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Councilmembers Want Smaller, Slower ‘Urban Streets’

by Aaron Kraut | January 8, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 347 views | 5 Comments

Intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard, which will be realigned. North-south Old Georgetown Road juts east to Rockville Pike at this point.County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer last month introduced a bill that would limit the width of streets and set lower speed limits in urban and redeveloping areas.

Berliner, some residents and the developer building Pike & Rose were not happy with the county Department of Transportation’s initial plans for Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda. The area was envisioned as a pedestrian and bicyclist haven under the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.

But the struggle for a narrower Old Georgetown Road, which also involves the State Highway Administration, has shown it won’t be easy to transform the area of strip malls, parking lots and major thoroughfares into an area inviting to pedestrians.

The bill would limit the width of travel lanes and many turning lanes to 10 feet in urban areas. Each parking lane on an urban road would be limited to eight feet. Target speeds, which are typically the same as the posted speed limit, would be reduced to 25 miles per hour.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation revealed preliminary designs last year of a revamped Old Georgetown Road from Executive Boulevard to Rockville Pike. The entire road network in that area is set to undergo changes as part of a new street grid prescribed in the White Flint Sector Plan.

MCDOT proposed a 40 mph speed limit along six-lane Old Georgetown. That immediately concerned Sector Plan supporters and developer Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is building retail facing the road in its Pike & Rose project.

“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,” MCDOT Engineering chief Bruce Johnston told stakeholders at a June meeting. “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.”

And the priorities for both the county and state agencies are more focused on moving as many cars through the area as possible.

With the bill, Berliner and Riemer hope to revise those standards. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Council Office Building in Rockville.

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  • randlepatrick

    I’m constantly baffled that MCDOT and SHA don’t understand that a more ped and bike friendly Montgomery County will be a better Montgomery County. Their mandate is to implement decisions made by elected officials, not resist them.

  • James Bergmann

    MCDOT has it right, need to move as many cars through this area to stop the gridlock. No one wants to sit in traffic and stare at the over priced stores of Pike & Rose. Stop the war on cars. This is suburbia, people WILL NOT be getting out of their cars.

    • Scott T Williamson

      The population’s projected to grow by 20% in the next generation. If you don’t get people out of cars, you have to build more roads, or suffer worse congestion (70% more miles congested is the forecast). So why not build roads? Consider that building a single suburban interchange – just one – can cost county taxpayers $100 million. Every mile of road costs millions to maintain and repair over its life. One short highway near Gaithersburg is projected to cost $500 million, for only a few miles of road. Widening means not only building roads but demolishing homes and businesses too. That also costs money, and it hurts people and livelihoods.

      Suburbia isn’t cheap. Think of your tax bill!

  • James Bergmann

    Old Georgetown Rd is already congested and has Mr. Williamson has pointed out it’s only going to get worse. We want Old G’town Rd left the way it is , 3 lanes each way, this doesn’t cost a penny. Why narrow a road that is already full? As for new interchanges, we wouldn’t need any if they would stop approving more density which can’t be handled. Rockville pike is a parking lot, Why do they approve these projects when the roads can’t handle it?

  • Montgomery County Voter

    I’m so grateful that a few county council members realize that people want and need to walk and cycle and yes, get out of cars to shop and dine in Montgomery County. The last thing this county needs is more and fatter highways whisking cars to DC. Calm the traffic–especially on Old Georgetown Road, which is a racetrack–improve mass transit, and enjoy a healthier, more beautiful county.

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