County Councilmembers on Thursday will discuss safety and crime issues in and around Montgomery’s 11 Metro stations, which are patrolled by both Montgomery County Police and Metro Transit Police under a concurrent jurisdiction agreement.
The joint meeting of the Council’s Public Safety and Transportation Committees will include a briefing from Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Jeff Delinski and MCP Special Operations Division director Capt. Bob Bolesta.
According to a Council staff report, Metro Transit Police officers take primary patrol responsibility on Metro tracks, tunnels, trains and below-ground platforms, stations and facilities. Montgomery officers primarily police parking lots and surface platforms and stations.
The police officials will discuss how the two departments coordinate responses in and around stations, homeland security measures and crime trends.
Montgomery County Police report 87 total crimes at the county’s Metro stations from April 2011 to March 2013. More than a third of those were vehicle larceny or auto theft crimes and 53 happened in garages or parking lots.
Montgomery County Police didn’t handle much crime in Bethesda area stations. There was one reported aggravated assault, one vehicle larceny, one larceny pickpocket, one auto theft and two CDS arrests in that almost two-year span.
Bethesda was the third-most used Metro station in 2012 in the county, judging by average weekday boardings. Bethesda had an average of 10,8888 weekday boardings, behind Shady Grove (13,870) and Silver Spring (13,621). Medical Center had an average of 6,010 boardings, Grosvenor-Strathmore 5,862 and White Flint 4,151.
There were no reported crimes to Montgomery County Police in the two-year period at Medical Center, which doesn’t have its own parking facility. White Flint also had no reported crimes by Montgomery County Police, which reported three larceny from vehicle incidents at Grosvenor-Strathmore.
In May, Metro reported record lows in crime at its parking facilities.
Fairfax Now Leads Montgomery In High School Graduation Rate — Montgomery’s across-the-Potomac rival surpassed it in terms of high school graduation rates among the 50 largest school jurisdictions in the country. Fairfax has a graduation rate of 85 percent, good for No. 1 on the list, according to a report from Education Week. Montgomery County and Baltimore County are tied for second on the list with a rate of 84 percent. Montgomery has topped the list the last four years. [The Gazette]
Metro Tests Out New Fare Gates — For now, the new fare gates are confined to the basement of the transit agency’s headquarters. On Wednesday, members of a riders advisory group tested out the gates, which are prototypes from vendors vying for the contract. The gates will be able to take payment from a smartphone, key fob or credit card. Metro is expected to pick a vendor in July. [Washington Post]
County Advertising Its Version Of The Peace Corps — Montgomery Corps, a group of five volunteer positions based on the model of the Peace Corps, is seeking people to help host and coordinate outreach, volunteer events and services from each of the county’s Regional Service Centers. Members will get a $1,000 stipend per month. Nonprofit A Wider Circle will administer the program. [Idealist]
Flickr photo by ehpien
More Metro Problems At Medical Center — For the second time in six days, Metro has trains single-tracking between the Medical Center and Grosvenor-Strathmore stations because of an arcing insulator in a tunnel between the stations. A Metro spokesperson said this incident could have been caused by water leaking into the station. [Washington Post]
Two New Food Trucks On The Way To Bethesda — LA. Taco and Linda’s Luncheonette are the two newest Montgomery County food trucks to look out for in downtown Bethesda this summer. [Bethesda Magazine]
Walter Reed Workers Will Go On Furlough — More than 2,300 Walter Reed hospital workers, or 94 percent of the staff, will be furloughed starting in July. Workers will be forced to take 11 unpaid days, a result of deep federal budget cuts. [ABC7]
Flickr photo by Don Blohowiak
At about 10:50 a.m., MCFRS responded to reports of smoke in the inbound tunnel, north of the Medical Center station near the Pooks Hill Road portal. The smoke reportedly is a result of an arcing insulator, “an insulator along the third rail that may be giving off sparks or smoke,” according to Metro.
There were no reported injuries and MCFRS units began clearing the scene a little after 11 a.m.
Metro says single tracking will continue between the Medical Center and Grosvenor-Strahtmore Stations with delays expected.
