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Town Of Chevy Chase Wants To See Data On Purple Line Ridership Projections

by Aaron Kraut | July 23, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 303 views | 6 Comments

Rendering of the Bethesda Purple Line station, via Maryland Transit AdministrationPurple Line foes in the Town of Chevy Chase are questioning the validity of ridership estimates for the state’s light rail project and will request details of how a consultant developed the numbers.

The Town of Chevy Chase Council voted on July 9 to submit a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Maryland Transit Administration asking for “the methodology and models used to develop ridership estimates for the proposed $2.37 billion light rail system.”

The Town, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line, said past requests to MTA for the data were refused, as the state cited “proprietary issues of the engineering firm [Parsons Brinckerhoff] that was paid to conduct the research.”

MTA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The firm projected riders on the 16-mile Purple Line would make up to 68,000 trips daily. But the Town of Chevy Chase, apparently buoyed by a recent anti-Purple Line column from the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady, questioned if the numbers in the final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”

The Town’s press release cited O’Grady’s column, which questioned if the ridership projections were overinflated and if the state should instead pursue a bus rapid transit network near the proposed Purple Line route.

In 2008, around the time of the Purple Line’s draft environmental impact statement, Purple Line officials said planners increased all daily ridership estimates by 20,000 to take into account potential Purple Line trips made by Metro and MARC riders.

“The justification for the Purple Line light rail train is reminiscent of the wildly inaccurate process used to estimate ridership on the Intercounty Connector,” said Town of Chevy Chase Vice Mayor Pat Burda.

The Intercounty Connector, a state highway built to connect Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has fallen short of toll revenue forecasts made in 2005, when state lawmakers voted to increase the state’s debt to build it. Those forecasts have since been revised downward.

“These ridership numbers have changed over time yet have been substantially endorsed and quoted as valid by advocates and elected officials,” Burda said. “Since past efforts to access this information have been rebuffed, we are pursuing an official inquiry through the public information act process.”

The Town of Chevy Chase earlier this year entered into a $350,000 contract with a group of lobbying firms to work against the planned Purple Line route, which in Chevy Chase would run along the existing Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town also donated $10,000 to a nonprofit group to finance a study of endangered critters the group said would be harmed by the construction of the light rail.

That group recently joined with a major environmental organization in threatening the federal government with a lawsuit if it doesn’t perform more environmental studies of the area. The Federal Transit Administration endorsed the Purple Line project earlier this year when it issued its Record of Decision on the MTA’s final environmental impact statement.

The MTA hopes to pick a private concessionaire to help build and to operate the Purple Line, with construction starting in 2015.

Rendering via MTA

So Far, Mixed Feelings About Purple Line Advisory Group

by Aaron Kraut | July 17, 2014 at 9:20 am | 341 views | 1 Comment

The Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group prepares to start its meeting Wednesday in Silver SpringNo fewer than 50 people filled the Great Hall at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday, a mix of civic leaders, residents, business owners, government officials and transit advocates sitting around tables set up in a large rectangular formation.

A Silver Spring resident presented a power point full of parking questions and pedestrian safety concerns related to the Purple Line’s operation in mixed traffic. A Chevy Chase resident complained that his street would become “ground zero” once Purple Line construction starts.

Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration — in charge of the proposed 16-mile light rail — sat and listened.

MTA and Montgomery County officials answered some questions, corrected some misconceptions and assuaged some fears, but to some, it’s unclear if the county-created Purple Line Implementation Advisory Group will have any affect on the broader Purple Line picture.

“It’s by nature a hard-to-get-your-arms-around situation,” said Mary Anne Hoffman, a member of the group and the chair of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. “Our concerns are so disparate and so many that I think it’s unrealistic to expect that we’re going to walk out happy after six meetings.”

The group, known as PLIAG, was set up by County Executive Isiah Leggett in the spring in response to a request from Councilmembers Roger Berliner (Bethesda, Chevy Chase) and Cherri Branson (Silver Spring). Berliner and Branson asked Leggett to create a formal task force that would bring officials from MTA, MCDOT and MTA’s yet-to-be picked private concessionaire to the table with a recently formed group of neighborhood and civic associations along the Purple Line route.

That group, known as the Coalition of Purple Line Neighborhoods (or COPLN) got together in December with concerns about noise, vibration, tree loss, tree replacement, pedestrian and traffic safety issues surrounding the Purple Line.

