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Roads


White Flint's holiday gift: a safe Old Georgetown Road

White Flint residents were frustrated to hear that Maryland transportation officials wanted to push a wide, eight-lane road through the new urban center they anticipated. But on Christmas Eve, they got an early holiday gift: Old Georgetown Road will get to be a boulevard after all.


Old Georgetown Road and Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Montgomery County's award-winning master plan for White Flint, approved in 2010, would transform an aging commercial strip corridor into a new downtown. A new street grid, complete with bike and pedestrian infrastructure, was a central element in the plan, which specified the number of auto and bike lanes, target speeds and other details for new and redesigned roads.

But community leaders, advocates, and the business community alike were distraught to learn that state transportation officials required that Old Georgetown Road be built wider than what the master plan dictated and without bicycle and pedestrian paths. They said the road needed to handle more car traffic from a redeveloped White Flint.

So it was welcome news when County Executive Ike Leggett said in a December 24th press release that the county's department of transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration had agreed to reduce the number of lanes on Old Georgetown Road. Instead of eight lanes, the new street would have five, with two through-lanes in each direction and a shared left-turn lane at a new intersection with Hoya Street.


Comparison of the two cross-sections. Rendering from of Friends of White Flint. Click for larger version showing more of the road.

The decrease in lanes will significantly improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by reducing crosswalk distances, and will also allow space for on-street bike lanes and an off-street shared use path between Hoya Street and Grand Park Avenue, as called for by the master plan.

In the press release, Leggett said, "I want to thank our partners at the State Highway Administration for working with MCDOT and my office in approving a forward thinking solution that helps us reach our goal of creating a more walkable and bikable community in White Flint--right from the start."

While advocates and community members are thrilled by this development, there's a feeling that this battle shouldn't need to be won street by street. Behind this success story lies the continuing tyranny of traffic models, which are notoriously wrong in their predictions but still used to prevent local jurisdictions from building the walkable places they want. Montgomery County, like most places around the country, has been witnessing a decline in driving, yet the models continue to predict otherwise.

Even in White Flint, where a rare alliance of community leaders, elected officials, advocates, and the business community has rallied for years around a vision for a walkable community, Montgomery County was on the brink of building yet another dangerous eight-lane road through their showpiece redevelopment, against their wishes, due to the state's requirements to deal with likely incorrect traffic forecasts.

Thankfully, Montgomery County's executive and councilmembers have been supportive of a new approach, and it appears that MCDOT's new acting director Al Roshdieh is on board as well.

"We must continue to transform our transportation infrastructure to be even more transit-oriented, bikable and walkable," he said in a recent interview, adding that he "plan[s] to take a hard look at all of MCDOT's policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with our emphasis on smart growth principles."

When people are clearly driving less and desiring to live in walkable places, it's well past time to remove the antiquated, auto-oriented barriers in place that continue to limit the creation of healthy, sustainable, inclusive places like White Flint.

Bicycling


Montgomery gets its first cycletrack, and lots of sharrows

Montgomery County took a big step towards better bicycling this fall with several new bike facilities, including a new cycletrack in White Flint and sharrows on several neighborhood streets in Silver Spring. The Woodglen Drive cycletrack won't open until next week, but cyclists are already taking notice.


The new Woodglen Drive cycletrack. All photos by the author unless noted.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation began planning for the Woodglen cycletrack last summer. By narrowing the three vehicle lanes and removing parking on one side, engineers were able to add the two-way bike lane with a generous buffer from traffic.


Left: What Woodglen Drive looked like just last month. Photo from Google Street View.
Right: Woodglen today. Photo by the author.

It's only one-third of a mile long, connecting the end of the Bethesda Trolley Trail to Nicholson Lane, though it may get longer when Woodglen is extended to the White Flint Metro station. Even though it's short, the Woodglen cycletrack has really changed the feel of this street.

