Posts about Rockville
Voters in Rockville and Gaithersburg will choose at-large members of their city councils tomorrow. The choices voters make could affect how much these cities encourage and welcome development around transit and transit around existing development.
Rockville has several councilmembers, including Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio, who rode into office 2 years ago on a platform partly based on slowing down growth in the dense core of this small city. She had successfully kept away a mixed-income housing development within walking distance of the Metro.
The Gazette endorsed Piotr Gajewski to unseat Marcuccio tomorrow. Unfortunately, Gajewski voted with Marcuccio on one of the Rockville council's most embarrassing moves this year: a recommendation to reroute the Corridor Cities Transitway away from King Farm.
This development, close to Shady Grove, was explicitly built around a central boulevard with a very wide median that could accommodate a light rail line in the future. Yet some residents afraid of a transit line have organized against bringing the line where it was always meant to go. Marcuccio and Gajewski both voted to ask the state to reroute the line.
Gajewski, who lives in King Farm, said the line would provide "no benefits." It's strange to think that a quick ride to the Metro in one direction and jobs in the other wouldn't benefit residents. Fortunately, the state isn't heeding this bad advice.
Patch contributor and lobbyist Richard Parsons wrote a useful summary of the growth and transit issues in Rockville. He says that few candidates in either city want to reform the damaging Adequate Public Facilities laws that hinder walkable development while encouraging sprawl. These laws, designed to ensure development doesn't overcrowd schools or roads, actually end up just stopping growth in the core and pushing it to less dense outer areas which will create more traffic and a need to build schools in the future.
Parsons' summary of Gaithersburg's races, on the other hand, are a lot more suspect because he was previous paid by Johns Hopkins to promote their so-called "Science City" development. The Gaithersburg council opposed the project at its proposed size, and Parsons criticizes this decision without disclosing his conflict of interest.
2 challengers to the Gaithersburg incumbents are criticizing that decision, which Parsons applauds on behalf of "those who want to see a more aggressive approach to job creation and transit-oriented development." "Science City" could have been true transit-oriented development by locating around Shady Grove or other underdeveloped Metro station areas; instead, Johns Hopkins brought enormous pressure and lobbying dollars to approve widely-scattered "towers in the park" office parks, connected by a winding bus route, and stamped as "transit-oriented development."
Gaithersburg voters should make up their own minds, but be wary of any recommendations around "Science City" from anyone who made some real money in exchange for promoting this lousy project.
Montgomery County residents have a love-hate relationship with Rockville Pike. It's the place everybody goes, but nobody likes. How did it get this way, and can it get better?
Simply mentioning "Rockville Pike" triggers a mental image of honking horns, last-minute weaves, ribbons of heat lofting across large parking lots, and seemingly endless shopping centers with hundreds of businesses. Most people's opinion of the corridor is two-fold: they hate it, but it's a necessary part of life in Montgomery County.
Like a lot of other places in America that came into their own in the 1950s and '60s, Montgomery County planned its new suburbia to be comfortable and convenient for the automobile. Roads would be built wide to accommodate the newest land boats, whose unimpeded movement would take precedence above all else.
After all, what could be better than making everything automobile-accessible, with business strips easy to get in and out of, loads of free parking out front, and convenient drive-through windows aplenty?
That vision might have worked in 1950, but times changed. Population increased. Families bought two, three, or even four cars for multiple drivers. Business success attracted more businesses, as well as office development. "The Pike" changed from a sleepy local shopping street to the most important commercial center for a huge community numbering nearly a million people.
Something else happened too. Roads in general, and the Pike in particular, began to clog like a hardened artery. As more and more people spread out across Montgomery County to live, they all converged on Rockville Pike to shop or work, and almost all of them did so using individual cars.
How has it all turned out? You can get anything you want on the Pike, but the gettin' is slowwww. No matter how exquisitely timed the signals are and no matter how many extra turn lanes and interchanges planners provide, Rockville Pike cannot move the thousands upon thousands of cars that use it every day. Even on the weekends congestion rules.
Bypassing the congestion is nearly impossible. The few brave pedestrians find narrow sidewalks, long street crossings, and short signals. They're often stranded on wind-swept, skinny medians, and then face broad expanses of parking between themselves and every destination. The Metro helps, but stops are too few and too far apart to access the entire corridor. Bus service exists, but is woefully insufficient.
Did we really invent this mess? Can we escape it?
I believe we can attain a different future, and I think Montgomery County officials agree. We can tame the traffic beast and knit the Pike's disparate, spread-out shopping areas into a series of urban neighborhoods, with increased housing opportunities complementing existing and future employment centers.
