Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Takoma Park

Development


Otherwise-progressive Maryland elected officials choose exclusion at the Takoma Metro

In our region, in 2014, shouldn't building housing on top of Metro stations be an uncontroversial idea? To many people and elected officials in Takoma Park, that's only tolerable as long as you add a very small number of residents and don't build anything larger than surrounding buildings.


Photo by bradleygee on Flickr.

This attitude ensures that housing costs stay high and many communities remain off-limits to many people who would like to live there. Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, congressman Chris Van Hollen, councilmember Marc Elrich, state senator Jamie Raskin, and delegate Sheila Hixson all reinforced much or all of this exclusionary attitude last week.

They were writing about the planned 200-unit apartment building atop the Takoma Metro station. It will cover what's now the Kiss and Ride parking lot and a patch of trees. The site is inside the District of Columbia, but is across the street from some houses in Maryland. The WMATA Board held a hearing last week on the proposal.

A group of people, led by Takoma Park councilmember Seth Grimes, have been fighting against the project. They want the project to preserve some open space, be shorter, have fewer residents, and include fewer parking spaces. And they say that the developer, EYA, has not listened to them enough in the process.


Image from EYA.

Plan has a lot of good, some room to improve

The current proposal isn't perfect. It probably does have more parking than is necessary. Some elements of the current design aren't as attractive as they should be.

On the other hand, it's not an unreasonable size for the area and for the fact that it's atop a Metro station. In fact, EYA has already shrunk it down from the first iterations of this apartment building plan, which had 225 units. WMATA and DC worked out a deal to keep the other half of the site as a park.

This building will be more compact than a 2006 proposal to construct townhouses. Neighbors also fought against that plan, and successfully delayed it into oblivion.

The plan may get even better in the future. WMATA wouldn't be approving the final design for construction. Rather, this project is what's called a Planned Unit Development, where the DC Zoning Commission has extensive input into its design. That part of the process hasn't even begun, and so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to ask for changes.

Maryland residents will be able to testify at Zoning Commission hearings on the project, and especially with two federal representatives on the Zoning Commission, there's every reason to believe that board will listen to any reasonable arguments they make.

However, Raskin, Hucker, Hixson, and Mizeur, who are the sitting state legislative delegation for the area, argue in their letter that Maryland "has limited formal involvement" in the PUD process. They therefore ask the WMATA board to delay approval until there can be yet another process, where a neighborhood working group with members from DC and Maryland get to push for more changes (surely including reducing the amount of housing even further).

"More dialogue" is a smokescreen

That letter also states that neighbors haven't been involved enough. So does at-large councilmember Marc Elrich's letter. Perhaps the developers have listened as much as they could; perhaps not. In countless development disputes, however, opponents say that they are just looking for "dialogue" and haven't been listened to, when in fact they are demanding a substantially smaller project with less housing, and that is not a realistic request.

Years of delays and battles killed the 2006 townhouse effort. Maybe if opponents can just delay this project enough, nothing will get built, or only a very small amount of housing will end up going at this site. That would be an enormous loss to the region. There are limited developable parcels around Metro stations, and those are best places for new housing and jobs. This building may be larger than many around it, but it's not really that big.

Hans Riemer, another at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, confined his letter to making specific recommendations to improve the project. That's a good approach and the developer should heed his suggestions. Opponents, unfortunately, have responded to his more constructive approach by campaigning against him in tomorrow's primary.

When other elected officials like Hucker (who hopes to win a primary contest tomorrow to represent the district on the council), Raskin, Elrich, Van Hollen, and the others ask in letters for delay and more consultation, they aren't standing up for good civic process. They are just strengthening obstruction.

Building apartments at the Takoma Metro means more customers to support Takoma's thriving local businesses, fewer people who need to drive everywhere, and the ability to meet the demand for housing, resulting in lower or at least more stable housing costs. That's the truly progressive thing to do, not trying to keep new people out in favor of those who came here first.

Development


Takoma Metro development proposal is a real compromise

For more than 10 years, we've discussed what kind of development at the Takoma Metro station would make this station a lively, safer place. A new plan for a residential building does just that, while offering a compromise to neighbors concerned about open space and parking.


