UPDATE 6:10 p.m. Some in Bethesda are unhappy with the Maryland Transit Administration’s recent proposal to shut down a commuter bus that delivers people from Columbia, Burtonsville and Olney to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Campus.
The MTA has given notice of three public hearings in which it will propose to shut down three commuter buses that use the ICC because of low ridership. Bus No. 203 delivers people from the Route 29 and upper-Georgia Avenue corridors to Bethesda’s traffic-heavy section of Rockville Pike at the secure Walter Reed base.
Ilaya Hopkins, a civic activist and member of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee, will testify against shutting down the commuter bus at a June 6 hearing in Gaithersburg. Bethesda residents involved in Walter Reed’s BRAC move to the Naval Military Medical Center have long been concerned with added traffic from a large increase in employees traveling to the base.
Phil Alperson, Montgomery County’s BRAC coordinator, said he will also testify against the route cuts. Members of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board agreed to oppose the discontinuation of the route at their meeting on Monday.
Arlington County transportation planner and blogger Dan Malouff called the move a “classic bait and switch from highway builders,” who promise a multimodal road to build political support for a project before cutting those other modes later.
“What we’ve done is simply make some proposals,” said MTA spokesperson Terry Owens. “But we’ve looked at ridership on some of the routes and they have not met expectations, thus the proposal is to consider scaling those back to reallocate those resources.”
If the MTA follows through on the proposals, the 203, 202 and 205 routes would be discontinued on August 1.
Owens said the MTA anticipated having an average of about 20 riders per trip with that number growing to 30 riders per trip over a 24-month period. The 203 route is averaging fewer than 15 riders per trip.
“It’s those kinds of numbers that have us taking a look at this and scheduling these public hearings,” Owens said. “We are talking to elected officials, stakeholders and others about our proposal. Certainly, we want input from a wide cross-section before we make any decision.”
Flickr photo by BeyondDC
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 skydivers will be part of a barbecue and concert appreciation day for staff on the Walter Reed and Naval Support Activity Bethesda campus.
At about 11:30 a.m., the skydivers will land on the front lawn near the Navy Exchange, according to the NSAB Public Affairs office.
NSAB warned county government that could lead to slower traffic in front of the base due to rubbernecking.
The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. From 9 a.m. until the concert is over, the gate directly across from the Medical Center Metro station will be closed to vehicle traffic and open to bicycles and pedestrians, which could also cause traffic issues.
A Bethesda developer’s plan for three 300-foot residential towers and two 200-foot buildings along Rockville Pike met some resistance on Monday, when a resident of a nearby condominium building questioned the lack of retail space in the presentation.
Saul Centers, a part of B.F. Saul, wants to tun the two-level Metro Pike Center shopping center and the Staples site near the White Flint Metro station into four residential high-rises and an office building.
Saul Centers Vice President of Development Brian Downie told a meeting of the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee on Monday that the company’s research shows retail uses are not in high demand at the site, which sits between four major mixed-use projects either underway or in the pipeline for White Flint.
Paul Meyer, a member of the Committee and a resident of The Wisconsin Condominiums to the west of the property, said the lack of retail and other amenities wouldn’t be fair to residents of his building and wouldn’t encourage people to walk from section to section of White Flint.
“Everything that’s being built in White Flint, we know we’re going to have to pay in terms of construction, noise, and traffic problems over time,” Meyer said. “On the other hand, it’s a balance. We look at what we’ll have when it’s done. These projects have places to walk to, they have restaurants to eat in, a destination that I’d want to go to. This project has none of that, absolutely none.”
Meyer said the project will likely be the first in the redevelopment of White Flint that residents of The Wisconsin don’t support.
In total, the Saul redevelopment on its two Pike properties would bring 1.4 million square feet of new residential space with roughly 1,400 rental units and 200,000 square feet of office and commercial space, most of which would be in a roughly 200-foot high office building near the Porcelenosa store.