Wednesday’s meeting in Silver Spring was the group’s sixth. MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden and a host of county Department of Transportation officials were in the room.

The meetings so far have generally consisted of an issue paper presentation from a member of an affected community. On Wednesday, the main presentation came from Jonathan Halpern, from the Sligo Branview Community Association in Silver Spring.

Unlike in Chevy Chase, where the Purple Line is planned to almost exclusively run along an existing off-road trail, major portions of the light rail in Silver Spring are expected to run in mixed traffic.

Halpern shared concerns about residents losing street-side parking spaces, school bus stops, Purple Line users who might want to park for free in local library lots and catenary poles placed on sidewalks, among others.

Matt Stork, MTA’s main traffic engineer on the project, gave a presentation of his own that explained how Purple Line trains would operate at intersections, where fencing would go to prevent mid-block pedestrian crossings and how the agency and concessionaire would manage construction traffic.

“It’s a great opportunity to have the MTA in a room consistently but I think, let me say this, I think other groups have been more successful when they create these smaller focus groups,” said Kate Detwiler, a resident of the Edgevale neighborhood of Bethesda who presented an issue paper earlier this month.

Detwiler’s Edgevale Street home backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail and future Purple Line route. Her concerns include noise and vibration effects from the light rail for both the neighborhood and trail, to be rebuilt alongside the light rail tracks with $95 million in funding from Montgomery County.

On Wednesday, Detwiler pressed Madden to do a noise study of how the light rail would affect trail users. At issue is the location of noise walls that are now planned to go on one side of the light rail tracks and the outside boundary of the trail.

“The bottom line is it remains an open issue,” Madden said, after Detwiler pressed for a study.

“I think it is a good forum for dialog and for information, but I’m not sure when it comes to an actual product,” Detwiler said.

Many in the group are looking toward the MTA’s Request for Proposals as an indication of how much traction their input made. The MTA was scheduled to put out the RFP for private concessionaires in June. The PLIAG’s next meeting was originally set to dive into that RFP, but according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street, that discussion will have to wait.

“From a broader perspective, why all of us are here and how the implementation group is affecting the RFP and affecting the process, I don’t really know that it’s been that successful,” Detwiler said.

“It ain’t perfect, but it ain’t over yet either,” Hoffman said.

Lynn Drive Crossing Cost Estimate: $7 Million

by Aaron Kraut | July 9, 2014 at 11:35 am | 199 views | 3 Comments

Design of the latest MTA proposal for a Lynn Drive Crossing of the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail, via MTAAhead of its public hearing on the issue Wednesday, the Town of Chevy Chase says it now has a preliminary cost estimate from the state on an underpass crossing of the Purple Line at Lynn Drive.

The Town says it could cost $7 million to build a new Lynn Drive crossing. Some in the Town hope the Maryland Transit Administration includes the project in Purple Line plans, as the existing path serves about 230 crossings a day — including many Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students from the Town.

But the Town and the MTA have also been at odds about what a new Lynn Drive crossing should look like. The existing path isn’t an official one, meaning that users are technically trespassing on a Montgomery Avenue property each time they use it.

That and the inability to reach agreement with the Town on a new crossing, led the MTA to make the no build option its preference.

Then in June, the MTA came back to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Committee with a final attempt at a solution, but made clear the Town and potentially Montgomery County would have to pay for it.

According to a notice the Town of Chevy Chase sent Wednesday morning, the state actually might be willing to pick up part of the tab:

The best cost estimate available for all the elements of the underpass (sidewalk from Lynn Drive path, underpass itself, property acquisition for switchback connection to Montgomery Avenue and construction of switchback connection) is $7 million. This is a total cost and MTA, the County and the Town have not yet discussed cost-sharing. It is clear that the Town would have to pay for the construction easement and cost of building the sidewalk to the underpass. MTA has said it will pay for the underpass itself, for additional walls and for the structure over the underpass.

That leaves the property acquisition of a house at 4306 Montgomery Ave., which the proposal would require for construction of a switchback ramp to connect to Montgomery Avenue and a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail.

The Town Council is expected to deliberate after the public hearing, which is set to start at 8:30 p.m.

It’s also possible Montgomery County could add the cost of the Lynn Drive crossing to the $95 million it has budgeted to rebuild the Capital Crescent Trail along the Purple Line tracks.

Gary Erenrich, from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, told the Mitigation Committee in June that the county might be willing to help, as the crossing project connects directly to the Trail.