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Since 2000, WMATA has attempted to develop the area around the Takoma station. Last year, developer EYA proposed building about 200 apartments on a surface parking lot. The building would have 3 stories on Eastern Avenue and step up to 4 toward the train tracks. It would replace most of the parking, only about half of which is used at one time.

The plan keeps the existing 2.5 acre green space open, and offers some enhancements to make it more usable. The proposed building and residents overlooking the site will help foster a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment by orienting the building to the bus drive, with entrances and windows facing the lane. Previous plans for live-work units or retail space have been dropped because of the weak market for retail at the site.

A 2006 plan that later stalled out offered about 90 townhouses and a one acre village green, but no replacement for the Metro parking, which is only for short term use. While the attractive townhouse and inviting village green were worth pursuing, I always thought this site would be better for an apartment building.


Image from EYA.

Then and now, some neighbors in both Takoma and the adjacent city of Takoma Park, which sits across Eastern Avenue, have opposed the project. In 2006, both supporters and opponents gave the developer grief about building homes with 2-car garages at a Metro station. But many critics also said that WMATA should replace all of the existing parking, in addition to preserving the whole 2.5 acre open space in front of the station and adding more bus bays.

The new plan responds to nearly all of the major criticisms, while at the same time more than doubling the amount of housing originally proposed. Now, opponents mostly object to the potential building's height, even though it is on a block with other 3-story apartment buildings, all of which face single-family houses.

The proposal's modest scale is in sync with the downtown district's eclectic variety of buildings. EYA has already agreed to make the building shorter and reduce the number of units from 266.

At a March 13 WMATA committee meeting about the project, the board members incorporated amendments that the city of Takoma Park requested into its resolution to move the project forward. This Thursday, the WMATA Board will vote on an agreement with EYA to pursue the project, and to hold an official public hearing.

If WMATA approves the project, it will go to the DC Zoning Commission, which will have an opportunity to refine the design in its review process. Neighbors will have ample opportunity to raise their concerns about any aspect of the proposal then.

Like with any proposal, there is room for more improvement. The proposal offers much less parking for residents than before, which makes sense for a site next to a Metro station. But it could be lower still, since this is the transit agency's land and the point is to build housing for more transit customers.

The new proposal offers residential parking at about 0.7 spaces per unit, down from 1.5 to 2 spaces per unit in the townhouse proposal. It would be sensible for WMATA to require that developers on their property to build less parking and offer their residents incentives to ride transit and use carsharing. That makes it easier to market the building to transit-oriented households who rely much less on personal cars.

The other important way the WMATA Board could improve this project is to honor the DC Council's 2002 request that 20% of any housing at this site be set aside for households making 30%, 60%, and 80% of the area median income. This is still the right commitment for a property that the public transit agency and District of Columbia control, and our need for more affordable housing has only grown in the intervening years.

It's been a long time coming, but this proposal for the Takoma Metro station will make downtown Takoma a better place for everyone. It will help a greater number of people use transit, have daily access to local shopping, and live with a lower carbon footprint. This is exactly where our region should be growing, and where we can accommodate more people who seek a transit-oriented lifestyle.

If you agree, ask the WMATA Board to move ahead with this project. Click here to let them know.

Bicycling


Slow start for Capital Bikeshare in Montgomery County

Since launching in September, the Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County have been slow to draw riders, with some stations being used less than once per day on average. This may change over time, but it'll take a more complete bike network to increase ridership.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

I reviewed Capital Bikeshare's trip history data to find lessons from the first few months after the September 27 launch through December 31. Of the 50 stations in Montgomery County, the highest-performing ones were those in Friendship Heights and Bethesda, and those near Metro stations.

To count each station's number of trips, I included any trip that started or ended at the station. Trips that both started and ended at the same station counted only once, but if those trips lasted less than 30 seconds, I decided not to count them at all. To find the trips-per-day averages, I made sure to account for the fact that some stations were installed after the initial launch.

On the maps, blue dots are stations which averaged 10 or more trips a day; green dots at least 5 trips but less than 10; yellow at least 2 trips but less than 5; orange at least 1 trip but less than 2; and red dots were stations with less than one trip per day. Black dots represent stations that weren't installed until this year.