If we improve transit access to and along the Pike, traffic would become more tolerable, walking and biking more comfortable, and unrelated land uses would come together as functioning neighborhoods.
A high quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the Pike could whisk residents to many more stops than the Metro system currently allows, and make a visit to the Pike without a car efficient and enjoyable. Such a system could not only improve movement along the Pike, it could also bring people to and from surrounding areas.
At the same time, the Pike could be physically redesigned and made into more of a tree-lined urban boulevard, with benches and attractive streetside landscaping that provide environmental benefits as well, like managing polluted rainwater runoff. This reconfiguration, including the BRT system, would serve new, more urban land uses.
This sort of transformation will be necessary if Montgomery County is to continue to grow and prosper. Without such transformation, the county and the Pike specifically risk stagnation.
Simply put, Montgomery County must accommodate more people, and the best way to do that is to enhance and re-energize its already developed places, rather than bringing development to its precious few open ones.
A few projects are already under construction or in planning that will begin to bring about this change. The Metro station areas are redeveloping, BRT is being seriously considered, and corridor plans are under study.
Change is hard, but in this case not changing would be harder. This important part of Montgomery County must necessarily become more urban, more livable, and economically and more ecologically sustainable.
This post is part of an occasional series on local transportation solutions that will make our region greater.
New buildings near transit hubs can often be built without parking. But that can leave mobility-impaired visitors and employees with poor access. A new courthouse in Rockville, built without any parking, is drawing the ire of some for not including disability parking spaces.
On August 1, Montgomery County celebrated the opening of a brand new judicial center in Rockville. The $81 million, 167,000 square foot facility features nine court chambers, four hearing rooms, and zero on-site parking.
Local developers and governments finally discovered that new projects in downtown areas can be wildly successful even without large amounts of new parking. However, not including new parking in a project can have the side-effect of reducing the availability of designated spaces for individuals with disabilities.
This new judicial center is exactly the type of project that should not require additional parking. The courthouse is located at Rockville Town Center, blocks away from the Rockville Metro and MARC commuter train. In addition, over a dozen bus lines serve the area. Court employees and visitors who decide to drive may park in any of the public garages and lots located within blocks of the building.
However, despite the many transportation options in the area, a recent Examiner article claims that the courthouse could be "nearly impossible to reach" for an individual who uses a wheelchair. Montgomery County resident Brigette Woods claims that the "hilly surroundings" would make it too difficult to reach the courthouse and is considering filing suit against the county and state for failing to provide on-site parking.
Even though Montgomery County made the right decision in keeping the courthouse in Rockville Town Center, planners should sympathize with people like Ms. Woods. Greater Greater Washington has often noted both the many benefits and drawbacks of public transportation for disabled patrons.
While it is unlikely that Rockville's "hilly" terrain is too difficult to navigate, there are many people with canes, crutches, or heart conditions who have difficulty walking even a few blocks, especially in extreme heat or snow. For these people, taking transit may simply not be an option, which leaves them to rely on their private vehicles or expensive MetroAccess service.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that spaces be reserved for persons with disabilities only if a building offers parking. In this case, no additional disability spaces are legally necessary, but some spaces should still be made available. That might not require building new spaces, but instead designating some on-street spaces or ones in a nearby garage.
In the area around the Rockville courthouse and similar places such as Judiciary Square in downtown Washington, there is plenty of parking closest to the courthouse. It just happens to be reserved almost exclusively for police cars or other permitted vehicles. I am willing to bet that many people simply use those nearby spaces as free parking while persons with disabilities are forced to park farther way.
Of course, some people who don't have disabilities have been known to abuse parking placards, and parking enforcement should be vigilant to protect against this.
In areas where nearby spaces are at a premium, converting some of the closest on-street or reserved parking to metered disability spaces might go a long way to addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities.
People living and working in the Rockville and Shady Grove areas will be able to use 200 Capital Bikeshare bikes on 20 stations next year, thanks to a federal grant which will be formally approved tomorrow.
The bike-sharing program is one of 8 regional projects winning funding under the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program from the FTA. JARC funds must go toward improving mobility options for low-income commuters. Annual membership and usage fees will be waived for low-income workers who meet program guidelines.
There is no mention of where stations will go, and that probably hasn't been decided yet, but it is likely to include the Metro/MARC stations as well as high traffic locations such as Montgomery College and Rockville Town Center. A system centered on the two Metro stations with a handful of stations 1 to 4 miles away would allow users to get to traditional transit without having to wait for a bus or pay for parking.