The plan calls for green, pedestrian-friendly walkways, a public plaza on the east side of Rockville Pike along Nicholson Lane and a few spaces for retail or restaurants. But Downie said that retail or restaurant space is limited.
“We want to be forthright and cautious about overpromising retail,” Downie said at the meeting. “We do think the uses we want there primarily are restaurants, but we don’t see it’s strength as retail.”
Downie said the performance of the existing shopping center on the site, which has a number of vacancies, played a role in that decision. Bob Dalrymple, an attorney from Linowes and Blocher who is representing Saul Centers on the project, said the plan presented so far is in its early stages.
“I would encourage you not to take anything too literally, too fixed. We are very early on,” Dalrymple said. “So don’t give up on us too early is I guess what I’m asking.”
Saul Centers hopes to submit a sketch plan to the County Planning Department in a few weeks.
“If they do the right thing, everybody wins,” Meyer said. “I’m willing to take some more traffic. I’ll walk. But my worry is, if they overbuild the residential, it becomes a ghost town.”
Saul Centers, a part of Bethesda-based development company B.F. Saul, on Tuesday revealed its plans for three 300-foot residential towers and two 200-foot buildings on its two properties near the White Flint Metro station.
Saul Centers purchased the two-level shopping center at Metro Pike Center (across from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and the Staples-anchored shopping center at 11503 Rockville Pike two years ago with the intent of developing the site under the new zoning codes of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
The buildings would likely be built in phases over a number of years, Saul Centers Vice President of Development Brian Downie told attendees of the required public meeting at the Bethesda North Conference Center. The company would begin building its first tower in about two years, if everything goes smoothly in the approval process.
Saul Centers will submit its sketch plan to the Montgomery County Planning Board by the end of May. It is not releasing the renderings it showed on Tuesday until that submission.
Metro Pike Center would be torn down and redeveloped with a 300-foot residential tower on the spot of the existing McDonald’s at Marinelli Road and Rockville Pike. Just to the south, Saul Centers would build a matching 300-foot residential tower with a new east-to-west street in between. South of that, across another new east-to-west street, would be a roughly 200-foot predominantly office building.
Woodglen Drive is to be extended behind the property to Marinelli Road under the Sector Plan. It currently cuts off at Nicholson Lane.
At the Staples site, Saul Centers would build a 300-foot, L-Shaped residential tower along Rockville Pike and another 200-foot residential tower to the east with a public plaza in between.
Following the ins and outs of the many redevelopment projects slated for White Flint isn’t easy.
So on Saturday a group of smart growth advocates put together a walking tour of the area to show about 50 area residents what is going on and what they hope to see happen to the strip malls and sidewalks of Rockville Pike.
The D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, a nonprofit funded by an environmental group, organized “White Flint: Drag to Desirable,” a two-hour tour of the area that included Tommy Mann from developer Federal Realty, County planner Nkosi Yearwood, resident Lindsay Hoffman from Friends of White Flint and Coalition executive director Stewart Schwartz.
They talked about plans for Federal Realty’s Pike & Rose project, underway at Mid-Pike Plaza, and developer LCOR’s North Bethesda Center on the east side of Rockville Pike near the White Flint Metro station. Yearwood answered questions about the realignment of Executive Boulevard, which the county hopes will one day run through what is now Mid-Pike Plaza and the Saab auto dealership across Old Georgetown Road.
Schwartz pointed out some of the less noticeable signs of car-oriented, older suburban planning that still exist on the Pike.
The high-speed right hand turn lane from Old Georgetown Road onto southbound Rockville Pike is one example. Drivers looking to get onto the Pike are more likely to look left for a gap in southbound traffic than to look right for pedestrians crossing at the crosswalk.
There is no tree buffer between the sidewalks of Rockville Pike and the road, a streetscaping tool that is apparent off the Pike near the Bethesda North Marriott and nearby apartment buildings.
Many asked about school overcrowding from new residents in mid-rise and high-rise apartments. The 2010 White Flint Sector Plan includes a new elementary school at the White Flint Mall redevelopment site. Yearwood fielded questions about public amenities, including a green space planned for near Wall Park.