Bethesda and Friendship Heights

The most popular bikeshare station in Montgomery County so far is the one at the Friendship Heights Metro station, which was involved in about 11 trips per day. It has several things going for it. Metro stations are a popular place for bikeshare trips, as we'll see throughout this analysis. The location is also right on the border with DC, which has its own bikeshare stations nearby and, presumably, residents who were already members before the Montgomery launch.


Map by the author.

The next most popular station was at Bethesda Avenue & Arlington Boulevard, in the dense, mixed-use Bethesda Row area. The third most popular was the station at Montgomery Avenue & East Lane, close to the Bethesda Metro stop. Those two each saw between 7 and 8 trips per day.

The most common trip involving a Montgomery station went from Battery Lane & the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Norfolk Avenue & Fairmont Avenue. But this trip only happened 70 times last year, meaning a handful of users could easily be responsible for all the trips. As a result, I'm hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from the popularity of certain trips.

Rockville

Bike sharing in Rockville started very slowly. The only station involved in more than two trips per day was East Montgomery Avenue & Maryland Avenue, which averaged 2.5 trips per day. It's the closest station to Rockville Town Center, and also less than a half-mile from the Rockville Metro stop.


Map by the author.

The most glaring omission in Rockville is the lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro stop. Capital Bikeshare put stations in the King Farm and Fallsgrove neighborhoods, both of which have bike-friendly routes to the Shady Grove Metro.

The lack of a bikeshare station at the Shady Grove Metro seems like a missed opportunity to connect residents to a major destination. Throughout the system, Metro stations are among the most popular sites for bikeshare stations. The two most popular stations in the whole system were the one near the Dupont Circle Metro stop's north entrance and the one near Union Station. Each was involved in more than 300 trips per day from September 27 to December 31 last year.

Silver Spring and Takoma Park


Map by the author.

Like Bethesda, Silver Spring has some of the highest rates of bicycle commuting in the county. But the most popular station in eastern Montgomery County was the one near the Silver Spring Metro station, at Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. It saw just 4.3 trips per day.

There's no bikeshare station right near the Takoma Metro station. The closest one is at Carroll Avenue & Westmoreland Avenue. It was Takoma Park's most popular, averaging 4.1 trips per day after it was installed in late October.

Comparing Montgomery County to Alexandria

Alexandria was the first jurisdiction outside of DC and Arlington that Capital Bikeshare expanded to. The cluster of stations there is geographically isolated from other parts of the system in a similar way to the Montgomery County clusters.

The growth of ridership in Alexandria since its stations launched on August 31, 2012 could offer a clue for what to expect going forward in Montgomery.

There were 4,736 trips involving at least one of Alexandria's stations during the fourth quarter of 2012. In the fourth quarter of 2013, that number went up to 5,345, an increase of 13% from the previous year.

All eight stations in Alexandria launched on the same day, and there have been no additional stations since then, so it's easy to compare them from year to year.

Notably, and not surprisingly, the bikeshare station near the King Street Metro station was Alexandria's most popular.

Looking forward

Montgomery County can expect bike sharing to grow over time, but it shouldn't assume that such a slow start is normal.

In DC, the station at North Capitol Street & G Place NE opened in mid-December and managed 14 trips per day during the final few weeks of the year, even during a relatively cold month. The 10th Street & Florida Ave NW station, added in October, saw 25 trips per day for the rest of the year.

No station in Montgomery County really came close to those numbers, let alone those of the most popular stations in DC.

If the county wants its investment in bike sharing to pay off, it should fill in key gaps, especially at the Shady Grove Metro. Providing bike lanes or paths to connect neighborhoods to Metro stations would also encourage the kind of trips that have proven popular everywhere else in the system.

Development


Takoma plan addresses resident objections; is it better?

A plan to build some transit-oriented development at Takoma Metro has been in the works since 2000. After a lull of at least 5 years, it's back on the front burner. Developer EYA has devised a totally new plan that may address the objections neighbors raised to the previous plan last decade.