Image via MTA

Chevy Chase Land Company Wants To Fund New Bikeshare Station

by Aaron Kraut | July 7, 2014 at 10:20 am | 611 views | 2 Comments

Capital bikeshare bike and helmet on display during a MCDOT public meetingMontgomery County’s leap into Capital Bikeshare seems to be picking up steam, and one property owner hopes to take advantage of the momentum.

The Chevy Chase Land Company is offering to pay for a new docking station, bicycles and installation of a Bikeshare facility at its 8401 Connecticut Avenue office building that backs up to the Capital Crescent Trail.

In a letter to County Executive Isiah Leggett, Chevy Chase Land Company Vice President Miti Figueredo described the developer’s goals as two-fold. First, the Land Company wants to fill in “a critical gap” in the Bikeshare network about half-way between downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring along the Trail.

The Land Company also hopes “to begin the transition toward a more multi-modal neighborhood,” as it gets closer to redeveloping the Chevy Chase Lake East shopping center into a mixed-use community with about 600 new residential units.

“Bikeshare will be an important amenity for new and existing residents alike, and will reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips in and out of the area,” Figueredo wrote.

The County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in July 2013, which cleared the way for redevelopment of the area. Permitting for some of that redevelopment will not be allowed until construction starts on the Purple Line, which will include a Chevy Chase Lake station next to the 8401 building.

The Land Company is the only business so far to fund Capital Bikeshare stations in Montgomery County. Figueredo said the Land Company spent $112,000 to install the stations near its office buildings at the Friendship Heights Metro and near the Bethesda Metro at Montgomery Avenue and East Lane.

According to first quarter 2014 trip data, those stations have been the most used of the network in downtown Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Montgomery County has since installed a Bikeshare station in the Bethesda Metro Plaza and plans to install one at the Medical Center Metro in the next few weeks.

Figueredo said the cost to buy and install a 19-dock Bikeshare station with 10 bikes is about $54,000. In the letter, Figueredo asks for Leggett’s help in starting the process as soon as possible. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation operates the Bikeshare program in Montgomery County.

PDF: Chevy Chase Land Company Capital Bikeshare

Town of Chevy Chase To Decide On Lynn Drive Crossing Next Week

by Aaron Kraut | June 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm | 214 views | No Comments

Design of the latest MTA proposal for a Lynn Drive Crossing of the Purple Line and Capital Crescent Trail, via MTAThe Town of Chevy Chase Council next week will hold a public hearing on the latest Maryland Transit Administration proposal for a Purple Line crossing at Lynn Drive.

Earlier this month, MTA officials presented what they called their last stab at a Lynn Drive crossing to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group. There are about 230 crossings a day of the Capital Crescent Trail on the existing small path there, including many students making their way to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

But previous proposals were either ruled out by MTA or rejected by the Town because of concerns about high retaining walls behind homes in the Town.

MTA engineers said they can lower the height of the Purple Line retaining wall about five to six feet by moving the underpass about 250 feet to the west of the existing crossing. The design would require a right-of-way acquisition of the property at 4306 Montgomery Ave. Once that property is acquired, there would be room for a switchback ramp that would offer access to the rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and Montgomery Avenue.

To access the underpass, Town residents would have a five-foot-wide sidewalk running along the base of the retaining wall to the tunnel, which would be about 10 feet high and 14 feet wide.

The sidewalk would require a temporary construction easement into the backyard of John Keppler, who lives at 7508 Lynn Drive. At the meeting in early June, MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden said no temporary construction easements on Town property will be necessary for the construction of the Purple Line or trail.

MTA officials also said either the Town, Montgomery County or some combination would be responsible for the costs associated with the crossing project.

Last month, the Town of Chevy Chase Council voted 4-0 to request MTA include the underpass design as a placeholder in its Request for Proposals issued to private concessionaires bidding to build the light rail system. If the Town decides against the MTA proposal, MTA officials have said they will include no Lynn Drive crossing of the Purple Line.

The public hearing is set to start at 7 p.m. on July 9 at the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane).

Image via MTA

Major Environmental Group Backs Purple Line Opponents

by Aaron Kraut | June 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm | 431 views | 6 Comments

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

A major environmental group’s backing of Purple Line opponents has some transit advocates scratching their heads.

On Wednesday, a group including the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and the Center for Biological Diversity threatened to sue federal government agencies involved in environmental assessments of the planned Purple Line light rail route.

