The rational choice was obvious.
A group of Italian researchers gave participants in an experiment two scenarios: Take the metro for a fixed cost or take the car for an uncertain cost determined by construction delays, traffic congestion or weather. Take a bus, with costs determined by a different combination of chance and traffic congestion, or take the car with the same uncertain costs present in the metro scenario.
The researchers gave participants feedback on the actual travel times of both modes in each scenario. The more participants chose cars, the more congestion would be factored into the travel cost.
Still, they chose cars over metro and bus by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, despite a clear demonstration that the average cost of a car trip would be almost 50 percent more.
The study, published earlier this year and highlighted by The Atlantic Cities, demonstrates a concept Montgomery County planners are grappling with as they contemplate a Bus Rapid Transit system that would take away a general traffic lane in each direction of Rockville Pike/MD 355 and dedicate lanes inside the Beltway exclusively to a bus transitway.
The study shows people prefer their cars and are inclined to stick with them even when given a mass transit option that is, in psychological terms, more rational.
“BRT does not have the data to support ridership. It turns out the forecasting model is simply that we think people will ride a fast bus,” said Bethesda resident Robert Dyer, who got a decent amount of media attention last week after his testimony deriding the BRT proposal at a Planning Board public hearing. “This is really junk science.”
Crucial details of the proposed 79-mile, 10-corridor Bus Rapid Transit network remain to be planned. As the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan heads to the Planning Board for deliberation and a recommendation slated for June, critics question whether BRT will be convenient enough to entice drivers out of their vehicles.
It’s a hard sell to make.
“We have the worst congestion in the United States. To suggest now that we’re going to have people just flocking to Bus Rapid Transit and therefore you won’t have as many cars makes one wonder if they’re smoking something funny,” AAA Mid Atlantic spokesperson Lon Anderson said. “Because the history clearly demonstrates that yes, you may stop the rate of growth of vehicle miles traveled, but vehicle miles traveled will continue to grow as the population grows.”
As expected, a hearing on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system that would dedicate lanes exclusively to buses drew a wide range of opinions from a wide range of Montgomery County residents on Thursday night.
Some argued for the system, an 80-mile network of 10 bus corridors designed by county planners, as a common sense approach to solving the area’s traffic issues. Others said taking away traffic lanes for cars makes no sense. Then, there were residents — including a group from the Chevy Chase West neighborhood along Wisconsin Avenue — who argued against the proposal on the basis it won’t work for their specific communities.
The Planning Board’s public hearing on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan went on for more than three hours and included testimony from developers, transit advocates, bicyclists, environmentalists and one Bethesda resident who claimed the idea of taking away lanes of regular traffic was not just “a war on cars, but also a war on working families.”
“I think an anti-car attitude is just counterproductive at this point,” said Robert Dyer, blog author and one-time County Council candidate. “When the product requires sabotage of the highway system to get ridership, it’s a bad product.”
Transit advocates made the case the Bus Rapid Transit system isn’t a choice against cars, but simply a choice.
“People will tell you this evening that there’s no room for transit. That’s false,” said blogger and activist Dan Reed. “People will continue to come here and that’s a good thing, but forcing them to bring their cars isn’t. This plan isn’t about taking away from drivers, but putting those who ride transit on equal footing with them.”
The debate is particularly heated in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, where lead planner Larry Cole says Rockville Pike/MD 355 would serve as the most popular BRT transitway, capable of supporting one bus-only lane each way along the median in some of the road’s most congested stretches.
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.
The Site Plan for the 145-unit apartment project set for 7100 Wisconsin Ave. is in and includes renderings of what that portion of downtown Bethesda might look like without the Eastham’s auto repair shop and gas station that has been there for 83 years.
Eastham’s got a reprieve last December, after it was announced the auto repair portion of the shop would remain until developer Washington Property Company was ready to break ground. The shop was temporarily closed as crews closed down and cleaned out the Exxon Gas Station portion of the shop.
The Site Plan Application was filed in April and includes the 145 units (15 percent of which will be moderately priced dwelling units) underground parking and 6,300 square feet in non-residential/commercial retail space.