Tomorrow, the National Capital Transportation Planning Board is expected to formally approve the grants. The $1.288 million funding and $688,000 local match for the bikeshare project will cover capital purchases and operating costs for two years. $200,000 of the match is from the City of Rockville.
The Montgomery County DOT applied for the funds, and winners were chosen by a selection committee and staff. Other winning projects include funding the shuttle bus to National Harbor that is filling the gap left by rerouting and shortening hours on the NH-1 bus, gas cards for home care aides serving people far from transit, and a rideshare coordinator for the Dulles corridor.
CaBi is a sensible use of funds to improve mobility for low-income commuters. With its minimal membership fees and an extra subsidy for those who most need it, CaBi can be a great commuting option for those on a budget. One $75 purchase can provide a year's worth of transportation.
The city of Rockville expressed an interest in joining even before CaBi launched. Being so far from the rest of the system, it is unlikely that many people will ride CaBi from Rockville to downtown DC. The investment might have gotten greater network effects if it centered around a place like Silver Spring and DC added more stations on its side of the border.
Though the pilot is going to be small, it can still serve a couple of roles easily. Members can ride from near their homes to the train stations, then take a train to DC and grab another bike for the ride to work Also, if a completely separate pod is successful in Rockville, then it could pave the way for other pods in discrete areas. For example, College Park has been suggesting they want to join for some time. If it works in Rockville, it means College Park doesn't have to wait for the tide of bikes to ripple outward.
Cross-posted at The WashCycle.
Also, if a completely separate pod is successful in Rockville, then it could pave the way for other pods in discrete areas. For example, College Park has been suggesting they want to join for some time. If it works in Rockville, it means College Park doesn't have to wait for the tide of bikes to ripple outward.
Cross-posted at The WashCycle.
If the Corridor Cities Transitway is built, it will be built along the King Farm Boulevard alignment that has been planned for decades, despite opposition from a few residents and the Rockville City Council.
The King Farm neighborhood of Rockville was designed and built in the 1990s, specifically with the intention that a future Corridor Cities Transitway extending west from Shady Grove Metro station would serve as the spine of the community.
King Farm Boulevard, the neighborhood's main street, was intended to be the alignment of that transitway, and was constructed with a wide grassy median to accommodate it. For 16 years the City of Rockville steadfastly supported and planned around having the Corridor Cities Transitway in King Farm.
Then in January of 2011, a small number of neighborhood activists complained, and the Rockville City Council reversed years of planning to request that Maryland reroute the transitway outside of King Farm.
In April, the State of Maryland responded. Rockville has its answer, and it's a resounding "no way."
According to Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, any realignment outside of King Farm would increase costs, reduce ridership, lengthen trip times for riders, and would not meet Federal Transit Administration regulations. Swaim-Staley puts simply: "A King Farm Boulevard option is the most reasonable and effective for the project."
Good work, MTA, for following through with a good decision and not bowing to a truly ridiculous example of anti-transit paranoia.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Two separate plans in Montgomery County hope to transform parts of Rockville Pike from disjointed chains of strip malls into walkable districts. Each would reconfigure the road to more urban boulevard layouts, but each does so differently, carrying some leading to a danger of creating two, slightly incompatible configurations adjacent to one another.
At White Flint, in unincorporated Montgomery County, a multi-year planning process led to development plans and zoning that encourage converting the many large commercial properties into a mixed-use neighborhood that contains parks, day care centers, affordable housing, retail and much more.
One centerpiece of this plan is a configuration for Rockville Pike which places a transitway down the center while maintaining the current number of travel lanes. Buses, and possibly one day light rail, can more efficiently travel up and down the Pike, allowing more people to live in the area without increasing traffic.
To the north, the city limits of Rockville begin just south of Rollins Avenue and encompass the portion of the Pike around the Twinbrook station. There, the city has conducted another multi-year planning process, also aiming to create a walkable district with street-facing buildings, a more complete street grid, parks and more. In fact, I attended a meeting for this plan over three years ago for one of the earliest articles on Greater Greater Washington.
Rockville came to a different conclusion for the Pike. They want to build a "multi-way boulevard" with through lanes in the center and side roads designed for turning traffic, parking, buses, and bicycles.
Both designs constitute an improvement over the current Rockville Pike, but they solve the problems in different ways. Each has advantages, disadvantages, and simple differences.
Width. The Rockville plan would widen the overall roadway, placing some of the outer lanes on land currently occupied by parking lots. This means that it can't be constructed all at once, but would happen piecemeal as properties redevelop. The White Flint model fits within the existing roadway.