Kenk's amphipod, Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological DiversityThe group claims the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Transit Administration didn’t properly take into account an endangered species of shrimp-like critters that could exist in Rock Creek Park and Coquelin Run.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a major national organization that boasts 775,000 members with the mission to protect endangered species. Much of the group’s claims are based on a study from an American University biology professor who’s surveying for the critters with funding from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Kelly Blynn, from the Coaliton for Smarter Growth, voiced her surprise over Twitter that the Center for Biological Diversity would join the suit:

Jeff Cronin, director of communications at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tweeted that the group’s participation was a “shame:”

“We support mass transit and the Purple Line, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of endangered species habitat, our public parks or our precious wetlands,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “Instead of reaching out to one of the world’s experts on these species — who happens to work just five miles away from the project — the agencies did a cursory review, ignored the likely impacts to these species, and failed to consider ways to reduce those impacts.”

The expert referred to in the quote is David Culver, the American University professor who found the amphipod in question during his surveying of Rock Creek Park in D.C.

Culver and John Fitzgerald, a Town of Chevy Chase resident also named in the 60-day notice letter, say there are likely other types of amphipods in the streams.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the amphipods are important indicators of water quality — a trait the group worries will be lost if the transit system is built.

“Amphipods are tiny — less than half an inch in size — but their presence or absence offers an important measure of water quality,” Hartl said in the release. “Protecting these amphipods will have many benefits for people by helping protect Rock Creek Park and freshwater in the metro area.”

Photos via Brett Hartl/Center for Biological Diversity

Chevy Chase Residents, Environmental Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Purple Line

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm | 531 views | 13 Comments

An example of an amphipod specieas, Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal MaňasA group of Chevy Chase residents and two environmental groups have threatened to sue the federal government unless it reconsiders its evaluation that no endangered species will be harmed by the building of the Purple Line light rail.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sustainable Economy, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and three Chevy Chase residents including John Fitzgerald sent the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies an official notice on Wednesday (see PDF below).

The group claims the FTA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in deciding that the Purple Line would have “no effect” on the endangered Hay’s spring amphipod and Kenk’s amphipod believed to live in various areas along the nearby banks of Rock Creek and Coquelin Run.

Unless the agencies agree to meet with the group and address their concerns within 60 days, the letter says the group will file a lawsuit claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act.

The group also cites the unfinished research of American University biology professor David Culver, who the group claims has found evidence that the shrimp-like critters live in stream areas that would be directly affected — and perhaps wiped out — by construction of the 16-mile light rail through Chevy Chase:

As discussed below, while the Service has stated that the Project will have “no effect” on either species, see 1/7/14 Letter from Genevieve LaRoche, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to Daniel Koenig, Federal Transit Administration (Attachment A) — and that determination has evidently been relied on by the FTA as a basis for avoiding formal section 7 consultation– new research conducted by a leading expert on the species, Dr. David Culver at American University, calls that conclusion into serious question and, at the very least, warrants further scrutiny by the Service before irreversible damage may be done to the habitat of these two highly imperiled species. We would therefore like to meet with representatives of the Service to discuss this recent research; what additional relevant information may be obtained in the near future; and the Service’s willingness to conduct an on-site review of some of the pertinent sites so that the agency may gain a better understanding of the impacts and risks entailed by the project.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail hired Culver to conduct surveying for amphipods with a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, which is officially opposed to the Purple Line.

Culver is scheduled to go back out to the streams in the fall to survey for the creatures:

The most successful sampling technique for amphipods cannot be used in areas with high amounts of fine sediment making detection more difficult. A 2004 study on amphipods in Rock Creek Park demonstrated the relative success rate in detecting amphipods by seasons, showing that amphipods could be found in springs at some months of the year even when none were detected just a few months prior. Simply put, the inability to locate either amphipod species at a given time does not indicate they are not present in those habitat since it is characteristic of the amphipods (even more so than many other endangered species) to be difficult to find.

The letter said Culver has found seven springs and seeps close to the projected path of the Purple Line, as well as two small wetland areas that may provide suitable habitat for the Hay’s spring and, or Kenk’s amphipod. Two of the seeps are just east of Rock Creek and below the Capital Crescent Trail and are immediately adjacent to the Project. The letter said those areas would be destroyed if the Purple Line were to move forward as planned.

The FTA did not do a “Biological Assessment” because of the conclusions of Fish and Wildlife officials. Fitzgerald and the environmental groups want the agencies to do a more detailed evaluation within a supplemental environmental impact statement.