Image from Google Street View via WMATA.

The original concept involved 90 townhouses across most of the site and creating a "village green" of more active, but smaller, open space. Residents didn't like losing that much open space, and also argued that 2-car garages would foster too many car trips for a project right at a Metro station.


Image from EYA via WMATA.

EYA now proposes a much more compact developmenta 5-story, "approximately 200" unit condo building that's almost entirely on the footprint of the existing parking lot. According to a presentation on the WMATA Board agenda for this Thursday, the large open space on the southeast side would stay mainly as is, though pedestrian "desire lines," where people cut through the site today, would become real paths.


Image from EYA via WMATA.

The bus bays would remain where they are, and expand to have 1 new bus bay and 1 "layover bay" for a bus to wait between runs. Metro would build a bike station that can hold 105 bikes.

The current surface parking lot has 141 short-term spaces, but according to WMATA documents, the lot is rarely more than 50% full, so the new project's garage would include 100 metered Metro spaces along with some resident parking.


Photo by the author.

Why did people oppose the previous plan?

The first time I visited Takoma, on a WalkingTownDC tour, the tour guide stopped at the Metro parking lot, and held up a photograph of the old commercial street that was once here, long before the Metro station.

She opposed the previous EYA proposal, and made some strong points about its weaknesses, such as the 2-car garages. However, she also talked about Takoma's "small town" feel, and seemed at some level to oppose the idea of more neighbors. The question lingered in my mind: how many were opposing the plan because of its flaws, and how many out of resistance to building anything or adding new residents at all?

The new building will bring a similar number of residents or maybe even more, but provides the 2 things residents asked for most strongly: more open space, and fewer garage spaces.

There is a community meeting on July 16 for residents to hear more about the plans and discuss with WMATA and EYA. As residents get to see more details, we will be able to understand if this is truly a better design than the old one.

This plan keeps a lot of open space, but instead of small blocks of townhouses, it'll be one large apartment building. From the massing sketches, it looks like just a parking garage will face the Metro station. For better or worse, smaller condos will probably be less attractive to families, which have been strongly drawn to the Takoma area. The Metro presentation says that "mid-rise development has occurred surrounding the site bringing into question ... the suitability of townhomes for the site."


Image from EYA.

This new plan provides a good opportunity for those who want better TOD to push for a plan that builds what would be best for Takoma. As the process continues, perhaps they can find other ways to make the plan even better, as long as that doesn't just mean shorter, smaller, or housing fewer people.

Bicycling


Montgomery announces new bikeshare locations

Late this summer, Capital Bikeshare will expand into Montgomery County with 51 stations and 500 bikes. County officials have released maps of where they hope to put the stations, and they will hold meetings later this month to talk about the new service.


Bikeshare stations in Rockville and Shady Grove.


Bikeshare stations in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.


Bikeshare stations in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

30 stations will go in the downcounty area, including Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Bethesda and Friendship Heights. In conjunction with the City of Rockville, the county will also place 21 stations in Rockville and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center as part of a pilot program to see whether bikesharing can work in suburban areas, especially for carless low-income residents and reverse commuters.

County Department of Transportation officials will hold 3 meetings later this month where residents can learn how Capital Bikeshare works and offer feedback on the proposed stations. For more information, visit the county's new bikesharing website.

All 3 areas where Capital Bikeshare will go already have higher-than-average bicycling rates, like downtown Bethesda, Takoma Park, and even Rockville Town Center. That's not surprising, as these communities have an older, urban built form that easily lends itself to bicycling.

Bikeshare stations will also serve major employment centers, like NIH and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, along with local schools, like Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park and both the Rockville and Silver Spring campuses of Montgomery College. This will make bikesharing a real option for residents who live too far to walk, while helping students who either can't or don't drive.

However, the maps also show the need for improved bike infrastructure. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association and MoBike have proposed a network of new bike lanes to compliment the CaBi stations, but it'll be a while before the county actually builds some.

In addition, it looks like some of the stations are spaced too far apart to be useful. The station at Flower and Piney Branch in Silver Spring, for example, is over a mile from any other station and at the top of a hill. That means users are likely to bike from there and not come back, creating a rebalancing problem.

