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Posts about Silver Spring

Transit


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


Proposed Purple Line vehicle interior. Image from PLTP.

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

Development


Town and gown clash over development in Takoma Park

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Maps from the Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Residents and the college have clashed before

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

Here's the critical part:

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

Silver Spring development could be in Montgomery College's future

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

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

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

Crossposted at Takoma Talk.

Bicycling


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

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


Image from Montgomery County.

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

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


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

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


Bikeway intersection. Image from Montgomery County.

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

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


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

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

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

Bicycling


Silver Spring is getting a new protected bikeway

Montgomery County has been stepping up its seriousness when it comes to building bike infrastructure. Next up? Silver Spring's first protected bikeway.


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

The county is considering protected lanes that would run for about a mile along Cedar and Spring Streets, between 2nd Avenue and Wayne Avenue. The route circles around the northern and eastern edges of downtown Silver Spring, close to many of its major destinations and connecting with bike routes along several cross streets.

Another way to describe the lanes' location is to say they'll be right in the middle of Montgomery County's Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area for Silver Spring, which is where planners are looking to make biking and walking a safer, more appealing options.

At the bikeway's western end (near Spring Street and Second Avenue), it will connect to the future Capital Crescent Trail, and at its eastern end (at Cedar Street and Wayne Avenue) it will connect to the future Silver Spring Green Trail; both trails are being built as part of the Purple Line.

After Purple Line construction, the bikeway could extend to Sixteenth Street.

Planners will unveil more specific designs at a public meeting on February 2nd. Those details would show what type of barriers will go up between the bikeway and traffic, and how the bikeway will cross intersections.

Pedestrians


Construction has made a busy Silver Spring street dangerous for pedestrians

In downtown Silver Spring, a busy Georgia Avenue sidewalk is closed for the construction of a new apartment building. The signed pedestrian detour is very inconvenient, and many people are choosing to walk in the travel lanes of the road instead.


A pedestrian walks in the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue rather than using the inconvenient detour. All photos by the author.

A couple weeks ago, Foulger-Pratt, the general contractor working on the new building, closed the stretch of sidewalk in the 8600 block of Georgia Avenue to begin construction on the site.

The closure is just north of the crossroads at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, the heart of downtown Silver Spring. A quarter mile from the Silver Spring Metro Station and very close to a number of high rise commercial and residential buildings, the area sees a lot of foot traffic.

While there is a detour for people on foot, it requires them to cross Georgia Avenue twice, along with Fidler lane, resulting in three streets crossings where there were previously none.


A map of the current detour pedestrians must take to get around the construction. Image from Google Earth.


Pedestrians opt to walk in the road alongside moving vehicles rather than using the signed detour.

Closing the right lane could allow for a temporary sidewalk

There's a simple way for the Maryland State Highway Administration to solve this problem: close the northbound right lane of Georgia Avenue to create a temporary sidewalk that's separated from traffic by barricades.

In the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue where the construction is, on-street parking during the week is allowed except from 3:30-7 PM. Since many drivers are already accustomed to this lane usually being a non-travel lane, it shouldn't be much of an issue for the SHA to close this lane to create a temporary sidewalk.


The closed sidewalk, looking south. Note the parked car in the right lane beyond the construction zone.

While closing the lane may cause some delay at rush hour, doing so could also save lives.

Development


High costs are a big reason people move away from cities. But sometimes, they just want to live somewhere else.

A lot of writing about housing in DC says minorities, immigrants, and low-income people are being pushed out of the city due to high housing costs. That's true for many. But even if the District were more affordable, some may not choose to live there. And that'd be okay.


A street festival in Long Branch. As suburban communities become immigrant hubs, more people move there by choice. All images by the author.

People decide where to live based on a variety of reasons, like housing costs, where they work, the type and style of housing they want, or schools. Another factor is cultural or ethnic ties: people may choose to locate near family or friends, faith communities, or shops and hangouts that serve their community.

This trend isn't new in the DC area. Long before the District's economic boom, the area's minority and immigrant communities had established roots throughout the region: Blacks in Prince George's County; Central Americans in Langley Park; Ethiopians in Silver Spring, Vietnamese in Seven Corners, and so on.


Like many DC-area immigrant communities, Ethiopians have moved out of the District.

As these communities developed a critical mass, immigrants to the region bypassed the District altogether. Some minority and immigrant groups have even moved farther away from the District: for instance, the Korean community in Annandale is shifting to Centreville, 15 miles west.

That may have something to do with lower housing costs. But it also may have to do with the desire to live in a suburban place. I've seen this firsthand as a first-generation American from a Guyanese immigrant family. Many members of my mother's generation, who emigrated to and grew up in Columbia Heights and Petworth during DC's worst days, left even as the city improved.

Our family isn't wealthy; my relatives are cab drivers, mechanics, and shop owners. But they didn't leave because DC was too expensive. It was that my relatives wanted to live in communities like Hyattsville and Fairfax, where they could get a house with a yard and a car while remaining close to the neighborhoods they already had social ties to.