The letter quotes Culver, known for finding the amphipods in D.C., as saying, “It’s not like there’s a wall between D.C. and Montgomery County….The only reason not to look is if you don’t want to find anything.”

The group said it does think the Purple Line project can happen — if it includes suitable protections for the amphipods.

“We believe that there are solutions and alternatives available that can allow the Project to move forward without harming any endangered species,” read the letter.

But time is ticking.

“However, if the Service and FTA do not act within 60 days to correct the violations described in this letter, we will have no choice but to consider pursuing litigation to address these failings,” the letter concluded.

PDF: 60-Day Notice: Amphipod Protection Along Purple Line Route

Wikimedia Commons photo via Michal Maňas

Bethesda Company Honored For Transit, Commuter Benefits

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 1:40 pm | 143 views | No Comments

Montgomery County and groups such as Bethesda Transportation Solutions are striving to get commuters out of their cars by promoting other transportation options.

What does that effort look like within a specific company in downtown Bethesda?

The Cadmus Group, a national consulting and management firm with an office at Bethesda’s Garden Plaza building, offers a glimpse. Commuter Connections, a program of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, honored Cadmus with an award on Wednesday for its commuter benefits program.

Cadmus offers employees who use Metro a $160 transit subsidy each month and a $100 yearly bicycle subsidy to those who bike to and from work. The Bethesda office is at 7700 Old Georgetown Rd., just a few blocks away from the Bethesda Metro station.

According to MWCOG, Cadmus offers a shuttle service from the Metro station and offers on-site lockers, shower facilities and bike racks. All employees can telework and take part in a compressed work schedule.

Of the company’s 83 employees split between Bethesda and Arlington, roughly 65 have found alternatives to drive-alone commutes. In the video above, produced by MWCOG, Cadmus CEO Ian Kline says getting employees out of their cars does more than benefit area traffic patterns during rush hour.

“We don’t want stressed out, frustrated employees who have just spent 45 minutes on the Beltway,” Kline said. “We want happy employees who are deeply engaged in our work, who are making choices they feel great about and coming into work ready to do the important work we do every day.”

Kline estimated the company’s alternative commuting subsidies have saved its employees anywhere from 375,000 to 400,000 vehicle miles traveled and almost 20,000 gallons of gas.

Others recognized at the MWCOG event on Wednesday were the USDA Forest Service for its teleworking program and FDA in White Oak for its marketing of alternative commutes.

Almost 9,000 employees are expected to move to FDA’s White Oak campus as part of a recently approved Montgomery County master plan for the area. The federal agency will have two parking spots for every three employees on campus.

Video via MWCOG

Could Expansion Be Coming For Bethesda Circulator?

by Aaron Kraut | June 25, 2014 at 10:20 am | 596 views | 4 Comments

A Bethesda Circulator shuttle in Woodmont Triangle on Wednesday

Adding stops to the downtown Bethesda Circulator route is among the most common requests the Bethesda Urban Partnership gets.

The simple mechanics of running an efficient and popular  2.1-mile, 19-stop bus loop mean additional stops or routes aren’t coming immediately. But in a conversation about BUP’s 20-year anniversary, Executive Director David Dabney said new areas of redevelopment spurred by the ongoing Bethesda Downtown Plan could one day lead to some expansion.

“This is the biggest challenge strategically for us because the sector plan will really kind of outline any growth or potential growth,” Dabney said.

In 2006, BUP took over operation of the Bethesda Trolley as Ride On planned to shut it down. In 2011, BUP switched out the old-school trolleys for sleek, modern Circulator buses similar to the vehicles in downtown D.C.

Last month, the Bethesda Circulator service provided 31,000 passenger trips on the route that connects Woodmont Triangle, the Bethesda Metro and Bethesda Row.

BUP promotes the service as a way to get to and from Metro. But mostly, BUP hopes people use it as a way to park in less popular parking garages before hitching a ride to activity centers such as Bethesda Row.

“It was really built around that, as to how to move people and to mitigate traffic,” Dabney said. “You want to be able to move people from one end of town to the other.”

Some would like to see the Circulator expand its definition of where downtown Bethesda ends. The route now reaches Rugby Avenue at its northern-most point and Bethesda Avenue at its southern-most point.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the requests for expansion come from those looking for stops on Battery Lane and on Bradley Boulevard.

