County and state transportation planners want a downtown Bethesda office building torn down so they can build a better Purple Line station below it.
Problem is, they can’t get the owner of the building on the phone.
The Maryland Transit Administration plans to build the westernmost station of its 16-mile Purple Line light rail under the three-story Apex Building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) in the existing Capital Crescent Trail tunnel that today provides easy crossing for cyclists and pedestrians under Wisconsin Avenue.
The Planning Department is hoping for a last-minute solution that would allow the MTA to include both a large section of Trail and the station in the tunnel. Without the demolition of the building above, planners say it will be too costly and risky to build both.
The station itself would have building columns blocking riders. A curved platform area, instead of a straight design planners say would be optimal, could mean gaps between the boarding area and the light rail cars.
But it’s unclear if the owner of the building is willing to demolish the building in exchange for tax incentives or upzoning. The property is managed by Potomac-based Vanguard Realty Group, for owners who apparently have it as part of a retirement package.
During a Thursday discussion of the property at the Planning Board, Purple Line project manager Michael Madden explained how those owners might be more reluctant to tear down their building than a traditional developer, even in exchange for incentives from the county that might pay off big in the long term.
“It’s not like there’s opposition to development. They use this as kind of a retirement fund. They have no incentive to do it,” Madden said. “They’re fine with what they are doing and they’re making money. That doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t come in and make them an offer they can’t refuse.”
Supporters of the “Save The Trail” effort gathered on Saturday in Elm Street Park for the group’s annual 5K race, even as it becomes more apparent the Purple Line light rail will be built along the Georgetown Branch Trail extension in Chevy Chase.
About 10 years after the movement to stop the Purple Line from being built along the Trail extension began, the Maryland Transit Administration is finalizing designs, has a new gas tax increase to provide state funding and is in the process of seeking federal funding for the $2.2 billion, 16-mile light rail system. MTA officials say they hope the Purple Line can open in 2020.
Save The Trail advocates have long argued building the light rail on the Trail, even though MTA will build a paved trail along side, will destroy 20 acres of irreplaceable park land inside the Capital Beltway. Other Trail and bike advocates support the MTA’s plans, saying it’s the only way to connect the Capital Crescent and Georgetown Branch Trails to Silver Spring.
There are many who live near the Trail still against the idea. More than 300 runners gathered in Elm Street Park, just east of Wisconsin Avenue, to run on the crushed gravel extension on Saturday.
Children painted “Save The Trail” signs and Del. Al Carr (D-Dist. 18) spoke about the importance of the Trail greenspace. Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, told supporters that preserving the Trail is more important now than it was when the Save The Trail effort began a decade ago.
“From here in Bethesda to Silver Spring, large scale development is full-steam ahead,” Bhatt said. “As density increases, this park is more important than ever for our health and our environment. It is imperative that we preserve this invaluable treasure for ourselves, for the children that ran today’s race and for future generations.”
Photos via Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail
The 4th Annual Save The Trail 5K is set for Saturday, May 25, even as the Maryland Transit Administration nears its final plan for the 16-mile Purple Line light rail that would be built on it.
The event, from the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, is meant to celebrate the Trail and “let our officials know that dwindling greenspace is invaluable and is not habitat for trains.”
The right-of-way for the Trail, former site of the Georgetown Branch rail line of the B & O Railroad, belongs to the state of Maryland. The MTA plans to build a completed companion trail next to it, but the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail argue it won’t be the same.
“We want it preserved as the 20 acre wooded park that many have enjoyed for over 20 years,” according to a press release on the 5K.
Those who pre-register will be guaranteed a free race shirt. Registration the morning of the race begins at 7:30 a.m. The race begins at 9 a.m. The course will start and finish in Elm Street Park in the Town of Chevy Chase.
The top three women, men and runners 14 and under will receive prizes. Events include music, face-painting, sign-making and prizes.
To register or for more information, visit the event website.