Photo via TrafficLand.com
Metro Station Of The Future Architect Already Pulling Back On Plans — Within weeks of unveiling design ideas for a remodeled Bethesda Metro Station, WMATA architect Ivo Karadimov has received enough concerns from preservationists and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to pull back on parts of his initial proposal, including replacing concrete sections with glass. [Washington Post]
Town of Chevy Chase To Select New Council Today — The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Town Hall (4301 Willow Lane). Incumbents Linna Barnes and Pat Burda are looking to hold on to their seats against challenger John Bickerman. [Town of Chevy Chase]
Crooks Try To Steal ATM From Potomac Bank of America — A group of three people tried to lift the ATM at the Bank of America around 2 a.m. today near River and Falls Roads in Potomac. The group apparently used a backhoe to try to rip the ATM from the outer wall of the bank. Police believe the steel chain that remained on the ATM this morning was attached to a vehicle to tear it away from its concrete foundation. The group fled when police arrived on the scene. [WTOP]
Montgomery County’s Gun Turn-In Day Is Saturday — On May 11, Montgomery County Police will hold a gun turn-in day at three locations, two in Gaithersburg and one in Silver Spring. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Police will accept unwanted guns or ammo no questions asked. [Montgomery County Police]
Flickr photo by Steve Pulley
California Tortilla Offering Free Chips and Queso For Tax Day — Say “1040,” and get free chips and queso at California Tortilla to “celebrate” tax day.
Gay Kensington Boy Scout Organizes Protest Against Boy Scout’s Gay Ban — Pascal Tessier, 16, joined with members of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance on Thursday for a demonstration on Thursday in downtown Bethesda. The Boy Scouts of America will vote next month on whether to lift its ban on gay scouts and leaders. [Washington Post]
Metro To Spend $5 Million So Drivers, Operators Don’t Fall Asleep At The Wheel — The money is part of the system’s “fatigue risk management system.” It will also limit how much overtime Metro workers can take. [Washington Examiner]
Flickr photo by ehpien
UPDATE 12:10 p.m. Metro today released details on its plan to pilot a “Metro Station Of The Future” project at the Bethesda Metro Station.
Business and political representatives from the community have been lobbying for more lighting and a better looking Metro station for years. In March, WMATA officials let the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Improvement Task Force know the Bethesda station had been selected for the pilot.
The project would provide a number of improvements including high-output light fixtures, a stainless steel and light gray interior to replace “Metro brown”, a thinner kiosk with digital panels for service information and new fare gates with next-generation technology for faster entry and exit.
Washington Examiner reporter Liz Essley tweeted that a Metro official said the station would be done by the end of FY 2015.
The Bethesda Metro station is set to undergo an extensive replacement process to its three escalators, the second-longest in the system and the second-longest in the Western Hemisphere (behind the escalators at Wheaton.)
“Being chosen for Metro’s model station pilot program is welcome news for the Bethesda community,” Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) said in a statement. “As the economic engine of Montgomery County, Bethesda is a gateway station for many transit riders. I am so grateful to General Manager Sarles and the WMATA Board for recognizing the value of the Bethesda Station to the Metro network and the economic vitality of our county. We all look forward to seeing the new and improved Metro station.”
Video via Metro
With progress on a transportation bill in Annapolis that could provide funding for the Purple Line, the debate over Montgomery County’s Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance might re-emerge this budget season.
On April 17, the County Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee will discuss County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed amendments to transportation projects, including a six-month delay of the South Entrance project that drew some criticism.
Leggett said his recommended six-month funding delay in the FY 2014 Capital Budget wouldn’t actually delay construction of the project as it is tied into building the Purple Line station. The estimated $80 million entrance would connect the Metro platform 120 feet underground with high speed elevators to the Purple Line station at Elm Street west of Wisconsin Avenue.
At the time the recommended delay was announced, the state portion of funding for the 16-mile, east-to-west light rail project was uncertain.
With a gas tax hike proposal going to a vote in the House of Delegates this week and with support from State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, some form of state transportation funding for the Purple Line looks likely to come out of the General Assembly by the time it’s scheduled to adjourn on April 8.
In a Committee hearing on Monday on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which as proposed would use Purple Line funding as a trigger for a second stage of development, Council staff transportation expert Glenn Orlin said the Bethesda Metro South Entrance would come up in the Council’s budget review process.
Orlin pointed it out after Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) asked for a Maryland Transit Administration briefing on the status of the Purple Line after the General Assembly if funding is passed.
“You’re going to have that discussion in just a couple of weeks because the executive recommended delaying the Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, so it’s tied to the schedule,” Orlin said.
Image via Maryland Transit Administration
Bethedsa-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center director Ken Hartman said the county was still working on a maintenance of traffic plan with Brookfield Properties, which wants to redo the private parking garage under its Three Bethesda Metro Center office building. That project would mean the bus bays above must close for the duration of the approximately two-year project.
Without access to the bus bays, buses connecting many Montgomery County riders to the Bethesda Metro will be re-routed and may stop on Woodmont Avenue and Edgemoor Lane.
Hartman said the county has made continued pedestrian access from Edgemoor Lane to the Metro station escalators a requirement.
In January, a Brookfield spokeswoman said the project would include improvements to the bus bays, though she did not elaborate on what those improvements might be.
The shutdown is expected to start this year.
Residents of Friendship Heights and nearby neighborhoods want an alternative to the Metro for getting into downtown Bethesda, which is why some are hoping for a Friendship Heights to Bethesda shuttle.