Until recently, Woodglen was still a big, wide suburban road despite being next to Montgomery County's tallest building, the 289-foot-tall North Bethesda Market, which has a Whole Foods and several outdoor cafes at the bottom. The cycletrack narrows the street, which not only slows drivers down, but also gives pedestrians a shorter distance to cross. It feels much more like the urban place Montgomery County envisions for White Flint.

Lots of sharrows in Silver Spring

Meanwhile, sharrows recently appeared on several streets in and around downtown Silver Spring, including Bonifant Street, Second Avenue, and 13th Street. Fred Lees, chief of traffic engineering studies at MCDOT, says that they're intended to connect the county's Capital Bikeshare stations to one another.

"It was siting the stations, looking at the routes between them, and looking at what we could do to enhance the routes between them," says Lees.

MCDOT has also placed sharrows around Bikeshare stations in Shady Grove, and is planning to install more in Bethesda and Friendship Heights next spring. Transportation planners are also studying whether they can extend the Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring, which is currently one block long, along Cedar and Spring streets as far as 16th Street.


Sharrows on Newell and Kennett streets in South Silver Spring.

Places like Silver Spring and Bethesda have the county's highest rates of walking and biking to work, and bike commuting in Silver Spring increased by one-third last year. These sharrows help form a bike network by taking advantage of streets that may be too narrow for bike lane, but are generally slow and quiet enough that potential bicyclists should feel comfortable using them.

That's a contrast with the new sharrows on Georgia Avenue, a Maryland State Highway Administration project. While the sharrows send a message to drivers that they should expect to see bicyclists, Georgia is still a wide, fast road that many bicyclists are reluctant to use.


The intersection of Silver Spring Avenue and Grove Street, both of which have sharrows now.

In Montgomery County, getting good sidewalks and bike lanes can sometimes be a struggle. While these additions to the bike network are small, they're a promising sign that things are changing.

Roads


White Flint is at a crossroads, and traffic engineers should follow the path the community chose

Montgomery County leaders and residents have worked for years to re-plan White Flint as a pedestrian-friendly urban place. Now that redevelopment is finally beginning, county traffic engineers insist on suburban-style road designs rather than complete streets. In this letter to the editor, County Councilmember Roger Berliner demands the Department of Transportation honor the community's urban plans.

Our county is at a crossroads. Literally and metaphorically. There has been a long-running battle over how many lanes of traffic should be built on the portion of Old Georgetown Road that runs in front of the new Pike & Rose development just west of 355 and one block from Metro.

On a certain level, you kind of shrug and say, really, is this so terribly important? And the answer is a most definitive YES.


Old Georgetown Road and Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Indeed, for many of us, this fight over the number of lanes is about the future direction of our county. It is about honoring the hard work our Planning Board and County Council put into transforming a classic suburban strip mall into the new White Flint, a huge boon to our residents. It is about old school transportation thinking versus new school.

It is about making multimodal transportation options—walking, biking, transit and driving—attractive, rather than just maximizing the throughput of cars. It is about placemaking, about being "context sensitive," about supporting the experience of consumers enjoying the amenities of one of the hottest new developments in the region.

It is a fight that has been going on for years, most of the time under the surface, and occasionally, as now, boiling over into the public domain—where it belongs.

And here is what it isn't about. It isn't about the developer, Federal Realty, who had the confidence from the beginning to be the first real mover in White Flint, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, and producing what everyone acknowledges to be a top-of-the-line mixed-use project, and who most definitely has skin in the game. And it isn't about the Friends of White Flint, who have been vigilant and valiant guardians of the vision our planners and Council have held for White Flint.

Our vision of this portion of White Flint is unambiguous. It is to reflect the best of transit-oriented development and the new urbanism. Bike lanes and shared use paths were part of the plan. And the plans being developed by the Executive Branch would eliminate them in order to facilitate eight lanes of traffic. That is not the plan or the vision we worked so hard to adopt.