Photo via Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail
The recently raised possibility of razing a downtown Bethesda building has given new life to the idea of an underground Capital Crescent Trail crossing of Wisconsin Avenue, but Montgomery County Planners will have to work fast.
The Maryland Transit Administration must know of any changes at the Apex Building, under which the agency plans to build its Bethesda Purple Line station, by the end of the year, project manager Mike Madden said. With new state transportation funding from the recently passed gas tax, MTA officials want to nail down matching federal funding next year and open the system in 2020.
At a Purple Line open house on Tuesday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Madden said the MTA would like to know more about the fate of the Apex Building in the next couple months.
“That could change the station. But there would be requirements in terms of us knowing by a certain time if that building was going to be demolished,” Madden said. “If that does happen, then the station, the Trail could possibly go under that building. There could be some changes, but it all depends on timing on whether they decide to tear that building down.”
The MTA and Montgomery County previously determined that rebuilding the Trail under the building and next to the light rail station would be too costly.
The existing plan for the station, which MTA projects will be the busiest in the 16-mile system by 2040 with 15,000 daily boardings, also includes a fan tower that some have worried will be an eyesore near the high-end retail development of Bethesda Row.
In April, the County Council’s Planning Committee recommended the Apex Building Minor Master Plan Amendment be moved up in the Planning Department’s work plan as part of its FY14 budget. Interim Planning Department director Rose Krasnow said the decision to raze the building could mean huge public benefit with a Bethesda Purple Line station that includes an underground Trail crossing.
Council staff Glenn Orlin said razing the building would allow for $5 or $6 million in savings at the county’s Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, according to a conservative estimate from the state.
But the Planning Department’s study of the idea will have to be done in the shortest time frame ever for a Master Plan of such consequence, Krasnow said. Planners must also figure out the actual intentions of the owner of the Apex Building, listed in real estate records as Potomac-based Vanguard Realty Group.
The open house on Tuesday, the fourth of five along the light rail’s route, included satellite photos of the entire $2.2 billion system’s alignment, all the way from New Carrollton to Bethesda. The MTA’s noise consultant also presented a comparison of how the light rail will sound compared to other types of trains and vehicles, similar to the presentation MTA made in February to Town of Chevy Chase residents.
Facing an end-of-the-year deadline, it looks like Montgomery County planners will get to develop an all-encompassing underground Capital Crescent Trail and Purple Line station proposal for downtown Bethesda.
The County Council’s Planning Committee recommended the Apex Building Minor Master Plan Amendment be moved up in the Planning Department’s work plan as part of its discussion of the Department’s FY14 budget.
County Planners argued moving the proposal up would provide enormous public benefit — an at least 12-foot-wide underground crossing for the Capital Crescent Trail that to this point was thought to be too costly and a cheaper Bethesda Metro South Station Entrance project.
The Plan would require the owners of the Apex Building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) which currently houses the Regal Cinemas, offices and a restaurant, to raze their property and allow the county and Maryland Transit Administration officials to begin construction by as early as January 2017.
The MTA must have the entire Purple Line plan ready to present to the Federal Transit Administration by late winter or early spring of 2014 in order to get the federal funding it seeks for the $2.15 billion light rail. The final Apex Building Plan would need to come back to the full County Council for final approval in December.
Some issues remain for planning staff, not the least of which is the shortest timeframe ever for a Master Plan of this consequence, interim Planning Department Director Rose Krasnow said.
The rental program started April 1, when the longtime bike shop at 4949 Bethesda Ave. began offering hybrid, road and kids rental bikes across from the Haagen Dazs ice cream shop and Bethesda Row Cinema, right at the entrance to the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel.
Look for Griffin Cycle again this weekend. Helmets and locks are included with rentals.
Photo vis Griffin Cycle
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation in January made a signal change at a busy Bethesda intersection after hearing traffic complaints around the heavily scrutinized Lot 31 construction project.
But to one Bethesda transit activist, the change should have also meant more focus on the amount of time pedestrians get to cross the road.
