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Posts about Rockville Pike


Pike + Rose is an experiment in modern ornament

The Pike + Rose development on Rockville Pike is a surprisingly experimental collection of buildings. It's contemporary in style, but also filled with architectural ornament. The result upends the common architectural conceit that ornament cannot be "of our time."

All photos by the author.

Pike + Rose is one of the region's most ambitious attempts to retrofit an aging suburban place to become more urban. It gets far more headlines for its planning than for its architecture.

But although Pike + Rose isn't flashy enough to find itself on the cover of Architect Magazine, it's fascinating and instructive for what it tells us about how architecture can interact with urbanism.

Ornament doesn't have to be historic-looking

In the world of architecture criticism, ornament is taboo. Buildings should be "of their time;" they must not rely on historic styles to look good. Since so much ornament is either historic or kitschy faux historic, the world of architecture has turned its nose up at it for decades.

But many laypeople prefer buildings with little flourishes, because, well, little flourishes are pretty and people like pretty things. Those flourishes are particularly important on urban buildings, where people walking along a sidewalk need human-scale things to look at.

Pike + Rose attempts to rectify that mismatch by providing the sort of small-scale ornamental flourishes that pedestrians crave, but using unabashedly contemporary styles and materials.

Mixed but instructive results

No doubt about it, Pike + Rose is an experiment with mixed results. Its designers tried a lot of things, and failed as often as they succeeded. But failure teaches as much as success, and future architects can learn much from what happened here.

The most successful attempts are those that fully embrace their modern manufacturing, using carefully-placed materials to create repeating abstract patterns of factory-produced detail. These are unmistakably both contemporary and ornamental, and look great.

The same effect thrives on fences and other urban accoutrements.

Less successful are the more literal decorations. These are individually beautiful, but on buildings they're awkward and kitschy.

Least successful of all are the murals, particularly this cartoonish fake advertisement for a baking machinery factory that never existed:

Other murals are more honest about what they are, and thus aren't so bad.

It's easy for architects to retreat to glass boxes and pretend they're bold, and it's easy for laypeople to point at old buildings and say "do that," but neither is a satisfying way to build modern cities.

The architects of Pike + Rose, WDG, deserve praise for pushing an envelope that needed to be pushed. Contemporary ornament can work, but it's going to take talented designers willing to try controversial things to build on and refine these early results.

I hope this continues. Our cities will be more beautiful and more livable for it, even if it takes a while to figure it out.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


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?


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-…lysťes. Photo by 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.


One strip mall's owners block, but then restore, a pedestrian path to the neighborhood

In suburban, car-oriented neighborhoods, simple footpaths can do a lot for people who don't or can't drive. When the owner of a Rockville shopping center inadvertently closed a popular footpath to nearby apartments, residents spoke out and were able to keep it open.

The path to Federal Plaza. All photos by the author.

Federal Plaza is a car-oriented shopping center on Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro station. Its owner is Rockville-based Federal Realty, which owns other strip malls nearby but also develops urban, mixed-use projects like Bethesda Row and Pike + Rose, currently being built in White Flint.

South of Federal Plaza are an apartment complex, the Apartments at Miramont, and a condo complex, the Miramont Villas, where my parents live. Until recently, residents used a short, unpaved footpath that connects the apartments to Federal Plaza and lies on both properties. Long-time residents say they have used this path since the Miramont buildings were built in the mid-1980s.

But in the middle of July, a six-foot-tall wooden fence suddenly appeared along the south side of Federal Plaza, blocking the footpath. Miramont residents now had to walk out to five-lane East Jefferson Street, along a narrow sidewalk with no buffer, and back into the Federal Plaza parking lot via the driveway entrance. The detour added about 1/5 of a mile to the trip each way.

This was a serious inconvenience for many Miramont residents. The Miramont condos are a naturally occurring retirement community, with a relatively large proportion of elderly residents and residents with disabilities, including mobility impairments. But Miramont apartment residents now also had to make the detour while pushing strollers, pulling shopping carts, or carrying groceries. The detour was even a big problem for some of the residents of an assisted living facility another block south who also used the footpath.

And the detour wasn't just inconvenient. It was also dangerous. Drivers entering the Federal Plaza driveway from East Jefferson Street cannot see pedestrians in the driveway. And pedestrians now had to walk the full length of the parking lot, in a county where roughly one-third of collisions with pedestrians occur in parking lots.

The restored footpath. View from Federal Plaza to the Miramont buildings.

After the fence went up, it took a few days to figure out who had put up the fence and why. But it soon turned out that Federal Realty had put up the fence to respond to Southern Management, the manager of the Miramont apartments. Miramont residents shook their fists at the fence, met, talked, signed a petition, and called and sent e-mails to Federal Realty to explain the problem and ask Federal Realty to solve it.

Federal Realty promptly committed to solving the problem. And two weeks ago, roughly six weeks after the fence went up, Federal Realty removed the section of fence that blocked the footpath. Miramont residents are once again able to use the footpath to get to Federal Plaza.

In addition, Federal Realty installed a curb cut from the parking lot to the footpath. They also marked a crosswalk across the driveway entrance on East Jefferson, another crosswalk along the driving lane from East Jefferson to the west side of the Federal Plaza building, and a crosswalk from the footpath to the long crosswalk, across the driving lane.

New crosswalk from the footpath at Federal Plaza.

Unfortunately, Federal Realty's willingness to keep the path open appears to be the exception among commercial property owners, not the rule. In Wheaton, the owners of Wheaton Plaza are trying to block a popular footpath, saying it will bring crime to the surrounding neighborhood.

Federal Realty's response is good news for Miramont residents and Federal Plaza customers, of course. But it's also good news for Montgomery County overall. Pike + Rose is surely not the only commercial property in the county that Federal Realty intends to redevelop from car-oriented shopping plaza to mixed-use, walkable development. Their quick and effective reaction to the small problem of the fence bodes well for their bigger plans for the future.


Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit pulls into Gaithersburg

Bus Rapid Transit is years away in Montgomery County, but residents got a preview when Action Committee for Transit and Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended brought a bus rapid rabbit transit bus to the 76th annual Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade.

County Executive Ike Leggett at the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade. Photos by Tracey Johnstone.

ACT's Tina Slater and Bee Ditzler conceived of, designed, and built the bus, which traveled the one-mile parade route in a rapid 45 minutes. It sports drawings of rabbits riding the bus, making this not just Bus Rapid Transit, but Bus Rapid Rabbit Transit.

In addition, a dance team performed a routine ably choreographed by the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn to the sounds of the Hollies' Bus Stop, the Fatback Band's Do the Bus Stop, and the Four Tops's bus stop song.

But don't feel bad if you missed it. ACT is already planning its second year of marching in the Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade. If you have ideas or want to join, please visit ACT's website and get in touch! But don't delay, because the big day is only 11 weeks away.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.

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