In a sub-committee meeting of the Western Montgomery Citizens Advisory Board on Monday, what seemed more plausible was an adjustment to existing Ride On or WMATA bus routes.
Phil McLaughlin, manager of operations planning for Ride On, said the only existing route that directly connects Friendship Heights and Bethesda is Route 34, which runs from Friendship Heights north on Wisconsin Avenue to Bethesda, then east to Wheaton and north all the way to Aspen Hill.
That route provides about a 15-minute trip from Friendship Heights to Bethesda, but only about every 30 minutes.
A representative from the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association said that wasn’t often enough. Residents in Chevy Chase West are also pushing for crosswalks across Wisconsin Avenue to access stops for northbound bus routes on the east side of the road, where State Highway officials hope to soon build a sidewalk.
Another option for Friendship Heights residents traveling to Bethesda is Ride On Route 29, though that route runs through residential neighborhoods along Massachusetts Avenue, Whittier Boulevard and Wilson Lane before winding into downtown Bethesda.
Participants in the meeting spoke about the significant population of seniors in Friendship Heights who want more convenient and reliable access to Bethesda’s restaurants, shopping areas and medical buildings.
The sub-committee will probably pen a short advisory letter to the County Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee, which is scheduled to hear from WMATA on its bus priority corridors plan on Monday morning.
Members of the Friendship Heights, North Bethesda and downtown Bethesda Transportation Management Districts also presented their priorities and challenges in getting more workers in those areas out of cars.
David Dabney, executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership, said changing commuters’ negative attitudes toward buses, Metro and bicycling is difficult with aging infrastructure. The sub-committee also discussed safety issues many feel will come to the forefront when Capital Bikeshare is introduced in Bethesda later this year.
UPDATED at 4:35 p.m. The exact details are not yet known, but some Bethesda business leaders are celebrating today after a Metro official told them the transit system would be testing out some new station features at the Bethesda station during a meeting this morning.
“Bethesda is one of the economic engines for Montgomery County and the first experience many people have in Bethesda is coming up that Metro,” said real estate agent Jane Fairweather, a member of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Improvement Task Force. “How sad, it’s pretty awful. It is the hello for strangers, the handshake welcome to Bethesda and it’s critical for our businesses. It’s critical for our public image.”
Fairweather and many of the roughly 15 members of the Task Force would like that image to be brighter, which is why she anticipates new lighting and ceiling tiles might be a part of the station redesign.
This story was first reported by Bethesda Patch, which cited a Metro spokesman as saying no details had yet been determined.
Chamber CEO Ginanne Italiano said the pilot program will be named the “Metro Station of the Future,” and WMATA has decided to try it in Bethesda in part because of the massive escalator replacement coming next year. Italiano and other Bethesda business and political representatives had been seeking solutions to escalator issues for years.
“It was really a culmination of all of those things,” Italiano said. “We were pushing for these changes and talking about the station’s importance, as an economic hub.”
Fairweather said the group was ecstatic upon hearing the news from a Metro community liaison. The same group played a large part in creating the award-winning Tunnel Vision art display in the tunnel connecting Metro entrances on each side of Wisconsin Avenue.
“We’ve been working on this for three years, not just this being a pilot but on improving the Metro,” Fairweather said.
Fairweather said early indications also have Metro installing a new station manager’s kiosk around the gate area.
“I think it’s going to get transformed,” Fairweather said. “It’s an essential part of what gets people to want to live here, come here, shop here, eat here. Metro is our link and we’re trying to get people out of their cars. So when you want people to get out of their cars, you have to make that a good experience.”
Italiano said there will be a formal announcement of the program soon, possibly in the next few weeks.
Metro Operator Stops Train, Saves Woman At Bethesda Station — Metro says the woman intentionally placed herself on the outbound track at the Bethesda station on Friday around 5:30 p.m. But the train operator was able to stop the train before it hit her. A Metro spokesman said she was lying down on the tracks in an obvious suicide attempt and it took police 15 minutes to remove her before she was taken to a local hospital for an involuntary committal. [Washington Examiner]
Some Snow Likely, Significant Snow Possible For Wednesday — The folks at the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang have deemed it the “Snowquester,” an early-March snow storm coming Wednesday that forecasters say has some potential to dump five or more inches on the area. [Capital Weather Gang]
Whitman Finally Beats Gaithersburg, Secures Trip To States — The two-time defending state champion Gaithersburg girls basketball team had knocked Walt Whitman High School’s team out of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. On Friday, Whitman got some measure of revenge by taking down Gaithersburg 46-31 in the Class 4A West Region title game. The Vikings are headed to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007 and will face Baltimore’s Poly High School on Thursday at UMBC. [The Gazette]
No One Injured In Sunday Grosvenor Fire — Fire fighters put out a kitchen fire Sunday afternoon in a second-floor apartment at the 10201 Grosvenor complex. No injuries were reported. [MCFRS via Twitter]
Flickr photo by Richard Ricciardi
(UPDATED: 11:08 a.m.) A Metro worker was struck and his truck damaged in an accident this morning near the intersection of Rockville Pike and Grosvenor Lane.