Ben Ross, vice president of the Action Committee for Transit, says the county’s move to extend the green signal for traffic traveling along Bethesda Avenue across Woodmont Avenue at Bethesda Row means an insufficient amount of time for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the intersection:
Of course, with their usual attitude toward pedestrians, they shortened the walk signal to cross Bethesda, but did not lengthen the walk signal to cross Woodmont. So pedestrians, at what’s probably the busiest pedestrian crossing in the county, get just 6 seconds out of every 100 to start across the road.
County spokeswoman Esther Bowring said MCDOT did not modify the pedestrian timings, but that they are a function of the amount of time allowed for traffic on each leg of the intersection.
The intersection will be cut off at Woodmont Avenue south of Bethesda Avenue until at least the summer of 2014, as the county and developer StonebridgeCarrass build a 940-space parking garage under Woodmont Avenue and the former space of Lot 31. StonebridgeCarrass will build a 240-unit apartment and condo building with 40,000 square feet of retail on what was Lot 31.
The road has been closed since last September.
In October, Ross took to Greater Greater Washington to argue the County’s modifications at the intersection were too car-centric, especially at an intersection frequented by cyclists and pedestrians on the Capital Crescent Trail.
Bowring said the green light on Bethesda Avenue was extended after complaints from workers in an office building where cars leaving a garage were getting backed up.
In September, a worker at the building told us afternoon rush hour congestion on Bethesda Avenue sometimes meant cars were backing up to the second level of the garage and a trip that usually took about 30 seconds took eight minutes.
In a response to the complaint from Ross, Bowring also defended the county’s record on improving pedestrian safety:
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation has proven its commitment to improving pedestrian safety in the County thanks to the County Executive’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative. Since 2009, pedestrian collisions have decreased 12 percent and the most severe collisions, those where pedestrians are incapacitated or killed, has declined 21 percent.
County Executive Isiah Leggett and other leaders last year celebrated the five-year anniversary of the Initiative.
Wisconsin Avenue between Montgomery Avenue and Leland Avenue and Old Georgetown Road between Fairmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane were two of 10 areas the county designated as High Incidence Areas (HIAs) in which it says collisions have dropped by 45 percent since education, engineering and enforcement strategies first got almost $5 million of funding in July 2009.
Post Fitness Columnist: Capital Crescent Trail With Purple Line Wouldn’t Be The Same — Washington Post fitness columnist Lenny Bernstein praises the Capital Crescent Trail as a unique running and cycling route for such an urban area, one that he feels wouldn’t be as attractive if reduced to a 12-foot-wide paved path alongside the planned Purple Line light rail. [Washington Post]
State Public Service Commission Orders Utilities To Improve Reliability — The Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities such as the oft-criticized Pepco electric company, on Wednesday issued an order for utilities to come up with a reliability improvement plan by May 31, among other improvements. [The Gazette]
Reminder: Willard Avenue Park Meeting Tonight — Montgomery Parks is hosting a public meeting to discuss its planned changes for the Willard Avenue Neighborhood Park, set for tonight at 7 p.m. [Montgomery Parks]
Montgomery’s Office of Consumer Protection To Join In On ‘Consumer Protection Week’ — Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, one of just two county-level consumer protection agencies in Maryland, will celebrate its 40 years with a variety of events during next week’s “National Consumer Protection Week.” [Montgomery County]
Flickr photo by vpickering
A Planning Board briefing on Bethesda Purple Line issues scheduled for Thursday includes some updates on how an Elm Street light rail station would affect the Capital Crescent Trail.
The Maryland Transit Administration told Montgomery County last fall that it might be able to fit a five- to seven-foot sidewalk in the existing Capital Crescent Trail tunnel along the Purple Line after all. It originally said the light rail would take up too much room and the County Council agreed it would be too costly to create enough space for a new Trail.