The side of the building facing Wisconsin Avenue will be 120 feet tall. The building will step down toward Woodmont Avenue as to not loom over the Crescent Plaza condos to the west.
Renderings via Montgomery County Planning Department
It’s the first step in getting permitting and construction approval for the unique project, which Chevy Chase leaders helped fund to provide a green space on the edge of very urban Friendship Heights.
The two-acre property, bordered by Grove Street and Western Avenue, used to have a single-family home. Chevy Chase Village contributed $1.25 million of the $5 million purchase price of the land and half of the cost for demolishing the house ($39,000). The deal is a rare Parks partnership with a municipality.
Last year, Chevy Chase village approved a Concept Plan for the park, which proposed a main pedestrian walkway, woodlawn walkway, picnic plaza, great lawn, natural play area and mix of gardens.
Now the County Planning Board will begin its approval process. The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department
The developer of a small townhouse community near Sangamore Road wants to abandon an underground garage, clubhouse and lap pool that the County Planning Board had approved.
During the Thursday session of the Montgomery County Planning Board, the Brookes Lane Development Company will attempt to have its site plan for 6450 Brookes Lane changed.
The new plan includes 11 townhouses next door to what will be a new-look Intelligence Community Campus-Bethesda, both overlooking the Potomac River. The existing single family house on the property will be maintained.
The developer is proposing to eliminate an underground parking structure and instead provide above-ground garages for each unit. There will be one private roadway ending in a cul-de-sac with shrubs and other groundcover to capture stormwater heading toward the river.
Because the development includes fewer than 25 units, it does not require a recreational area the size or scope of the clubhouse or pool that was originally proposed. The developer plans a sitting area.
Images via Montgomery County Planning Department
The request for the new plan, which would allow Congressional to buy 2.82 acres-worth of off-site plantings, came almost a month after the Planning Department issued a violation to the club for not abiding by a 2007 Forest Conservation Plan.
Planning staff and Congressional attorney Jody Kline said the parties were in communication about the coming violation, issued last October, and agreed that a new plan was necessary.
Kline said “the Club has been working assiduously,” toward correcting the violation, which Kline said it looks at “as sort of the technical way of getting in front of [the Planning Board],” to amend the agreement.
Kline said the Club simply could not protect trees in some of the previously upon agreed areas, including a section of forest near the 18th and final green where a set of bleachers goes each year.
The Club did not plant promised trees in other areas after realizing the trees would be knocked down or damaged from spectator traffic. The Club first hosted the AT&T National in 2007, a PGA Tour event hosted by Tiger Woods. In 2010 and 2011, the Club took a break from that event to prepare for and then host the 2011 U.S. Open, a USGA event.
“Is there a reasonable chance of a higher level of actually achieving compliance,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier asked.
The Board approved the new Forest Conservation Plan unanimously.
“This is something that’s been on the Club’s front-burner for a long time,” Kline said. “But we’ve been working with the PGA to do it.”
The Club also plans to put up signs marking preservation areas, complete with Congressional’s logo.
This year’s AT&T National is June 24-June 30.
Flickr photo by Keith Allison
The developer of the 8300 Wisconsin apartment and Harris Teeter grocery store project says Montgomery County Planning staff “over-counted” the amount of new car trips that will be generated from the building.
Attorneys representing Bethesda-based developer StonebridgeCarras will head back to the Planning Board next week to try for an amendment to the Preliminary and Site Plans that the Board approved last May. The amendment would allow building to start on the site, near the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane, without satisfying what were previously binding traffic mitigation requirements.
In a January letter to the Planning Board from attorneys Bob Dalrymple and Heather Dlhopolsky, the developer argued Planning Department staff did not factor in vehicle trips already on the road, called “pass-by trips”, for a proposed grocery store.
The letter says that led to a trip number that required a binding traffic mitigation condition in the original Site Plan. The letter also says StonebridgeCarras brought this up to Planning staff before the hearing and in front of the Board last May:
Despite the materials provided by the Applicant to Staff in advance of the Planning Board hearing and the Applicant’s attempt to discuss the Project’s PAMR requirements at the hearing, the Planning Board would not permit discussion on these items at the hearing itself. As a result, the issue of interpretation of treatment of pass-by trips in applying the CBS Special Trip Rates was never really decided by the Planning Board.