Bethesda Circulator map, via BUPThe difficulty, Dabney said, is maintaining the system’s headway. BUP tested the idea of bringing the route east of Wisconsin Avenue during a recent winter holiday season. BUP pushed the route along Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway and the shuttles showed a net loss in ridership, Dabney said.

There were some new riders, but some of the regulars didn’t like the changes and the idea of getting off an eastbound shuttle to wait for the next westbound one.

Now, the idea of a new “Pearl District” centered around Pearl Street is floating around in Bethesda Downtown Plan discussions. BUP Marketing and Communications Director said any master plan changes will have to be taken into account. The original concept for the Circulator was in the 1994 Bethesda CBD Master Plan (though in that process it was called a jitney).

“I think it’s a matter of what comes out of the plan and funding,” Coppula said. “Right now, we’re doing as mch as we can do based on the funding.”

BUP’s funding for the Circulator comes mostly from parking fees collected at public garages, lots and curbside meters in the downtown. There’s also some revenue that comes in from advertisement space on the shuttles.

Dabney said the more immediate improvements possible for the Circulator service involve technology that lets users know exactly when a shuttle will arrive at a particular stop. BUP and its Board are taking on the idea of establishing a phone app locator for Circulator shuttles.

“If you don’t wan to wait 10 to 15 minutes, which can happen if the shuttles are in traffic, I could see on my app where that Circulator is,” Dabney said. “I’ll go to Starbucks and get a coffee. If that could happen, I don’t think it would be that difficult to go to Bradley or Battery because then, they’d know when it would be there. They could time it.”

Circulator Map via Bethesda Urban Partnership

UPDATE: Report Of Fire In Metro Tunnel Near Bethesda Station

by Aaron Kraut | June 19, 2014 at 11:28 am | 343 views | No Comments

Bethesda Fire Department (file photo)(Update at 11:35 a.m.) A burning track insulator sent MCFRS units scrambling on Thursday morning to the Metro Red Line tunnel below Bethesda.

According to scanner traffic, the spot of the reported smoke and fire was in the tunnel between the Medical Center and Bethesda stations, near an emergency Metro exit at 8001 Wisconsin Ave.

MCFRS later confirmed through Metro that the problem was from “a possible overheated or burning insulator on track,” according to MCFRS spokesperson Pete Piringer. Piringer also said the problem was under control.

Trains are single tracking between Medical Center and Friendship Heights due to the problem, according to Metro. There are delays in both directions.

Firefighters were on the scene at the Medical Center and Bethesda stations, as well as the emergency exit on the north side of downtown Bethesda.

Escalator Replacement At Bethesda Metro Now Set For August

by Aaron Kraut | June 18, 2014 at 3:05 pm | 631 views | 2 Comments

Bethesda Metro station escalators, Flickr photo by ehpien

The replacement of the Bethesda Metro station’s three long escalators is now expected to start in mid-August, according to a Metro spokesperson.

The project — which is expected to be difficult because of the length of the escalators and design of the station — was originally set to start in early 2014. Metro officials later said the project would start in April or May 2014.

Metro spokesperson Morgan Dye said the project is now set to begin in mid-August as part of Metro’s plan to modernize 128 of its escalators by 2020. Dye didn’t respond to follow-up questions asking for more detail about the project.

The replacement has been on the mind of county officials and Bethesda Metro station users since it was announced. The three bus bay-to-mezzanine escalators are each 212 feet long, the second longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere, behind the escalators at the Wheaton Metro station.

The replacement will be done one escalator at a time. There is little clearance above the escalators because of the bus bay ceiling and buildings above, which means Metro is limited in the type of construction equipment it can use, according to Metro officials.

In June 2012, Montgomery County officials asked Metro to move up the replacement because of breakdowns and problems with the existing escalators.

In October 2013, Metro installed brighter lights in the station and opened a staircase to take the place of a shorter platform-to-mezzanine escalator that was being replaced.

In January, Metro said a private property owner above the Bethesda station was responsible for a leaky roof that had water falling on its escalators. The property owner quickly set up scaffolding to fix the problem after leaking water caused large icicles that led to the closure of one of the escalators.

Flickr photo via ehpien

Purple Line Opponents Speak Up One Last Time Before Trail Vote

by Aaron Kraut | June 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm | 363 views | No Comments

Purple Line rendering via MTAThe County Council’s public hearing and vote on Tuesday to approve a rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and Bethesda Metro connection to the Purple Line was nothing more than a formality.