However, that doesn't mean that non-white communities have no interest in urbanism. As a professor at the University of Maryland ten years ago, Dr. Shenglin Chang found that Latino and Asian immigrants to the United States wanted to live in suburban communities like what they saw in American popular culture, but with walkable, compact places where they could be close to family and friends. That's a big opportunity for communities like Rockville, which has a large Chinese population and is building a town center around its Metro station.

It's great that people in the District and other close-in communities are thinking about rising housing costs. Making it more affordable to live closer-in, near transit, jobs, and shopping, means stronger neighborhoods, less traffic congestion, and less environmental damage. It also means that more kinds of people can live in the District. But it's not a guarantee that the District will become more diverse.

After all, the District contains about 10% of a region with nearly 6 million people. People have lots of choices on where to live, and many of them are taking advantage.

Development


Silver Spring's old police station could become new artist housing

Three years ago, Silver Spring neighbors proposed turning an old police station into artists studios. Now, it looks like they might get their wish, along with new housing for artists.


The police station today. Photo from Google Street View.

Minneapolis-based developer Artspace wants to turn the old 3rd District Police Station on Sligo Avenue in downtown Silver Spring into artist work space, in addition to adding 68 apartments in a new, four-story building and 11 townhomes. Artspace builds artist housing and studio space around the country, including developments in Brookland and Mount Rainier.

In the proposal, a new apartment building would wrap around the old police station, forming an "F" shape. The lawn in front of the police station on Sligo Avenue would become a public, partially paved plaza, while a rear courtyard would give the residents private open space. To the east, eleven townhouses would sit along Grove Street, with an alley and parking lot in back.


The proposed plan. Image from Artspace.

For artists to move in, they need a place to live

Montgomery County vacated the 1960's-era police station last year after a new one opened in White Oak last year. In 2012, a proposal to tear down the police station and build townhouses met opposition from neighbors in the adjacent East Silver Spring neighborhood, which with nearby Takoma Park has had a long history of attracting people in the arts.

Neighbors and architects Steve Knight and Karen Burditt wrote an op-ed in the Silver Spring Voice saying that the building should become an arts center modeled on the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, and that the green space around the building become a community garden.

At the time, I suggested that the arts center idea would only really work if there were also artist housing, since people who make art for a living often have a limited income and may not be able to afford close-in, urban neighborhoods like Silver Spring.

The county eventually did reach out to Artspace, and officials announced the projectearlier this year. While neighbors were initially skeptical of any housing on the site, the East Silver Spring Civic Association unanimously voted to support this project.


Artspace building in Mount Rainier. Photo from Google Street View.

It's great that neighbors are okay with building some townhouses here, considering how other Silver Spring neighborhoods fought building them. They're a great option for households who need more space than an apartment but less than a house—especially in Silver Spring, where most housing is either high-rise apartments or single-family homes.

We don't know what the units will look like on the outside, but hopefully they'll incorporate high-quality materials and be designed to look good on all four sides, since the backs of the townhouses will face the plaza.

Overall, the project looks like a great compromise. Neighbors get an arts center that allows them to showcase their work and some open space. Artists get studio space and housing they can actually afford. And the community as a whole gets a new gathering place in the form of a public plaza.

Artspace's plans will go to the Montgomery County Planning Board for review December 17.

Bicycling


The Silver Spring Transit Center may get its own bike station

Beyond bike lanes, the Silver Spring Transit Center may even get its own bike station. There's money and a plan in place that just needs follow-through.


Bike parking at the Silver Spring Metro today. Photo by the author.

Other than twenty bike lockers that cost $120/year to rent, there's a lack of secure, sheltered bike storage at the Silver Spring Metro. That keeps people, myself included, from biking there. A bike shelter would address expected increases in bicycle parking demand that will come with the opening of the Silver Spring Transit Center, the Purple Line, and the extension of the Capital Crescent Trail and Metropolitan Branch Trail.


The Union Station bike station. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

A multi-service, staffed bicycle parking station at the Silver Spring Transit Center would look a lot like the bike station at Union Station. It could even have lockers, showers, or a bicycle repair station.

There are real plans to fund the bike station

The idea of a bike station in Silver Spring has been around for years. Like delays with the transit center, it just keeps falling through the cracks.

However, nearby developers began to commit money to the project back in 2010, and there is about $500,000 set aside for the bike station at this point. Planning firm Toole Design Group completed a detailed study on a potential bicycle station at the Silver Spring Transit Center back in January 2014.

Some funding will come with Gene Lynch Urban Park, a new park that will be built across the street from the transit center. But the potential bike station also needs two nearby projects to move forward whose developers agreed to provide funding when they were approved: a hotel and apartment complex called Silver Spring Park and an apartment building at 8621 Georgia Avenue.