Now, Planning staff is recommending the Board agree with the developer’s argument. The April 2012 traffic study projected 115 new vehicle trips to and from the apartments and grocery store in the weekday morning peak-hour period and 389 new vehicle trips in the evening peak-hour.
Crews have been busy with preliminary utility and environmental work at and around the site. The projected completion of the site was Spring 2015 with groundbreaking this month. The 359-unit, 430,000-square-foot apartment building will include 50,000 square feet of ground floor space for the Harris Teeter, which in February announced it signed a 20-year lease.
The traffic discussion is scheduled for the afternoon session of the Planning Board’s regular hearing on May 2.
Rendering via StonebridgeCarras
Strathmore, Federal Realty Announce Music Venue For Pike & Rose — The music hall near the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro and the developer of the Pike & Rose project at Mid-Pike Plaza made the announcement on Saturday. The yet-to-be-named venue is set for 250 seats and weekend shows. Expect more information later today from Strathmore. [Bethesda Magazine]
Hot Tear-Down Market Often Leads To Grandma’s House — The majority of tear-down projects in Montgomery County happen in Bethesda, and as many as 40 percent of those projects start with purchasing a World War II-era suburban home from a retiree or from those who recently died. [Washington Post]
Jury Finds Man Accused Of Home Invasion, Sexual Assault Guilty — A jury found Kevin Darnell Ray guilty of forcing a housekeeper by gunpoint into a Bethesda home, where he tied up those inside the house and sexually assaulted the housekeeper. [WTOP]
Three Candidates Want Spot On Planning Board — Planning Board Commissioner Marye Wells-Harley, whose four-year term is up in June, has two challengers for her spot on the five-member Planning Board. [The Gazette]
Flickr photo by Paul Spring
Suburban Hospital got the go-ahead from the Montgomery County Planning Board today for its expansion project, despite arguments from residents in the surrounding neighborhood that the new facilities won’t be compatible with the area’s Master Plan.
The years-long battle between the hospital and the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association is still in court. Today’s approval of Suburban’s preliminary and site plan for the expansion is an important step, but the hospital must wait until the case has cleared Appeals court.
Suburban Hospital says it badly needs the 235,000-square-foot addition. The Huntington Terrace Citizens Association says the expansion, abandonment of Lincoln Street and new garage included in it will lead to more noise and traffic.
The issue is before the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 2011, the group’s attempt to block the expansion was thrown out in Circuit Court.
Norman Knopf, attorney for the Citizens Association, argued the proposed four-story building and 1,125-space garage don’t fit the residential area’s Master Plan, approved 23 years ago.
Barbara Sears, attorney for Suburban Hospital, said Knopf was telling only part of the story. Suburban says the expansion of healthcare is a community service that’s included in the Master Plan. The Board of Appeals and County Council staff have used that justification before to allow the abandonment of Lincoln Street, which Suburban proposes to build over.
“What we have done is the minimal. It’s designed so it can function and it has to function,” Sears said. “We can’t change that footprint. We’ve done everything possible to change it. We can’t go any further.
“I don’t know any other case that’s been through this kind of scrutiny and that’s been through these kind of details,” Sears said.
Sears also showed a house near the hospital that was sold and rebuilt in 2010 by a man who had earlier feared he would not be able to sell it for good value because of the expansion. Sears said the value of the property doubled by 2010, even with the knowledge that Suburban would be building.
Knopf identified four issues the neighborhood had with the expansion: The anticipated increase in noise from HVAC units, an entranceway to the new garage from Southwick Street, the size and location of the garage and the size and location of the portion of the hospital addition that would go behind Southwick Street.
The majority of the Planning Board agreed to include a condition that would require Suburban to keep its noise testing locations on the same side of the street as the hospital. Residents were concerned moving those testing locations across the street would allow for higher noise levels.