But when it comes to the Purple Line in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, little gets by without at least some debate.

Six residents testified against the Purple Line project and funding the two items. The Council had already approved $95 million to rebuild the Trail along the Purple Line and $58 million to build a new Bethesda Metro South Entrance in the course of discussing the overall capital budget.

The only reason the projects were before the Council on Tuesday was because of the County Code — the law requires capital projects of more than $13,621,000 to be individually authorized. This, according to Council staff analyst Glenn Orlin, allows for residents to get enough signatures to put an item up for referendum.

So on Tuesday, the Council formally approved both items without debate. Not all the members of Council were even present during the actual votes. In a simultaneous press conference next door, some members were talking about a push to further decriminalize marijuana use.

That didn’t stop Bethesda historian Bill Offut from lending his two cents before the votes.

“I’ve watched the government do some interesting things in Bethesda. Some good, some bad, some indifferent, some just dumb,” Offut said.

“Our police station is so ugly, that the Madonna of the Trail moved to the other side of the Post Office so she wouldn’t have to look at the damn thing all day,” Offut said later.

He testified against the idea of the Purple Line light rail, which he labeled a streetcar, saying there wouldn’t be enough ridership between Bethesda and Silver Spring. He then said the county shouldn’t “tear down Eisinger’s Air Rights Building,” an apparent reference to the county’s hope that the across-the-street Apex Building is redeveloped to make way for a Purple Line Station.

Others at the public hearing were more focused about their concerns.

“Instead of this expedited funding, I request that the County and Council develop and pass a new bill and project that, at long last, restores and completes the Capital Crescent Trail without the rails, as a green linear park along with its many benefits,” testified Town of Chevy Chase resident Christine Real de Azua.

“Your decision to expedite the bills before you accommodate and pay for the relocation of the Capital Crescent Trail is likely to lead to violations of state and federal law and therefore you should not enact this legislation until you can ensure full compliance with the law,” testified John Fitzgerald, a Town of Chevy Chase resident leading an independent environmental study of endangered critters in streams near the Purple Line route.

“If you do not, you may ensnare the County, its funds and its bond rating in further delay, incur fines and damage awards, and cause the destruction of a priceless asset,” Fitzgerald warned.

The state and federal laws Fitzgerald referred to include environmental, forest protection and clean water acts the Maryland Transit Administration has said don’t restrict the project. The Federal Transit Administration signed off on that when it issued a Record of Decision.

Others testified that the light rail cars would simply be too loud to make the rebuilt Trail useful.

Aside from a little amount of planning money, none of the funding approved Tuesday will be put into action until the Purple Line is formally set to start. Orlin said it’s likely the funding would be kicked directly to the MTA, which will build the 16-mile system with a yet-to-be-determined private concessionaire.

You can view the public hearing and votes here.

Cedar Lane Closure Means Ride On Detour

by Aaron Kraut | June 4, 2014 at 3:25 pm | 253 views | No Comments

Ride On Route 34 Detour map, via Ride On

Just past midnight Thursday, the State Highway Administration will shut down a 1,000 foot section of Cedar Lane at Rockville Pike.

Besides the detour route for Bethesda commuters, the summer closure will also mean changes for Ride On Route 34, which travels between the Wheaton and Medical Center Metro stations:

Route 34 between the Wheaton Metro and Medical Center Metro stations will take the following detour route: Cedar Lane, Beach Drive, Connecticut Avenue, and Jones Bridge Road. The bus will only stop at Route 34 bus stops along this detour route.

Passengers boarding the Route 34 bus at the intersection of Parkwood Drive and Cedar Lane and headed in the direction of the Medical Center Metro Station are advised to board at the westbound bus stop #20868 on Parkwood Drive. If heading towards Wheaton, board the eastbound bus on Parkwood Drive at bus stop #20840.

For more information, visit the Ride On website. The SHA hopes to have the project done and Cedar Lane reopened by Aug. 22.

Map via Ride On

Lynn Drive Crossing Left Up To Town Of Chevy Chase

by Aaron Kraut | June 4, 2014 at 9:05 am | 246 views | 2 Comments

The existing Lynn Drive crossing entrance in the Town of Chevy Chase, via Google Maps

If the Town of Chevy Chase wants a pedestrian crossing under the Purple Line at Lynn Drive, the Town or Montgomery County will have to pay for it.