So why is the vision at risk? The threat of worse traffic. Using old-school and debunked methodologies, assumptions at odds with reality, and not reflecting the use of the new street grid, these engineers maintain that intersections will fail. And if you use the new methodologies, more realistic assumptions, and disperse cars throughout the new grid that is to be created, the intersections don't fail.

Our planners and council understood the traffic implications of this plan. And that is why our council insisted on advancing the construction of Hoya Street, the four lane street that will connect southbound 355 with Old Georgetown at Executive Blvd. It is a much better route for those traveling north or south via Old Georgetown. With that option available and the new grid of streets we are creating, we don't need to sacrifice bike lanes, pedestrian facilities or the new urbanism experience we are trying to create.

County officials say our hands are tied by the state who will insist on eight lanes on their state road. State officials, as recently as last week, told me that they are following the county's lead. And so our county must lead. Strongly. And regrettably, none of the people who have been involved in this struggle from the beginning believe we have fulfilled that fundamental responsibility.

The County Executive, in response to the hundreds of community members who have written expressing their alarm over the threat to our vision of White Flint, framed the issue as "not if, but when" we are able to realize our vision. The traffic engineers of course argue for eight lanes for now and reduce it later if conditions permit. The rest of us want that scenario reversed—get it right the first time.

We can always add more lanes at a later date, but if we don't build the bike lanes and shared use paths at the onset, we will undermine both our ability to meet our own non-auto mode-share goals in this area and our vision of White Flint.

I have been in the midst of this struggle from the beginning as the district council&why;member, chair of our transportation committee, and active member during our consideration and passage of the White Flint Sector Plan. I, for one, am not about to go quietly into the night on this fight. It is way too important. And make no mistake about it—a lot is riding on whether we realize our collective vision of the future of White Flint and our county.

Author's note: In the interest of full disclosure, several weeks ago I put down a deposit on one of the apartments in the Pike & Rose development.

Roads


How a road in White Flint is like a ski area

White Flint's master plan calls for a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly road. The Montgomery County DOT (MCDOT) is disregarding that plan and says it can only build such a road once traffic declines. That's a backward way to look at changing travel patterns.


Photo by Owen Richard on Flickr.

Would you build safe ski trails only after novice skiers showed up?

People for Bikes uses an excellent ski area metaphor to explain why creating a complete grid of safe walking and cycling infrastructure is so critical. Especially in suburban areas, bicycling and walking most places would be considered a black diamond adventure, not for the faint of heart.

Ski areas design their trails so that the vast majority of people who are not expert skiers can find a safe and easy way all the way to the bottom. No ski area would build only black diamond runs and then announce that it would be happy to create some green circles, but only once there are already a lot of novice skiers on the mountain. The novice skiers only come when there are appropriate trails for them. The same goes for walkers and cyclists.

DC has proven that changes to street designs cause shifts in travel patterns. Its transportation department has invested heavily in a network of new bike lanes and protected cycle tracks in recent years. Just last week, new census figures showed that the number of bike commuters in DC shot up from 2.2% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2013, placing DC second only to Portland.

DC didn't wait to prove that there were a lot of cyclists on a particular road before making it safe for cyclists. Instead, it made cycling more attractive, and the cyclists showed up.


Old Georgetown Road in White Flint. Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Road designs drive change; they don't need to wait for change

The White Flint Sector Plan, which came out of a long planning process, extensive public input, and county council action, clearly calls for a four-lane road with bike lanes, sidewalks, and a shared-use path that's part of a Recreation Loop.

County transportation officials are instead planning road that's eight lanes if you count block-long turn lanes, with no bike lanes and no Recreation Loop path. They say state rules require a wider road in White Flint until traffic levels decline, when they could rebuild the road to match the plan.

The logic of re-building a road twice makes little sense. If this is really a state requirement, then White Flint provides the perfect opportunity to change or get an exception to whatever regulation prevents the safe street design promised to residents.