Commissioner Amy Presley expressed concern about increased traffic on Smithwick that might come from the closing of Lincoln Street.
Rendering via Suburban Hospital, Site map via Montgomery County Planning Department
Congressional Country Club has not planted about three acres of promised reforestation area as a result of its annual PGA Tour golf tournament.
Now, in response to a violation issued last year by the Montgomery County Planning Department, the Club has proposed a new conservation plan that would allow it to meet requirements by paying into a county forest mitigation fund for offsite planting.
The proposed Forest Conservation Plan Amendment will go in front of the County Planning Board for approval on April 25. In it, Planning Department staff describes the history of the original 2007 agreement and the specifics of sites on the golf course where promised reforestation has not taken place.
Those areas include the part of the course near the intersection of River Road and Bradley Boulevard, used for trailer storage, parking and staging during the PGA Tour events and the U.S. Open in 2011.
There is also the large grandstand area near the 18th and final green. Planning staff says that bleacher platform was erected within a conservation easement and the area was in violation because it was not replanted and it was completely mowed.
Congressional has proposed to abandon that part of the original conservation plan.
Before the first-ever AT&T National Tournament at the Club in 2007, Planning and Club staff worked together to mitigate tree damage to areas that would need to be used for TV structures, concession tents and spectator viewing. According to the Planning Department report, Planning staff met with Club staff many times in 2010 and 2011 to go over the remaining planting requirements of the 2007 agreement.
On May 25, 2012, Planning staff completed a two-year inspection of all trees planted in late-fall 2009 and spring 2010 and found that not all areas in the original Forest Conservation Plan were planted. By October 2012, with the planting deadline passed, staff reported 3.12 acres were not planted within the one-year (or two-growing seasons) time limit.
The violation was issued on Oct. 17. On Nov. 15, Congressional submitted a proposal to change the Forest Conservation Plan that would leave 1.41 acres of those areas unplanted in exchange for the purchase of 2.82 acres of credit in a Park and Planning Commission-approved forest mitigation bank.
Planning staff is recommending the Board approve the new agreement.
The 2013 AT&T National is set for June 27-June 30, with events and practice rounds beginning earlier that week.
Flickr photo by Keith Allison
The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved the site plan for Bethesda Mews, a development of 29 single-family detached dwellings, three townhomes and two duplexes at the former site of the American College of Cardiology.
The Board quickly approved the plan, which would put a new neighborhood on the 10-acre site at the intersection of Old Georgetown and Alta Vista Roads. The development will include an extension of Camberley Avenue to Alta Vista, two recreation areas and a stormwater system improvement into the existing neighborhood.
The project, from D.C.-based real estate investment firm Streetscape Partners, will include moderately priced units for the townhomes and duplexes. One 9,000-square-foot area at the “grand entrance” to the community will include stone garden walls, benches, pathways, sitting areas and an archway. Streetscape was a partner in the Symphony Woods luxury townhome development near the Strathmore.
One change is the probable severe impact on a group of three more trees than originally planned. Streetscape will plant 55 trees, up from 52, as part of its forest mitigation plan. The development requires a school facility payment at both the middle school and high school level. It will be in the Walter Johnson High School cluster.
Allen Myers, president of the nearby Maple Leaf Citizens Association, said his group met a few times with the developer and had no issues.
“I think it’s going to be an enhancement to the neighborhood and I think the residents are, by and large, very happy,” Myers said.
Image via Montgomery County Planning Department
Expansion plans for Suburban Hospital will go in front of the Montgomery County Planning Board on April 18, almost two years after a Circuit Court judge denied a request from nearby residents to block the project.
The Site Plan application for Suburban Hospital’s proposed 235,000-square-foot addition to its facility at 8600 Old Georgetown Rd. say the hospital is in need of its first major clinical expansion since 1979.
In 2011, residents of the Huntington Terrace Citizens Association unsuccessfully tried to block the project, which has meant the closure of Lincoln Street between Grant Street and Old Georgetown Road and will mean the demolition of 10 hospital-owned houses. In July 2011, the Montgomery County Council approved a special exception request to close that section of Lincoln Street, which residents opposed because of anticipated disruptions.