The worker, who sustained leg injuries according to police scanner traffic, was transported to Suburban Hospital. The car hit the worker at about 40 miles per hour, according to scanner traffic. The worker never lost consciousness after he was hit around 10:30 a.m. while working near a Metro cherry picker truck. Metro supervisors were on their way to the scene.
Two lanes of northbound Rockville Pike at Grosvenor Lane were temporarily blocked off, now all three lanes are getting by. The driver of the car involved remained on the scene.
The Metro Board Finance and Administration Committee today endorsed a new entrance at the Medical Center station that it says will support increased ridership from employees at the expanded Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Metro is one of the entities involved in a $68 million, federally-funded pedestrian tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue that will help Metro riders who now must cross busy Rockville Pike to get to the Medical Center gate on the east side of the road.
The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will build the tunnel, with construction expected to start in 2014 and last two years. Prior to Walter Reed’s move to the Navy National Medical Center in 2011, there were 3,000 pedestrian crossings at the crosswalk per day. That number is expected to increase to 7,000 per day, according to Montgomery County BRAC coordinator Phil Alperson.
Four new escalators and two new elevators will provide access to the tunnel from the street level on the west side of Rockville Pike. The tunnel will be just beneath the street. On the east side of the street, three high-speed elevators will connect the pedestrian tunnel to the station platform 120 feet below ground.
“The new entrance and pedestrian tunnel will make it easier and safer for pedestrians traveling between the station and the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” Metro General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles said in a statement. “The project has the added benefit of providing redundancy to the existing station entrance escalators, which will be replaced in the coming years. I want to express our gratitude to Senators Mikulski and Cardin, Representative Van Hollen, Montgomery County Executive Legget, and Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner for their support of this improvement.”
Image via Montgomery County Department of Transportation
County Executive Isiah Leggett’s office says Leggett (D) is committed to the Bethesda Metro South Entrance project despite a proposed funding delay and recent assertions that he is trying to defund the project to instead fund new roads.
County spokesman Patrick Lacefield responded directly to a column that appeared Tuesday on Greater Greater Washington that accused the executive of trying to derail the project and questioned why the county would not build it regardless of if the Bethesda Purple Line light rail station is ever built.
Leggett said his recommended six-month funding delay in the FY 2014 Capital Budget wouldn’t actually delay the project as it is tied into building the Purple Line station. The estimated $80 million entrance would connect the Metro platform 120 feet underground with high speed elevators to the Purple Line station at Elm Street west of Wisconsin Avenue.
The Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line is unfunded. From Lacefield, who said building the entrance independent of the Purple Line or MTA would add about $25 million to the cost:
County Executive Ike Leggett is committed to expanding transit and committed to the Purple Line project. That’s why it was so surprising to read the Greater Greater Washington post implying otherwise. Montgomery County has authorized the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to proceed with the design of the new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station. Both design and construction of the elevators will be paid 100 percent by Montgomery County. The bottom line is that it makes the most sense to keep the new entrance on the same schedule as the unfunded Purple Line. MTA has told the County it is fine with this approach.
Is it possible to build the entrance elevators independently of the Purple Line design? Yes — but only at significantly increased cost and greater risk. It is estimated the additional cost to the County could be $25 million. And, the County would have to absorb all possible risks associated with the structural integrity, possible temporary relocation of offices and potential damages to the Apex Building located above. This makes no sense.
The County has a finite amount of money to devote to capital projects. Setting aside money in the capital budget before it is needed only bumps other projects, such as transit or school construction, that may be ready to go.
Mr. Leggett’s commitment to the Purple Line and a new entrance to the Bethesda Metro is clear. Let’s just do it in a way that is most cost effective.
Patrick Lacefield, Director
Montgomery County Office of Public Information
Cavan Wilk, author of the post for Greater Greater Washington, wrote the recommended delay “continues the pattern with this administration of trying to defund smart growth-oriented projects while proposing lavish spending on sprawl-oriented road projects.”
He also said the South Entrance should be built regardless of what happens with the Purple Line:
The county has always planned to finance this new entrance on its own, because it will benefit Red Line riders on the day it opens, Purple Line or no.
In addition to offering an alternative when the existing escalators are out of service, it will bring the station up to modern safety standards by providing a second entrance for emergency personnel and a second evacuation route in the event of an emergency.
The County Council will have final say on Leggett’s recommended delay. Last year, he battled with the Council on funding for the station. The Council chose to put $80 million toward the project.