But in the briefing on Thursday, Planning Staff is expected to tell the Board that a future tunnel crossing for the Trail under busy Wisconsin Avenue is not completely out of the question. The revision of the Bethesda Central Business District Sector Plan could afford the county an opportunity to build a new one:
The Planning Department’s work program includes an update to the Bethesda CBD Sector Plan starting in April 2014 and Planning staff has asked MTA to determine whether a new tunnel crossing for the trail beneath the Apex Building, Wisconsin Avenue, and the Air Rights Building is feasible, and if so, to identify the location and spatial requirements of the tunnel so that it can be considered as part of the Sector Plan update.
That could be welcome news for Trail supporters and cyclists, who worry the post-Purple Line trail alignment across Wisconsin Avenue could put users at risk.
Meanwhile, plans for creating the street-level pedestrian and bicycle crossing of Wisconsin Avenue continue. Planning staff reports the design process is underway and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation should have Phase I of the planning done by late this summer.
The County Council requested designers consider prohibiting eastbound drivers on Bethesda Lane from turning left onto Wisconsin Avenue, where cyclists and other Trail users would most likely feed onto the road. But businesses and the Town of Chevy Chase opposed that:
Council requested that the project team consider a protected signal phase for pedestrian and bicycle crossing of MD 355, and consideration of a left turn prohibition for eastbound Bethesda Avenue at MD 355. Businesses and the Town of Chevy Chase oppose the turn prohibition. MCDOT has developed a potential signal phasing concept that provides for a protected portion for the trail crossing within the signal cycle, while maintaining the left turn movement.
Flickr photo by thisisbossi
There was no sexual assault today, as we first reported. Officer Janelle Smith, a spokeswoman for MCPD, said somebody tipped off police to a man who looked similar to a composite sketch of the suspect in the October incident.
At 11:39 a.m. today, police were called to search the Trail near the Arlington Road entrance for a Hispanic male with a mustache, riding an old-fashion bicycle reportedly toward downtown Bethesda. Police were searching the trail in both directions on Tuesday.
Police said a man riding a bicycle was seen in the area of the Trail between MacArthur Bouelvard and Massachusetts Avenue on the night of Oct. 21, when the sexual assault took place.
Bethesda Community Store Auction Called Due to Bankruptcy — Yesterday’s scheduled auction of the historic Bethesda Community Store (also known as Brown’s) was called off because property owner Gary Jaffe filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday. Jaffe said he doesn’t intend to change anything about the operation of the store. [The Gazette]
Board of Education Approves Elementary Security Measures — The county’s Board of Education yesterday voted to accelerate the installation of video intercom systems for visitors at all elementary schools. County Council members said the move would likely have support. [Washington Examiner]
Capital Crescent Trail Detour Is Gone — The Lot 31 construction-induced detour and overhead protection over the Trail at Bethesda Avenue has been removed. [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]
Bethesda-based EYA developers yesterday unveiled renderings for its planned 30-townhome community on the former site of the Betco cinder block plant near Little Falls Parkway.
EYA bought the property, which will be developed into Little Falls Place, from businessman and attorney Peter Hoyt. EYA won approval for the zoning change in July from the Montgomery County Planning Board and in September from the county’s Board of Appeals.
The 25 market rate townhomes will start at $1.4 million and back up to the Capital Crescent Trail. EYA will also build five moderate priced dwelling units (MPDUs) as part of the 1.8-acre development about 1,200 feet south of the intersection of Little Falls Parkway and River Road.
“What we’ve envisioned for Little Falls Place is a rare blend of vibrant city living in a peaceful, relaxing setting. There aren’t many places in Washington where you can achieve this level of access to world class shopping and dining, yet enjoy acres of nature preserves and onsite trail access,” EYA President Bob Youngentob said in a press release.
The Montgomery County Civic Federation and nearby resident Robert Dyer (author of the Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row blog) opposed the project during the appeals process because the luxury townhomes would be incompatible with the surrounding industrial uses. Auto body shops line Butler Road leading up to the property.