And many wanted to know exactly what was going to be built and when. Mann answered questions about parking and retailers coming to Pike & Rose, the first major mixed-use development coming under the Sector Plan. Phase one will be done next year.
But residents found the bulk of redevelopment for White Flint is going to be a long process in which all the details — road construction, land ownership, the fate of existing small businesses, even a name — aren’t finalized.
UPDATED STORY | MCFRS is on the scene of a multi-car accident at Nicholson Lane and Rockville Pike that involves as many as eight cars and a county Ride On bus.
The accident happened around 1:35 p.m. just east of the intersection, where multiple ambulances are on the scene and traffic is snarled.
Photos via TrafficLand.com and @chrisrhopkins
About 3,000 runners took part in the 18th Annual Pike’s Peek 10K on Sunday, a race that took on special significance for some almost a week after the Boston Marathon bombings.
The race from the Shady Grove Metro station to White Flint Mall went off without a hitch and with an increased police presence as a precaution.
Participants and spectators braved a chilly morning for the race and food and activities in the White Flint Mall parking lot.
The top male finisher finished in 29 minutes, just off the race record 28 minutes and 11 second-run in 2011. Check the race website for race results.
Organizers of Sunday’s Pike’s Peek 10K say participants and spectators will notice extra police presence at this year’s race, though Montgomery County Police are saying they have no information regarding threats to the event.
The 18th Annual 10K will see about 3,000 runners make their way from the Shady Grove Metro station south along Rockville Pike to the finish line at White Flint Mall. The race typically attracts about 350 volunteers and includes a brunch, activities and a Fun Run for kids in the parking lot in front of the mall.
The beefed up security is a precaution the race and police are taking after Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings:
While we, and the country, keep all those involved in the most horrific tragedy in Boston in our prayers, we work closely with our partners, Montgomery County and the City of Rockville, to conduct a safe and enjoyable event. Safety is first and foremost with any road racing event and you will notice additional police presence in place at all aspects of the event this weekend. We ask for your patience and understanding during this time of heightened security measures.
On Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., avoid northbound Rockville Pike between Rockville and White Flint. Those lanes will be closed. The southbound lanes will be open, but crossing streets on Rockville Pike won’t be accessible. Traffic will be allowed to cross Rockville Pike after the last runners have past.
The Pike’s Peek 10K and Kids Fun Run is this Sunday, meaning part of Rockville Pike from the Shady Grove Metro Station to White Flint will be closed much of Sunday morning as runners make their way south.
The race starts at 7:50 a.m. on Sunday just south of Shady Grove and winds it way down to White Flint Mall, where brunch and festivities are planned. The 1K Run Around for kids and 50-meter Toddler Trot are set for around 9:30 a.m. in the Mall parking lot, which will be tight on parking with runners, food and other festivities planned as part of the 10K.
The Montgomery County Road Runners Club is organizing the event with sponsors Kaiser Permanente.
Organizers are asking runners not to take Metro to the starting location, but instead take Metro’s Red Line back to Shady Grove after the race.
For more information on registering and packet pick-up, visit the race website.
Photo via Pike’s Peek 10K
Rockville-based Federal Realty today won approval for new temporary signage at its Pike & Rose site, a move it hopes will enhance its branding and marketing efforts for the mixed-use town square-oriented development to come.
Federal Realty will replace the green mesh material on the fence around Phase 1 of construction along Old Georgetown Road with a series of images designed by Paula Rees, who also designed Federal’s Sanatana Row project in California.
All temporary signage in the county that encompasses more than 100 feet requires a variance from the county’s Sign Review Board. Board chair Coblens Scherr expressed concern with how eye-catching the images might be to drivers turning onto Old Georgetown Road from Rockville Pike.
But Scherr and the rest of the Board approved the variance, which also includes vertical signs on 20-f0ot tall posts to advertise the Pike Central Farm Market, which opens on Saturday.
