Montgomery County transportation officials want to shrink lane widths, build curb extensions at intersections and offer off-peak hour street parking to create the urban, pedestrian feel developers and some residents crave for White Flint’s new road network.
But the objective of moving as many vehicles as quickly as possible remains, especially when it comes to State Highway Administration road planners who have authority over Old Georgetown Road.
In preliminary designs of the Western Workaround presented on Monday, a realigned Executive Boulevard would have less space for bikes than some hoped. A 40 mph speed limit along six-lane Old Georgetown worried White Flint Sector Plan supporters who see that design as more suited for the area’s existing strip mall shopping centers than the mixed-use, street retail and shops that are coming.
The success of White Flint as a connected, walkable community could hinge on the delicate balancing act of thru lanes, rights-of-way, sidewalk widths, traffic projections and capital funding. And if state transportation engineers don’t budge, don’t be surprised to see developers or other stakeholders lobby state political leaders for changes.
“We are quite sensitive to the Sector Plan’s vision and want to provide an environment that will be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and encouraging people to get out of their vehicles,” said Montgomery County Transportation Engineering chief Bruce Johnston. “We’re modifying the road code standard, trying to incorporate that vision. …The [State Highway Administration] staff we work with has authority to trump us.”
The Western Workaround, as dubbed by the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan, includes a realigned Executive Boulevard that would run parallel to north-south Old Georgetown Road and cross into the coming Pike & Rose development at what is today a vacant Saab dealership. A new two-lane road with curbside parking called Market Street would connect Executive with Old Georgetown through a planned mixed-use development north of Wall Park.
There is $98 million worth of transportation design and construction funding programmed into the county’s FY13-FY18 capital budget for the road projects. With preliminary designs done, Dee Metz, the county’s White Flint coordinator, will present refined cost estimates in time for next spring’s budget process.
But there is still much to work out.
Construction of a luxury movie theater, 250-seat concert hall and high-rise apartment building is well underway in developer Federal Realty’s Pike & Rose project at the Mid-Pike Plaza along Old Georgetown Road.
Federal Realty’s Evan Goldman said much progress has been made in the last few months with county road planners in creating a pedestrian atmosphere more Bethesda Row than six-lane highway. But Federal Realty will be going to the governor’s office to request “the appropriate” shared-use paths and bike lanes along Old Georgetown Road.
He would like to see a six-foot bike lane planned for both sides of north-south Old Georgetown extended along the section that juts east to Rockville Pike.
Johnston said if the county were to go ahead and connect Hoya Street, what has long been a service road behind Mid-Pike Plaza, the State Highway Administration has indicated it would be more open to allowing eastbound bike lanes. A connected Hoya Street could allow some of the north-south traffic flow to avoid east-west Old Georgetown, allowing more room for bike lanes.
Construction of a complete Hoya Street connection is not funded in the capital budget. Also, the county doesn’t own the property of the vacant Saab dealer and Metz said it’s unclear how willing the owner is to sell it.
The designs include reductions in lane widths from 12 feet to 11 feet and from 11 feet to 10 feet in some places. At Market Street, the realigned Executive Boulevard includes curb extensions, or bulb-outs, that would reduce the road to one lane at intersections and mean less distance for pedestrians to cross at crosswalks.
Executive would include a two-way center turn lane that would allow for three extra feet of right-of-way to be used for sidewalks. Some were hoping for an exclusive bike lane on the road as envisioned in the Sector Plan. But Johnston said county engineers envision traffic on the road moving slowly enough not to intimidate cyclists in the roadway.
The proposed six-foot bike lanes on north-south Old Georgetown Road would be another story. With cars traveling 40 mph and faster, Johnston acknowledged engineers were looking at an elevation change or some type of barrier to make bike-users feel safe.