The goal of the White Flint sector plan is unmistakable. The first sentence reads, "this Sector Plan vision establishes policies for transforming an auto-oriented suburban development pattern into an urban center of residences and businesses where people walk to work, shops and transit."

More specifically, the plan aims to increase the number of residents getting around without a car from 26% to 50%. It should go without saying that the county will never reach those goals if it spends its limited dollars making it more difficult for people to walk and bike.

But MCDOT and the state are focusing first and foremost on moving cars. If land use changes and a better-connected road grid also make car traffic decline, they maybe they will redesign the roads to accommodate those pedestrians.

This is the wrong approach. The road design inherently encourages or discourages people from walking or biking. When people see a brand new, wide open road, they see it's easier to drive and are more likely to do so. When they know there's a wide, safe path all the way to Metro, they are more likely to opt to bike or walk. Conversely, when they have to cross eight lanes of hot pavement only to walk on a dirt path where the sidewalk is missing or there's just a narrow sidewalk next to high speed traffic, they make that choice only if they have to.

As White Flint community leader Ed Reich wrote, "I know that having to cross a road that wide will be a substantial deterrent to going to Pike & Rose, despite the great restaurants and shops starting to open there."

Travel patterns already are changing

While it's a mistake to wait for patterns to shift before making roads safe for non-auto users, the patterns in fact are already shifting anyway.

In the last ten years, Montgomery County added 100,000 residents while driving leveled off and started to decline.


Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't. Graph from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Meanwhile, as more people have begun to move into the White Flint area, Census data shows that already 34% percent of residents in the surrounding census tract are commuting by transit, carpooling, walking, or cycling, and 58% own one or zero cars.

White Flint can transform into a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented area. But to do that, it needs roads that match this vision, rather than ones that hold the vision back.

Roads


Montgomery DOT ignores promises to the community and sabotages the White Flint plan

When the White Flint Sector Plan was adopted in 2010 after years of collaboration between residents, property owners, county officials, and civic leaders, it was hailed as a triumph of responsible, sustainable development. Now, county engineers are poised to undo years of work by pushing through a road design that does not include any of the elements the plan promised the community.


MCDOT's proposed design for Old Georgetown Road would make it even more unfriendly for pedestrians than it is today. Image from Google Maps.

Transforming White Flint into a vibrant, walkable area requires balancing new development, which brings growth and amenities, with the pressure to move through traffic around the area. It does this with a multi-modal transportation network that diffuses traffic across a new street grid, known as the Western Workaround. That will relieve traffic on Rockville Pike while providing safe and attractive ways to get around on foot, bike or transit.

Because these elements are so important to the plan's success, it prescribes specific details including the number of lanes, speed limits, and the location and character of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. For Old Georgetown Road between Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike the plan is unequivocal: it should have four lanes (two in each direction), on-street bike lanes in both directions, sidewalks and a broad shared-use path, which forms part of a sector-wide Recreation Loop.


Planned bike lanes and walking/cycling paths in White Flint. Map from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

The County Planning Board and County Council both passed this plan, with all its specifics, and the community overwhelmingly supported it. Despite all this, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) designed a road that has no bike lanes, no shared-use path, and widens the road to one that is effectively eight lanes wide, and has nearly advanced that version of the project to the 70% design stage.

This will create an Old Georgetown Road that is even less safe for bikers and pedestrians than it is today. It also leaves a gaping hole in the Recreation Loop, one of the area's signature planned amenities.

MCDOT splits hairs to excuse a dangerous design

In trying to defend their plan, MCDOT officials argue that their design technically contains only two travel lanes in each direction. The additional lanes, which extend nearly the entire length of the roadway, are "merely turning lanes."

This obfuscation may hold water for traffic engineers, but for anyone unlucky enough to bike or walk along the road, that distinction provides little comfort. Under the MCDOT proposal, a pedestrian must traverse eight lanes of traffic to get across Old Georgetown Road. For cyclists, the lack of dedicated lanes means they must take their chances staying safe among four lanes of traffic.