That much was clear from Maryland Transit Administration officials who on Tuesday presented a final attempt at an acceptable design for the crossing. There are about 230 crossings a day of the Capital Crescent Trail on the existing small path there, including many students making their way to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Previous designs from the MTA were deemed too intrusive or unsafe by the Town. A series of underpass options would mean raising the Purple Line tracks almost 28 feet in the air on a retaining wall, which Town residents feared would be disruptive for the homes backing up to the route.

Early on, MTA said it wouldn’t build a pedestrian crossing at grade with the tracks because of safety issues with the light rail vehicles.

That led to Tuesday, when MTA officials presented what they called their last stab at a Lynn Drive crossing to the Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group.

MTA engineers said they can lower the height of the Purple Line retaining wall about five to six feet by moving the underpass about 250 feet to the west. The design would require a right-of-way acquisition of the property at 4306 Montgomery Ave. Once that property is acquired, there would be room for a switchback ramp that would offer access to the rebuilt Capital Crescent Trail and Montgomery Avenue.

To access the underpass, Town residents would have a five-foot-wide sidewalk running along the base of the retaining wall to the tunnel, which would be about 10 feet high and 14 feet wide.

The sidewalk would require a temporary construction easement into the backyard of John Keppler, who lives at 7508 Lynn Drive. MTA Purple Line project manager Mike Madden said no temporary construction easements on Town property will be necessary for the construction of the Purple Line or trail.

Keppler was skeptical his property would be undisturbed, even if the Lynn Drive crossing isn’t built.

“You don’t think a single boot will be beyond the property line,” Keppler asked Madden.

“We don’t need a temporary easement,” Madden said.

“That’s not my question,” Keppler said.

“That’s my answer,” Madden said.

“So you’re comfortable with trespass,” Keppler said.

“No, we don’t trespass,” Madden responded.

It was one of a few tense moments between MTA officials and Town residents unhappy with the prospect of the Purple Line in general. Some also seemed miffed as to why the MTA wouldn’t pay for the crossing project.

4306 Montgomery Avenue, via Google MapsThe MTA engineer who presented pointed out that those who use the existing crossing are technically trespassing on a property just north of the trail. The MTA has determined the crossing is a betterment not required of the Purple Line project.

Town Vice Mayor Pat Burda said the Town Council will likely call for a public hearing on the matter next week. Madden said the MTA needs an indication as soon as possible. It is sending out its final Request for Proposals later in June to the four private concessionaire teams bidding to build the system.

Gary Erenrich, from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, said it’s possible the county could add the cost of the Lynn Drive crossing to the $95 million it just budgeted to rebuild the Capital Crescent Trail along the Purple Line tracks.

Madden said the MTA would get a cost estimate to the county, which then could provide that estimate to the Town for its discussion next Wednesday.

Erenrich also said the Town could request the underpass be built into the Purple Line, even if the sidewalk and switchback ramp were to be added at a later time.

Photos via Google Maps

Purple Line Designers To Present New Option For Lynn Drive Crossing

by Aaron Kraut | June 2, 2014 at 12:40 pm | 544 views | 3 Comments

Rendering via Maryland Transit Administration

There may be a solution to one of the major points of contention between the Town of Chevy Chase and the Maryland Transit Administration, which is planning the Purple Line.

On Tuesday, MTA engineers will present their latest proposal for a crossing of the light rail near Lynn Drive, a popular pedestrian route for those heading from the Town into downtown Bethesda toward Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

The MTA says a new pedestrian crossing at the same grade as the future light rail will be unsafe. The Town of Chevy Chase has rejected past proposals for a pedestrian underpass, arguing the designs were unsafe and that raised track beds would be too intrusive to homes along Lynn Drive.

The Town’s Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group will host the MTA officials on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane).

In March 2013, the MTA presented safety reasons for why an at-grade crossing was dropped from further consideration. Officials also said a pedestrian overpass at the spot was out of consideration, as it would mean significant right of way acquisition and no direct connection to the Capital Crescent Trail.

According to a meeting notice, the advisory group asked MTA to design a pedestrian underpass that wouldn’t leave the Purple Line tracks so high.

The MTA estimated there are 230 pedestrian crossings a day at Lynn Drive, including 35 peak hour crossings.

The meeting on Tuesday will come as the Town actively fights against the Purple Line as proposed. The Town has entered a contract with a lobbying firm and is supplying $10,000 for for a study to see if endangered critters live in in nearby creeks.

Rendering via Maryland Transit Administration

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