Pedestrians. The White Flint option provides a median so pedestrians, especially ones who move slowly, don't have to cross any large sections at once. On the other hand, the Rockville option keeps the fast-moving through traffic farther from the sidewalks, potentially creating less of a feeling of walking right on a highway.
Bicycles. The Rockville design plans for bicycles to use the curbside lane, which separates them from the main traffic. However, they would still have to mix with turning vehicles, buses, and delivery vans. The White Flint plan, on the other hand, includes a bike lane at sidewalk level between the pedestrian part of the sidewalk and the road.
Transit. Buses will be able to move faster under White Flint's arrangement, and it would be easy to create light rail in the future. The center transitway can also use grass for most of the roadbed except for narrow strips for the buses' wheels, providing opportunities for stormwater retention. On the other hand, Rockville's arrangement puts bus stops closer to the stores that will open onto the street.
Drivers. Drivers might find moving in and out of service lanes confusing or frustrating, as they do on K Street. However, the Rockville plan provides more overall through lanes.
Ironically, DC currently hopes to transform K Street from a model that looks like the Rockville design, though a little narrower (one through lane on each side road plus one parking lane instead of two through lanes, and without a turn lane in the center), into one very much like the White Flint design, though one lane narrower on each side.
Is it necessary to harmonize the two? They could operate next to one another, though there would be some conflict. Buses would have to switch between center lanes and outer lanes. It could be confusing for drivers. And it doesn't lay the groundwork for a rail line along the entire stretch, as ACT has proposed.
Rockville and Montgomery County need to determine whether it's better to let each district go its own way, making their own choices, or whether it's more important to have one, unified street design for the entire corridor, even if that means some areas or some leaders don't get their top choice.
The Rockville Planning Commission is discussing the plan at a meeting tonight, 7 pm at Rockville City Hall.
Rockville's City Council voted Tuesday to ask the Maryland Transit Administration to move the Corridor Cities Transitway out of King Farm, a new urban community that was designed around the proposed line, after residents complained about its potential impact on their homes.
Both Montgomery County and the City of Rockville planned a dense, mixed-use community at the King Farm site for decades before the community finally opened in 1997. Today, the 430-acre development has been recognized by both the Congress for New Urbanism and the EPA as a good example of walkable, transit-oriented design.
The neighborhood has 3,400 homes, a "village center" with apartments over shops, and a substantial office district where the Department of Health and Human Services is considering relocating. King Farm Boulevard, the neighborhood's main street, connects all of these uses; from the beginning, it was designed to carry cars in addition to transit vehicles. Two stops on the CCT are planned within King Farm.
The Corridor Cities Transitway's winding route has long been criticized by urbanists for being too circuitous, though plans to bring the line through existing and emerging activity centers like Crown Farm and "Science City" will make the line more effective and useful to riders. Unlike past adjustments, routing the CCT around King Farm would hurt the project, avoiding thousands of people who would otherwise live within walking distance of the line.
Some activists may be hoping that if they can stymie the CCT, they might stop Science City, officially called the Great Seneca Science Corridor (formerly Gaithersburg West). When that controversial master plan for the area was approved, it included staging requirements that Montgomery County build the CCT before most development can proceed. The possibility of having many workers use transit was one of the arguments in favor.
However, there's enough momentum and muscle behind Science City at this point that if the CCT doesn't happen, the Council is more likely to simply waive the staging requirements. That will just mean even more traffic on the area's roads.
Joan Hannan founded the Coalition for the Preservation of King Farm after realizing that transit vehicles could run in front of her condominium on King Farm Boulevard. She claims that the builder never told her about the CCT and fear that it could force the closure of through-streets in the neighborhood.
Nonetheless, four out of five City Council members were swayed by opponents' arguments. Rockville Central reports that Councilmember Piotr Gajewski, a King Farm resident, said the Corridor Cities Transitway would give "no benefits" to the neighborhood while being "incredibly disruptive."
Another Councilmember, Mark Pierzchala, made a motion to suggest moving the line to the middle of I-370, which would bypass King Farm entirely. Only Councilmember John Britton, who noted that the Corridor Cities Transitway will serve King Farm residents going to the future Science City and other destinations in the upcounty, voted against the route change.
Meanwhile, residents in the New Urban community of Kentlands in Gaithersburg, to which King Farm is often compared, not only support light-rail for the CCT but have also gotten the MTA to consider rerouting the line into their neighborhood.
Rockville officials should look beyond the immediate, knee-jerk anti-transit views of a few King Farm officials. The whole city will be far better off with the CCT giving people a real alternative to driving right through Rockville, whether from communities like King Farm to jobs downcounty and in DC, or from points south and east to the new jobs in Science City and elsewhere.
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