Comparison of the two cross-sections. Rendering from of Friends of White Flint. Click for larger version showing more of the road.

In reality, the effect of this design will be even more pernicious. By prioritizing driving over everything else, MCDOT will fulfill its own skewed vision for mobility in the county: fewer people will walk, bike or take transit, even though they want to but won't feel safe. They'll, instead, choose to drive for every single trip, adding to congestion and undermining the entire premise of the White Flint Sector Plan redevelopment.

Even more galling, MCDOT has proposed redesigning Old Georgetown Road twice: once now to maximize auto traffic, and again, sometime in the future, to incorporate the elements in the sector plan only if conditions warrant and funding is available.

Drivers struck 454 pedestrians in the county last year. 13 were killed. Just this summer, a pedestrian was killed crossing the Pike down by North Bethesda Market. I frequently receive emails from residents concerned for their safety on and along Old Georgetown Road. These are the stark consequences of MCDOT's "windshield mentality."

With this action, the county government breaks the community's trust

Safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and a Recreation Loop were key elements that helped the plan gain public support. Since the plan passed, White Flint residents have consistently voiced their support for safer bike/pedestrian accommodations.

The Western Workaround is the first of many planned transportation and infrastructure improvements in the White Flint area. If MCDOT is willing to push through a design for this project that so plainly violates the sector plan, how can the public trust the agency will implement any other pieces of the plan faithfully?

The residents and stakeholders of White Flint deserve better. Please join the Friends of White Flint and Coalition for Smarter Growth in calling on County Executive Ike Leggett to uphold the promises made to the community and hold MCDOT accountable.

Pedestrians


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.

Parking


Montgomery proposes bigger parking subsidies

While they say there's not enough money to increase bus service, Montgomery County transportation officials propose to throw millions of taxpayer dollars at oversized parking garages.


White Flint conference center. Photo from Google Earth.

In White Flint, the county wants to use $21 million in proceeds from a land sale on a new parking garage. The garage would replace the parking lot at the Bethesda North Conference Center while adding more parking spaces. Officials haven't said how many spaces the garage would create.

If the garage serves a real need, then it ought to be fiscally self-sufficient. Marriott, the operator of the conference center, currently charges $5 per hour or $15 a day for parking. At those rates, a parking space that costs $600 a year to operate could easily generate annual revenues approaching $5,000, yielding handsome profits for operators.

If big weekend or evening events at the conference center occasionally need extra parking, valet parking could use empty spaces in the Metro garage across Rockville Pike. No subsidy would be needed.

The county Department of Transportation asserts that under an agreement with the Maryland State Highway Administration, the proceeds of the land sale can only be used for this garage. But a letter from former state Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley suggests otherwise. Swaim-Staley wrote that the state's interest in parking relates to its investment in the existing conference center. As long as parking is sufficient for that building, the state could free up the land sale funds for other transit-oriented projects.

Now, a pedestrian-friendly street network in the White Flint area certainly fits that bill.

This is not the first time the county's parking division has tied its own hands through real estate contracts to promote public parking. In both Bethesda and Silver Spring, sales of parking lots were structured so that the proceeds went directly into parking garage construction without ever appearing in the county budget.


A 6-level, $80,000-per-space public parking garage under construction in Bethesda. Photo by the author.

Meanwhile, the budget currently before the County Council keeps garage parking free in Silver Spring after 6 pm. Extending the payment hours until 10 pm would add substantially to Silver Spring's current $10 million per year parking revenues.

In past years, proposals to charge for evening parking conflicted with a contract between the county and Foulger-Pratt, the developer of the shopping area on Ellsworth Drive that was critical to the downtown revitalization program. That contract guaranteed free parking in two adjacent garages. Some downtown merchants worried that paid parking at the garages nearer to their stores would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

But the contract with Foulger-Pratt ends May 7. The Silver Spring parking district is heavily subsidized with a perversely designed tax that encourages landowners to build more parking than their customers are willing to pay for. Free parking in county garages after 6 makes things even worse.