What do you think of the station locations?

Bicycling


Ride shows the need to expand Montgomery's bike network

Capital Bikeshare could come to Montgomery County this year, along with an influx of new riders. It's time to look at how to improve the county's bike network. To do so, a group of 20 bicyclists took to the streets of Silver Spring and Takoma Park last Saturday on a 5-mile ride organized by myself and the Montgomery County Sierra Club.


Photo by the author.

Last summer, I began working with Ethan Goffman, bicycle and Smart Growth coordinator for the Sierra Club, on a Bicycle Statement outlining 6 principles that policymakers, community leaders, planners and transportation engineers should follow to make bicycling safer, more efficient and more enjoyable for everyone.

The statement echoes calls from other bike advocates to improve the county's cycling network, particularly in the Downcounty, where the 29 new bikeshare stations will be.

The six principles are:

Make a complete network: Bicycle lanes and paths should connect to each other and to major destinations like schools, transit stations and job centers, making them a reliable way to get around.

Be context-appropriate: A network with different kinds of bicycle facilities will best be able to fit into different neighborhoods.

Provide comfort: Bicyclists will be more likely to use the network if it provides multiple route options, is easy to navigate, and has conveniences like secure parking.

Safety: Bicyclists will feel safe on facilities that are well maintained, well-lit, and have "eyes on the street" to watch over them.

Engage the public: Making community members part of the bicycle planning process will build public support for bicycling while showing that bicyclists are valued and respected by the county.

Education: All road users, whether they are cyclists, pedestrians or drivers, should understand their rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of others.

Keeping those in mind, I designed a route that takes riders on different kinds of bicycle routes, ranging from a trail through a park to bike lanes to riding in mixed traffic.

We had a pretty diverse crowd with a wide mix of ages and skill levels, ranging from kids just out of training wheels to experienced bicyclists. Most riders came from inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring, though one person came from Takoma Park and another from Capitol Hill. The ride was pretty smooth, though there were a few spills and some emergency repairs.


Sharing the road with drivers and pedestrians in Silver Spring.

Along the way, we stopped to talk about each principle, along with things the county and local municipalities are doing well, like the extensive trail network in Sligo Creek Park. While none of the neighborhood streets have bike lanes, they're slow and quiet, making them a nice alternative to busy main roads when they're not closed to through traffic. In a few places, our group had its own cheering section of neighbors.

Riders pointed out places where the bike network needs improvement. Many off-street trails are poorly maintained, leading to ruts and standing water. The Metropolitan Branch Trail abruptly stops a half-mile short of the Silver Spring Metro station, held up by historical preservationists who don't want it passing by the historic, but empty B&O rail station.

On-street riding can be equally frustrating. We used the block-long Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring, which was once named "America's stupidest bike lane" before being redesigned by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, streets like Maple Avenue in Takoma Park are wide enough for bike lanes but were given sharrows instead, which means bicyclists have to share the road with drivers that are encouraged to speed because the street is so wide.


Riding past a construction site on Carroll Street in Takoma, DC.

Another issue was the need to educate everyone on how to share the road. On narrow Carroll Street NW in Takoma, drivers came too close to our group or sped into oncoming traffic to pass us, violating both DC's and Maryland's 3-foot passing laws. Meanwhile, on the Sligo Creek Park trail, a pair of joggers reminded us that we have to ride single-file so as not to block the whole path.

How can we improve the cycling environment? One recurring theme in our discussion was that the Department of Transportation made bike improvements based on their idea of what bicyclists want or need, like the Cedar Street bike lane, but were surprised when bicyclists actually didn't use them.

Casey Anderson, Planning Board member and Silver Spring resident, and Jack Cochrane of MoBike stressed the need to for bicyclists to let county officials know what they need. County officials need to listen to bicyclists, but they can only do so if bicyclists make themselves heard.

Overall, this was a great bike ride. I was blown away by the turnout and the enthusiasm of all our participants. It's been about 20 years since the Montgomery County Sierra Club last held a group bike ride, but this is definitely a tradition that they should resume. Ethan and I are already talking about when our bike ride will be.