The Planning Staff report on the hospital’s Preliminary and Site Plan materials was not available today, but the application filed last year explains how the project would work. Staff is recommending approval of the Plans, with conditions.
The existing 323,100-square-foot building would be combined with the new addition by removing the houses, two-story administrative building and garage and replacing those with a four-story building and new 1,125-space garage.
Suburban’s application says the project would separate pedestrian and regular vehicle traffic from ambulance traffic, as well as significantly reduce the amount of surface parking.
Suburban argues for the expansion because of a large increase in patient volume, improvements in healthcare delivery methods, additional regulatory demands and its status as Montgomery County’s only designated trauma center. The new building would include new surgical facilities, private patient rooms, doctors’ offices and the garage.
Photo via Suburban Hospital
The developer of a luxury Westin Hotel planned for the Bethesda Court Hotel and next-door retail building got approval from the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday and will donate $57,000 that will likely go toward a nearby Capital Bikeshare station or a collection of stations.
The Board unanimously approved a new preliminary plan and site plan proposal from D.C.-based developer The Bernstein Companies, which came back with a revised plan that includes an additional 19 hotel rooms and new facades on the south side of the south building to accomodate the Bethesda Place office building property owner next door.
The owner of Bethesda Place took the Bernstein Companies to court, but the parties were able to resolve their differences with regard to the 12-floor hotel proposed for right next to the existing office building that contains Comcast SportsNet, among other tenants.
The 11-floor north building (7740 Wisconsin Ave.) of the Bernstein development will go on the site of the existing Bethesda Court Hotel. The two buildings will be separated by a 36-foot-wide pedestrian walk-thru area that will include public art, a waterfall-like feature and a modern piece of architecture.
The space, however, will not be able to accomodate a Capital Bikeshare station, so the developer asked that its $57,000 payment toward a general Traffic Mitigation Fund be appropriated for a nearby Bikeshare station. The estimated cost for one Bikeshare facility is $25,000 for installation, according to a Planning Department staff member. The rest of the $57,000 donation would pay for 12 years of operating costs.
The staff member said a Bikeshare station at nearby Veterans Park could make sense, but the Montgomery County Department of Transportation will determine how the money is used.
Since County Planners last presented their idea for a Bus Rapid Transit system on Wisconsin Avenue, 12 residents of the Chevy Chase West neighborhood sent letters opposing the project.
This, despite pleas from some of those residents just last month for a more convenient and reliable way between the downtown areas of Friendship Heights and Bethesda. A BRT Transitway on 355/Wisconsin Avenue would conceivably provide that connection.
But members of the neighborhood along what is known as Wisconsin Avenue’s “Green Mile” raised concerns that the system would be a duplicate of Metro’s Red Line and that bus-only lanes would make it difficult to access and get out of neighborhoods.
Larry Cole, lead planner of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, said the curb bus lane part of the first phase of the Plan would actually make it easier to get out of the neighborhood and that the BRT would serve a different set of riders than Metro and that WMATA buses don’t provide enough routes in the area. WMATA has said a 355/Wisconsin Avenue BRT route would work as a complementary system.
“If you’re only going a short distance on Metro, there is some investment to make in going down into the station and going through the fare gates,” Cole said, “as opposed to just catching a bus that’s right there.”
Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said she was pleased with language and graphics that Staff added to the Draft since its first review more than two weeks ago. At that meeting, Carrier sent Staff back to the drawing board to come up with language that would better explain why the County should take a lane of regular traffic away on 355 for a bus-only lane.
“You have really turned this into something that I’m happy to support,” Carrier said. “It’s balanced enough that I feel comfortable with it.”
Cole said in the two weeks since the last meeting on the Plan, Staff received 113 letters in support of the BRT and of dedicating a Rockville Pike lane in each direction exclusively to BRT use. Those letters were prompted by transit advocate the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
The Board approved the Draft Plan, but it’s only the first step. Next is the Planning Board Public Hearing, in which residents on all sides will be invited to testify.