County leaders tell the state that Montgomery needs more school construction funding. Spending the county's own money on an unneeded garage hardly helps their case. And it's hardly fair to give away parking for free in Silver Spring while bus fares and state bus aid are used to cut real estate taxes.

Montgomery County doesn't have money to throw around, and its urban areas are growing up. As they mature, they need to be gradually weaned from dependence on subsidized parking.

Roads


Turn on a bulb-out to protect White Flint pedestrians

If Montgomery County is serious about creating walkable places, it must fix dangerous intersections like Hoya Street and Montrose Road in White Flint. Drivers turning right from southbound Hoya to Montrose can't see pedestrians beginning to cross. A bulb-out would make pedestrians visible and the intersection safer.

Last fall, my mother tried to cross here, and told me that she would have been run over here if she had crossed when the walk signal turned green. So I went to see for myself. Recent pedestrian safety improvements had not made the intersection safe. Drivers turning right from Hoya onto Montrose can't see pedestrians on the north side of Montrose Road because a wall at the Monterey Apartments complex blocks drivers' view.

That wall was there before the pedestrian improvements. Why hadn't the changes included a solution for this hazard?


Image from Google Maps.

The Hoya/Montrose intersection was part of the $117 million Montrose Parkway West project. Before 2010, Montrose Road intersected Old Georgetown Road here, before crossing Rockville Pike and becoming Randolph Road on the other side. But in 2010, Montgomery County finished building the adjacent Montrose Parkway at a cost of $70 million.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) also finished their own $47.2 million project, which removed the intersection between Montrose Road and Rockville Pike. The end result is that Montrose Road now ends at what used to be part of Old Georgetown Road, now renamed Hoya Street, while Old Georgetown meets Rockville Pike farther south.

Pedestrian safety improvements followed between 2010 and 2012: new curb ramps, a pedestrian refuge in the median of Hoya Street, an improved pedestrian island between the main part of Montrose Road and the slip lane onto southbound Hoya Street, and a marked crosswalk across the slip lane. And yet, nobody in MCDOT or SHA fixed the hazard the wall causes. Why not?


Photo by Peter Blanchard on Flickr.

When asked via email how to make this intersection safe for pedestrians, Bruce Mangum, head of MCDOT's signals engineering team, said that they will add two signs reading "Turning Traffic Yield To Pedestrians." One will put one on the traffic signal and the other at street level just behind the curb.

Mangum added that "[n]o amount of engineering (signs, signals, pavement markings) can assure safe intersection operations unless motorists and pedestrians alike know and recognize their respective responsibilities." But a few more signs won't make this intersection safe. Research shows that these signs don't significantly increase the likelihood of drivers yielding to pedestrians during right turns. So extra signage likely won't help. And that's at intersections where the drivers can see the pedestrians. Even the most responsible drivers and pedestrians can't see through a wall.

Fortunately, there actually is an engineering solution that can make the intersection safe: a bulb-out (also called a curb extension), where the sidewalk extends farther toward the middle of the road.

With a bulb-out into Montrose Road, a driver making a right turn would be able to see pedestrians waiting to cross. Also, pedestrians would only cross one lane of traffic, instead of two.

It's true that a bulb-out would reduce westbound Montrose Road from two lanes to one at the intersection. But since Montrose Road no longer connects with Rockville Pike, it doesn't need two lanes there anyway. Plus, since this intersection is part of Montgomery County's transformational 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, pedestrian safety and walkability should be the priority.

Signs alone won't make this intersection safe for pedestrians. Sooner or later, a right-turning driver will hit a pedestrian here. Installing a bulb-out would prevent this from happening. MCDOT, please do it.

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