Thanks to everyone who came! This wouldn't have been a success without you. And if you were unable to make it, check out this slideshow of our ride.

Bicycling


Capital Bikeshare needs more bike lanes to work in MoCo

Capital Bikeshare will expand into Montgomery County next year, but bicycling advocates say the infrastructure isn't ready for it. If the county's serious about making bikeshare work, they need to make bicycling safe and comfortable as soon as the first bikes are out.


Rendering of bike lanes on Second Avenue by Dan Reed.

This week, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and MoBike recommended that almost 20 miles of bike paths should be built inside the Beltway before bikeshare opens.

Bicycling has become more popular as a form of transportation in Montgomery County in recent years, but there are very few bike lanes, and the county's wide, busy roads deter all except the most fearless cyclists. As a result, bikeshare users might be tempted to ride on the sidewalk, which could be dangerous for pedestrians.


Proposed Montgomery County bike lanes. Blue represents bike lanes and separated paths, while orange represents sharrows. Click for interactive version.

In this report, the two groups suggest a network of bike lanes in Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Bethesda and Friendship Heights. They proposed having dedicated bike lanes on major roads like Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring and business district streets like Arlington Road in Bethesda.

Streets that were too narrow or too congested for bike lanes, like Elm Street in Bethesda, would get sharrows, which help drivers and cyclists share the road.

They also asked the county to complete major regional trails, like the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which currently stops half a mile short of its proposed terminus at the Silver Spring Metro station.

The proposed lanes make a lot of sense, focusing on compact downcounty neighborhoods where everything's already within biking distance. I've written before that more on-street bike routes can make bicycling more practical as a form of transportation by bringing riders to shops, jobs and other activities. And bikes take up a lot less space than cars, meaning we can fit more bicyclists on a congested street than we can drivers.

Some of the proposed routes, like Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, may face resistance from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the State Highway Administration, which have been reluctant to take away space from cars. But WABA and MoBike weren't the first to propose bike lanes for them: earlier this year, County Councilmember Nancy Floreen asked that the state paint lanes on several major roads that they're scheduled to repave anyway next year.

Creating a countywide bicycling network will take a lot of time and planning, but there are things we can do to improve the biking experience sooner rather than later. As more people take up bicycling, they may find that they don't have safe places to ride. As a result, Capital Bikeshare could help build a constituency for bike lanes that doesn't exist now.

Capital Bikeshare is ready to expand into Montgomery County. The question is whether our streets will be ready for Capital Bikeshare.

Bicycling


Montgomery's fake cul-de-sacs don't solve traffic woes

Concerned about through traffic, many neighborhoods in Montgomery County have closed off their once-connected streets. But the costs of a quiet street might outweigh the benefits.


Sign on Ellsworth Drive outside downtown Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Montgomery County neighborhoods, like many in North America, generally fall into two categories: those with cul-de-sacs, and those without. Before World War II, and for a little while afterwards, neighborhoods in Montgomery were built with streets in a grid, or at least in a connected network. As cars became more popular, these streets often became noisy and congested, so planners came up with an alternative.

With support from the Federal Housing Administration and prevailing design trends that turned their back on traditional urban street patterns, builders nationwide switched to cul-de-sacs. As a result, most Montgomery neighborhoods built since then have them. Just look at a map of the county and you can pick out older, gridded communities like Bethesda from newer ones with loopy, disconnected streets, like Germantown.


Disconnected cul-de-sacs in Germantown force everyone to use collector roads. Photo by Evan Glass.


Gridded streets in King Farm disperse traffic throughout the neighborhood. Photo by Evan Glass.

Of course, cul-de-sacs weren't the traffic panacea 20th-century planners thought they were, and there's since been a growing backlash against them. In some newer neighborhoods like Poplar Run in Glenmont, they're few and far between; in others, like Kentlands in Gaithersburg or King Farm in Rockville, they've been all but banished.

We've returned to appreciating a connected street network, which can diffuse congestion and make walking, biking and even driving safer and easier. They're also cheaper to maintain and easier for emergency vehicles to navigate, which are two of the reasons why Virginia banned cul-de-sacs in 2009.