“One of the things that Federal Realty is extremely keen on making sure of is positioning a property within its context and within the portfolio we have,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, who handles marketing for Pike & Rose and for Bethesda Row. “We really think about what it is going to look like and what it is going to feel like and how we are going to communicate that.”
When complete, the former Mid-Pike Plaza will have 1.5 million square feet of retail, residential, office and hotel space and a new street grid between Rockville Pike and Montrose Parkway. Phase 1 of the project, 950,000 square feet of mixed-use retail that includes a luxury iPic movie theater, broke ground last summer along Old Georgetown Road and is expected to be completed in the summer or fall of 2014.
Tommy Mann, a development associate at Federal Realty, said the upgraded signage is also part of the developer’s attempt to be a good neighbor.
The Sign Board gave Federal Realty a year for the new signage before having to come back and provide an update. The construction signage, designed to hang on a six-foot high fence, will be re-used as construction crews move from parcel to parcel on the property.
Photos from Federal Realty
First things first, White Flint needs one marketable and recognizable name.
That’s the first conclusion residents, developers and business representatives seemed to agree upon at Tuesday’s first-ever meeting of the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee.
To some, the area around the White Flint Metro Station on Rockville Pike is still considered Rockville, even though the actual border of the city of Rockville is north of Montrose Parkway. North Bethesda has become more popular and the use of White Flint has also grown, at least in county government circles, since the adoption of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
That Sector Plan calls for intense redevelopment of the strip shopping centers and surface parking lots around the Metro station, which was the impetus for the Advisory Committee. The Committee has two tasks: Advise the County Council and County Executive of needed government services in an annual report and begin early work on the creation of a Bethesda Urban Partnership-like organization or business improvement district.
Right now, though, members of the Committee want a way for everyone else to recognize White Flint exists.
“Branding is an extremely important issue,” said Bob Daley, general manager of the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center where the meeting was held.
Daley said guests or conference-goers at his hotel often come up empty if they type North Bethesda into their GPS systems. Marriott lists the address as in Bethesda. Daley said some people use Rockville.
Rockville-based developer Federal Realty, which has begun its redevelopment of Mid-Pike Plaza, has started an agressive marketing campaign for its property, called Pike & Rose. But Federal Realty’s Deirdre Johnson told the Committee she’d like to see a more unified branding campaign, one that distinguishes White Flint from downtown Bethesda.
“Not being a ‘Little Bethesda’ but creating a district that is unique and identifiable and that actually leads the county,” Johnson said. “We want people saying, ‘Look at what they did,’ and not, ‘Look at what Bethesda did and they replicated it.’”
Ken Hartman, director of the county’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, laid out some of the issues the Committee likely will be dealing with in its first year. The idea is that by 2017, the Committee will be able to recommend a Bethesda Urban Partnership-like organization for a special taxing district in White Flint.
Like BUP, that organization could be funded by the county and would be charged with landscaping, trash pick-up, marketing and putting on events that draw crowds to White Flint businesses. A more traditional business improvement district is possible, Hartman said, and would require the support of most of the area’s businesses.
But first, the Committee members made it clear they want to put White Flint on the map, perhaps even literally.
“Until we know who we are, it’s hard to accomplish a whole lot else,” said Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce Chair-Elect Andy Shulman.
Flickr photo by dan reed!
The Rockville Pike Bus Rapid Transit debate continues before the Planning Board takes it up again on Thursday, this time with a noted transit advocate suggesting traffic flow would be much improved if just 15 percent of drivers switched from cars to BRT.
Tina Slater, president of Action Committee for Transit, said in a letter to Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier that she and her colleagues were “uneasy” with the Board’s concerns about repurposing regular lanes of traffic exclusively for bus use.
In the Draft BRT Plan, Planning Staff recommends taking away one lane of regular northbound and soutbound Rockville Pike traffic from the Beltway to the D.C. line.
