hosts Mike Madden of the Maryland Transit Administration for the latest news on the Purple Line at its monthly meeting. Governor Martin O'Malley recently announced that the state will seek a public-private partnership to build and operate the line, which could start construction as early as 2015 if it gets federal approval this fall.

The meeting will be at 7:30pm on Tuesday, October 8 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street, just a few blocks from the Silver Spring Metro. For more info, visit ACT's website.

Development


Is there room for local businesses in White Flint?

New developments in urban areas often have a lot of chains. At Pike + Rose, the large mixed-use development on Rockville Pike, all of the first six restaurants to open will be chains as well. Will there be room for local businesses in the future White Flint?


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Representatives from Federal Realty say their goal is to create an interesting array of shops and restaurants, no matter what they are. "It's less important to us whether something is a chain than [having] a mix of retail types, a mix of expense points, and a mix of dining types," says Evan Goldman, vice president of development. "We want...a diverse mix of options to get a diverse mix of people there."

Projects like Pike + Rose can be risky. Successful retail isn't a given even on a busy corridor like Rockville Pike, and both developers and business owners want to minimize risk. Unlike chains, which have a standard store format that's easy to recreate, small businesses also have to design and build a space from scratch, costing money and time.

And if an entrepreneur opens a second location that fails, their business may be sunk. If a chain's 20th store isn't successful, existing branches can help subsidize it. That's why developers often find it easier to work with chains in new projects.

"We know they can perform, they know they can perform," Goldman says. "And God forbid it doesn't perform, it's not going to take down their company or ours."

Where do chains go today?

When Pike + Rose is finished several years from now, it may look like other town center developments in the region, with a mix of stand-alone stores, national chains, and local chains, which I define as locally-owned businesses whose locations are primarily in the DC area. So Georgetown-based Sweetgreen counts, because all but 4 of its 20 locations are here, but Virginia-based Five Guys, which has over 1,000 locations across North America, doesn't.

Some projects have more locals than others. They're 22% of the businesses at the Market Common at Clarendon to 65% at the Mosaic District in Fairfax. At Bethesda Row and Rockville Town Square, both owned by Federal Realty, locals make up between 50 and 60% of all businesses.


The distribution of chains vs. local businesses at 7 DC-area town center projects. Image by the author.

Locally-owned restaurants and shops, whether one-offs or small chains, can be an asset for communities, supporting the local economy and providing unique attraction for customers. To make it easier for them to open, they need to have lower risks. There are two ways to do that: reduce the cost of doing business, or increase the potential number of customers.

How can we do that? Read the rest of my post on the Friends of White Flint..

Roads


Road designs stand in the way of White Flint's urban future

White Flint's future as an urban place depends on a street network that welcomes people on foot and bike, not just in cars, and roads that are pleasant to spend time in, not just move through. But county transportation officials may not make getting there easy.


Old Georgetown Road today. Photo by the author.

On Monday, representatives of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) gave a presentation to the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee about the Western Workaround, a planned network of new streets on the west side of Rockville Pike.

"We want to provide an environment that's pedestrian and bicyclist friendly and will encourage people to get out of their vehicles," said Bruce Johnston, MCDOT transportation engineering chief, citing the county's Road Code, which describes how to make streets in urban areas. But the streets he presented continue to prioritize moving cars over pedestrians and bicyclists or creating enjoyable urban spaces.

Old Georgetown Road will get wider, not more pleasant for people

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for Old Georgetown Road to have 4 car lanes, a median where pedestrians can wait while crossing the street, a "shared use path" for bikes and pedestrians, and one of the few actual bike lanes proposed for the area.

With ground-level shops and apartments at Pike + Rose going up on the north side and White Flint's future Civic Green on the south, this street needs to be a place for people, not a highway.

Instead, MCDOT proposes keeping the 6 existing lanes and adding 2 more at intersections for right and left turns. The bike lanes are gone, and the wide sidewalks have been reduced. The speed limit would remain at 40 miles an hour, which is totally inappropriate in an urban environment. Ken Hartman, director of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, pointed out that the speed limit on Old Georgetown in downtown Bethesda, which has 4 lanes and a turn lane, is just 30 miles per hour.


The sector plan's street network (left) and bike network (right).

Johnston blamed the Maryland State Highway Administration, which controls state roads like Old Georgetown and has resisted attempts by MCDOT to lower speed limits or reduce the number of lanes.

"The state has the authority to say 'I know that's in the sector plan, but traffic volumes are what they are,'" he said, adding that if White Flint residents and landowners want bike lanes and safer, pedestrian-friendly streets, they can "go over their heads" and speak with Governor O'Malley.

Cars, not people drive design choices

But even streets that are entirely under MCDOT's jurisdiction, like an extension of Executive Boulevard, have been designed for cars first. Johnston described it as a business street with tall buildings up against the sidewalk, which might make you think of Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda, one of the best urban streets not just in the county, but in the region.


Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda. Photo by eddie welker on Flickr.

Instead, Executive Extended will be 5 lanes wide, including a turn lane. Landowners who have willingly agreed to give up land for the new street have asked MCDOT for on-street parking, which would not only serve future businesses but give pedestrians a nice buffer from traffic. Instead, on-street parking will only be available during rush hour.

Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicyclists would get a 10-foot "shared use path" on either side of the street and a 6-foot buffer. To compare, the sidewalks on Woodmont Avenue are about 20 feet wide, and there's also a separate, 6-foot wide bike lane.

When asked why there's so little room for pedestrians and cyclists, Johnston said they need all 5 lanes "because of the anticipated traffic volume of the road."

But as Fred Kent from the Project for Public Spaces likes to say, "If you design for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you design for people and places, you get people and places." It's not a given that Executive Boulevard needs 5 lanes, especially if there are legitimate alternatives to driving. But MCDOT officials seem unwilling to entertain that possibility.

Mary Ward, a White Flint resident and regular cyclist, was disappointed by the new street designs. "This kind of needs to be rethought," she said. "The Complete Streets vision is that it's all levels of cycling, not just experienced cyclists."

Better street network means baby steps

Thankfully, MCDOT's street designs are only 35% complete, meaning there's still room for improvement. Evan Goldman, vice president of development at Federal Realty, which is building Pike + Rose, says the plans are flawed, but are better than what MCDOT has presented before. For instance, lanes on many streets including Old Georgetown would be 10 or 11 feet wide, compared to 11 or 12 feet today. That means slower traffic speeds and extra space for sidewalks.

"There are a lot of good things happening here," Goldman said, though he admitted that he will go to the governor to ask for "appropriate" street designs on Old Georgetown Road.


This short stretch of Woodglen Drive will get a bike lane. Photo by the author.

Until then, the only bike lane White Flint's getting anytime soon will be on Woodglen Drive between Executive Boulevard and the Bethesda Trolley Trail, a distance of less than 1/3 mile. MCDOT will remove 6 parking spaces in front of Whole Foods to make room for a northbound bike lane. They'll also paint sharrows, or lane markings that tell drivers to watch out for bikes, in the southbound traffic lane, which will become 5 feet wider.

"There's a lot of competing uses among our roadways," said Pat Shepherd, MCDOT bikeways coordinator. "We need to reallocate this space."

Shepherd has it exactly right. The White Flint Sector Plan calls for the creation of a new downtown where people have real alternatives to driving. To make that happen, we need streets that prioritize and celebrate pedestrians and bicyclists, rather than treating them as an afterthought. And we need transportation planners, both at the state and county level, who are willing to fight for them. We shouldn't have to go to the governor to ask for bike lanes because MCDOT won't stand up for us.

Crossposted on the Friends of White Flint.

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