Yet in many of Montgomery's oldest neighborhoods, which were built with grids to begin with, the cul-de-sac mindset remains. Prodded by residents sick of speeding drivers on their neighborhood streets, the county's Department of Transportation has found ways to keep through traffic at bay using a kind of "fake" cul-de-sac.

Sometimes, they'll restrict turns from arterial streets or ban cars from entering certain streets at rush hour. Occasionally, they'll take more drastic measures and cut off a through-street entirely, like Ellsworth Drive near downtown Silver Spring.

If you live on a street like Ellsworth, you're probably not complaining. You get all of the benefits of living next to one of the region's biggest jobs, shopping and entertainment districts, while enjoying quiet, peaceful streets undisturbed by people from outside the neighborhood.

Less amused, however, are your neighbors on adjacent streets, like Colesville Road, Wayne Avenue or Georgia Avenue, that have to pick up the slack. Breaking up the street grid means more local trips end up on what through streets remain, making them more congested.

Studies show that residents living on busy streets are not only exposed to higher pollution levels, but they have fewer friends and a weakened sense of community.


Cutting off through-streets in Silver Spring forces all traffic onto streets like Georgia Avenue, making them a barrier between neighborhoods. Photo by the author.

Sometimes access restrictions displace car traffic to another neighborhood entirely. In 2010, the Sligo Park Hills community in Silver Spring asked the county to restrict rush-hour commuters from using several streets there.

Neighbors in adjacent Takoma Park worried it would just send cars their way. "We will be impacted by moving your traffic over to us, and your neighborhood is no more important, your kids are no important and your convenience is no more important [than our own]," said Takoma Park resident Ellen Zavian.

However, one Sligo Park Hills resident was so tired of drivers using his street that he threatened violence against them. "If you guys drive through my neighborhood in the early morning hours and I perceive you to be a threat, I'm going to start walking around with a rock in my hand," Sean Gibbons told the Gazette.

As a result, the City of Takoma Park implemented their own traffic restrictions later that year. Mayor Bruce Williams said that if they didn't, they would "be essentially saying 'okay take all that traffic and send it through Mississippi Avenue and Ritchie Avenue."

We can't fault people for wanting to live on a safe, quiet street, but the streets in neighborhoods like Sligo Park Hills are owned by Montgomery County, meaning that all Montgomery County residents pay taxes to maintain them, and have a right to use them. Besides, telling drivers they can't use your street does nothing to solve the larger traffic problem.

If we're trying to discourage folks from driving through certain neighborhoods, we might as well finish the job and make it easier for them and the people living in these neighborhoods to get around without a car.

While Montgomery's older communities were built with interconnected streets, they didn't have sidewalks. Many residents want to keep it that way. However, the best way to reduce car traffic, at least for shorter trips, is to make it easier and safer to bike or walk. Many of the neighborhoods that currently have traffic restrictions are already within a short walk or bike ride of major shopping areas, job centers and public transit. If more people are out biking and walking on local streets, it'll be a cue that drivers should slow down.

Sidewalks are a start, though Montgomery County planners have also explored striping a "pedestrian lane" on streets where sidewalks are either impractical or too costly. While we're at it, we could stripe some more bike lanes as well.


Bike Boulevard in Berkeley, California. Photo by Artbandito on Flickr.

Or we could turn streets like Ellsworth Drive into "neighborhood greenways," also known as "bike boulevards," designed to give people on foot or bike priority over drivers. That's sort of what currently exists on Second Avenue between 16th and Spring streets in Silver Spring, which allows bikes and buses during rush hour, but not cars. And if we're going to turn a street into a dead-end, we should at least make it passable for pedestrians and bicyclists, like on Middleton Lane near downtown Bethesda.

A well-connected street network has many potential benefits: better access to local amenities, diffused traffic congestion, and even stronger social ties. The best way to reduce congestion on little streets and big streets alike is to give people choices, whether it's multiple routes for driving, the option of taking transit, or the ability to safely get around by foot or bike.

While residents shouldn't have to worry about speeding drivers or heavy traffic on small neighborhood streets, closing off public streets isn't a real solution.

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