That has Planning Board members and some residents worried already gridlocked traffic will get worse. But transit advocates are arguing it’s just the move the county must make to get people out of their cars in order to improve traffic:
BRT is unlike our current bus system — buses today are mired down in the same traffic as cars. People who take the bus today do so for reasons that may be financial, environmental, or simply because they prefer using commute time to read, phone or text, rather than curse the traffic. By giving BRT a dedicated lane, the rapid and frequent service will give people an option they don’t have today.
Of course, every driver won’t move to BRT; probably not even 50% will. However, think of the “August effect” — the one time of year when you can get a seat on Metro, when you can drive downtown more quickly than usual. That’s because maybe 15% of the people are away on vacation. That really improves traffic flow. If only 15% of drivers switched to BRT, we’d see a big difference.
What other plan does the county have to move more people more quickly? We don’t have a good option for moving more cars. Instead of framing the situation as an inconvenience to drivers, frame it as a new option to move faster, arriver sooner, and get a chance to read/work/snooze while having someone drive you to your destination.
Read Slater’s full letter here. A second workession on the Draft BRT Plan is set for Thursday during the morning session of the Planning Board’s weekly meeting in Silver Spring.
Transit advocates are going on the offensive after the Montgomery County Planning Board expressed some reluctance toward the idea of wiping out a lane of regular Rockville Pike traffic for Bus Rapid Transit-exclusive lanes.
That idea, presented in Planning Staff’s Draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan a few weeks ago, almost immediately drew skepticism from residents and Planning Board members.
The D.C. based Coalition for Smarter Growth sent an email to supporters on Thursday asking people in favor of the BRT-dedicated lane to email Planning Board members ahead of next week’s second meeting on the Draft, set for Thursday, April 4.
In it, CSG asks “Will we continue to place cars above all else in the decisions we make, or will we begin to make a shift towards providing better options for people than sitting in traffic?”
Montgomery’s proposed Rapid Transit System can transform travel in our county, but there are a number of potential hurdles. This week we are approaching one of those hurdles and we need your voice.
A key part of the Rapid Transit System’s recipe for traffic relief is giving priority to rapid transit vehicles over cars where it’s the most efficient use of our roads. It’s also a principle that has been part of Montgomery’s general plan since 1993. But in hearings last week, some members of the Planning Board appeared to waver in their commitment to this key principle.
As the hearings pick up again, we need to make sure that Montgomery residents are voicing their support for lane priority so that we don’t end up with a watered-down system that makes no impact on reducing traffic.
County staff are hard at work calculating which roads would be the best fit for a high-quality, reliable Rapid Transit System to connect our communities and complement Metro and the coming Purple Line.
Priority lanes for transit aren’t a new idea. 20 years ago, the 1993 Master Plan’s transportation section stated we should “Give priority to establishing exclusive travelways for transit and high occupancy vehicles serving the Urban Ring and Corridor.”
Communities committed to prioritizing transit, like Arlington, Bethesda, and many others have seen success in relieving traffics, providing better options for people to get around, and improving quality of life. But last week’s Planning Board discussions indicate that they may be wavering on that fundamental point, and that they may need some convincing that prioritizing transit where it’s most efficient is the right decision for the county.
Without a commitment to that concept, building a high quality Rapid Transit System could be very difficult. The debate really comes down to this: How will we share the road? Will we continue to place cars above all else in the decisions we make, or will we begin to make a shift towards providing better options for people than sitting in traffic?
Many are against the proposal to make three-lane northbound and southbound Rockville Pike from the Beltway to the D.C. line into two lanes of regular traffic with a lane that would be dedicated exclusively to the BRT system, perhaps with stations and boarding areas in the median.
Residents have complained that the BRT system won’t be convenient enough for them to use for non-commuting purposes and that ridership would not offset the traffic impacts of reducing three lanes of already clogged traffic to two.
The Planning Board sent Planning Staff back to the drawing board in order to find new language for the Draft that would put drivers at ease.
“To me, this document screams that we don’t care what happens to drivers and I’m not comfortable taking that position,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier told lead Planning Staff member Larry Cole during the first worksession on March 18.
Photo via Coalition for Smarter Growth