But others, including the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, supported the project. A representative of the LFWA testified the change from block plant to townhome neighborhood would greatly improve water quality and reduce noise in the area.
The townhomes will be up for sale starting next month.
Renderings via EYA
Police Investigate Graffiti Swastika on Capital Crescent Trail — Somebody spraypainted a swastika with the message “You Shall” on the Capital Crescent Trail near Elm Street. It has been removed by Bethesda Urban Partnership workers. [Bethesda Patch]
North Bethesda Parking Rate Hike Goes Into Effect Today — Montgomery County parking rate increases for Silver Spring and North Bethesda go into effect today. Drivers who park at meters in North Bethesda/White Flint will pay $1 an hour for short-term parking, up from 75 cents an hour. Monthly parking permits are now $123, up from $113. [WTOP]
Bradley Hills Parents Want More Security — Parents of students at a temporary holding location for Bradley Hills Elementary School sent a letter to MCPS superintendent Josh Starr demanding security improvements, such as locked front doors, be made immediately. An MCPS spokesman said some of the security procedures are already in place. [The Gazette]
The Maryland Transit Administration will host a discussion of the latest Bethesda Purple Line plans tonight at Bethesda Elementary School (7600 Arlington Rd.).
The “neighborhood work group” is part of an ongoing series of meetings with neighbors and residents of areas that would be affected by the construction and development of the Purple Line, the 16-mile light rail that would connect Bethesda with Silver Spring and College Park before ending in New Carrollton.
The $2.15 billion project is supposed to be completed in 2020. But it is currently unfunded, and according to Montgomery County officials looking for a hike in the state’s gas tax, it’s in serious jeopardy of ever being built.
The meeting today is from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will include the latest renderings and designs for the Bethesda Purple Line Station, which would be built south of the existing Metro station at Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street.
A number of issues remain, including how the Purple Line Station would connect with a planned South Metro Station entrance and how the light rail would affect the Capital Crescent Trail.
Some Trail advocates have been outspoken about their belief that the Purple Line shouldn’t touch existing Trail space at all. In October, MTA officials told a County Council committee they found a way to accomodate some of the walking path in the existing Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue. The light rail is planned to travel through that tunnel.
Flickr photo by thisisbossi
The Sierra Club this morning named the Purple Line as one of the 25 best transportation projects in the country, which local transportation activists are using to promote the unfunded project.
In its report of “50 Best and Worst Transportation Projects in the United States,” the influential environmental group identified the Purple Line as one of 25 projects that would reduce oil consumption, increase safety, improve public health and save money for taxpayers and commuters.
The proposed east-west 16-mile light rail that would connect Bethesda with New Carrollton via Silver Spring and College Park is projected to cost $1.9 billion. The system is expected to carry 68,000 passengers per day.
With the state’s transportation fund dwindling, county officials have openly doubted whether the project will ever happen.
That’s part of the mission behind tomorrow’s state transportation summit in Annapolis, organized in part by County Councilmembers George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park and Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac). Berliner last month said he hopes to examine a number of options — including a long-debated state gas tax — with officials from across the state.
This morning, Ethan Goffman of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club presented Purple Line Now President Ralph Bennett with a copy of the report at what supporters hope is the future Bethesda Purple Line station.
“Transportation infrastructure we build today will be with us for decades,” Bennett said in a prepared release. “The Purple Line is exactly the kind of infrastructure we need as part of a 21st-century transportation system that increases our choices.”
“Climate change is with us, it will get worse, and transit is the best antidote,” Goffman said. “If we’re serious about fighting climate change, we must build the Purple Line soon.”
“This project will help make getting to work, school, shopping and recreation without a car easier, make walking and biking in our city safer, and increase access to transit,” said Tina Slater, president of the Action Committee for Transit. “We should heavily invest our transportation dollars in this kind of forward-looking project.”
Flickr photo by thisisbossi; photo via Action Committee for Transit