Right now, the bike station most needs drive to keep pushing it forward. Loss of staff and lack of budget have forced county planners to postpone their most recent efforts. Planners initially hoped to organize a one-day bike valet to highlight the demand for secure bike parking at the Silver Spring Metro, but that has now been pushed back at least until next summer.

Until the government officials or the bike and transit advocates take the lead on this project, it may continue to fall through the cracks.

Transit


With the Transit Center opening, Silver Spring is regaining some public space

Now that the Silver Spring Transit Center is open, what's going to happen to all of those "temporary" bus stops? They could become parking spaces, or bike lanes.


Waiting for a bus at Wayne and Dixon Avenues. Photo by Dan Reed.

When the Silver Spring Transit Center broke ground, adjacent sidewalk and road space on Wayne Avenue, Dixon Avenue, and Bonifant Street were set aside for temporary bus stops and bus lanes. With Metro finally opening the Transit Center seven years later, the public is set to get the space back.

The bus stops and bus lanes have been up for so long that most of the Montgomery County employees I've talked with do not even remember what the roads looked like before 2008. So what should happen with this space now that it's free again?

For now, the streets won't change

I asked Don Scheuerman from the Montgomery County Department of General Services (DGS) and Dave Anspacher, the county planner leading the new Bicycle Master Plan, about this transition. They told me there are many possibilities, but nothing is set in stone.

With the transit center open, the county's initial approach is to leave the streets as "status quo" so people walking, biking, and driving can become familiar with the new patterns. Afterward, Montgomery County's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) may look to restore the parking spaces on Wayne, Dixon, and Bonifant.

The agency is also looking at converting the bus lanes on Wayne Avenue into separated bicycle lanes, which already has strong support from County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Tom Hucker.


Underutilized space on Wayne Avenue after the opening of the Silver Spring Transit Center, taken at the beginning of rush hour. Photo by the author.

Bike lanes would be a better use than parking

I walk those streets every weekday during rush hours, and I have never witnessed traffic heavy enough to warrant additional traffic lanes. Plus, with the hundreds of parking spaces in nearby garages, there is no need for on-street parking. Using this extra street space for bike lanes supports the county's goals for infrastructure for people walking and biking.

These potential changes can't occur, however, until DGS decommissions the area surrounding the transit center (including the temporary bus stops) in three to six months and constructs the Gene Lynch Urban Park, at the corner of Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road, in at least 18 months.

With the Silver Spring Transit Center finally open, the sidewalk and bicycle network surrounding the Metro may soon be transformed for the better. We still have a long way to go, but we are already moving in the right direction. What we need most now is the drive and the leadership to see this process through.

Transit


The Silver Spring Transit Center is finally open

After years of delay and budget overruns, the Silver Spring Transit Center finally opened yesterday.


Photo by Dan Malouff.

The three-story complex, located next to the Silver Spring Metro station, brings together Metro, MARC commuter rail, local and intercity buses, and a kiss-and-ride. The future Purple Line will also stop there. First proposed in 1996, construction started in 2008.

The transit center was supposed to open in 2012 before officials found serious structural defects. A report found that the county, the designers, and the builders were all at fault, and WMATA refused to take over the building. The county brought in a new structural engineer to organize repairs, which began last fall. Right now, Montgomery County and WMATA are suing the builder and designer.


Photo by Dan Malouff.

But now, the transit center is up and running after a low-key opening Sunday morning. The first bus, a Metrobus 70 headed to Archives, pulled out at 4:08 am. Later in the morning, the Action Committee for Transit announced the winner of its contest to guess the transit center's opening date: Garth Burleyson of Colesville, who'd picked October 26.


Goofing off in the transit center before it opens. Photo by the author.

Fences surrounding the transit center finally came down Saturday afternoon. When I stopped by Saturday night, curious onlookers were wandering around the empty structure, snapping funny photos and taking in the building for the first time.


Looking from the transit center into downtown Silver Spring. Photo by Dan Malouff.

The views of the Metro station and downtown Silver Spring are pretty dramatic.


Photo by the author.

The first two floors have stops for Metrobus and Ride On, and intercity buses, while a third floor has a taxi stand, bike parking, and a kiss-and-ride. Signs point to where riders can catch each bus, while digital displays give real-time arrival info.


Riders catch the Z8 on the street one last time.

For bus riders, the transit center will require some getting used to. For seven years, buses stopped along nearby streets. Stops for dozens of routes will move into the transit center.

Now that the Transit Center is done, one big question is what will happen to the space around it. Plans to build apartments, offices, and hotels next to the complex fell through last year, and the county's suing Foulger Pratt, the developer who sought to build them.

This is one of the most valuable development sites not just in Silver Spring, but the region, situated next to one of its biggest transit hubs. With the core of downtown Silver Spring three blocks away, there's a big opportunity to capture all of the people walking there from the Metro. Hopefully, this won't sit empty for long.

Check out my photos and Dan Malouff's photos from opening day.

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