Wednesday, April 04, 2012


Is 6900 Wisconsin Avenue Really the
Ideal Mail Hub for the Future of Bethesda?

You may have taken note of vague media announcements regarding the closure of Bethesda's post offices, and the "consolidation" of two mail operations into one new location at 6900 Wisconsin Avenue.

But no one is really talking about where that new post office will be, and the consequences of selecting that location.

Now, before we consider that, here's Grandpa, about to head out to mail in his tax return to the IRS. Grandpa lives in a building near the Bethesda Metro Center, and it's going to be quite a walk. So let's give Grandpa a head start here. OK, he's got his coat and hat on. He's picked up the cane. And he's off to the races...6900 Wisconsin Avenue.

While he's staggering along 355, let's consider this building at 6900 Wisconsin Ave. It has a modest parking lot between it and a mattress store. Behind the building is a sort of alleyway, which gives access to the rear garage doors of 6900, as well as some garden apartments.

This alley is accessible from both Leland St./Woodmont Ave, and Bradley Blvd. There is a narrow staircase that runs up to the future post office's surface lot. However, this alley is - by nature - narrow, and not really designed for heavy, bidirectional vehicle traffic. I'm not sure that the 6900 garage is even open to the public, or how many spaces it has.

How's Grandpa doing? He's made it as far as the Apex Building. Getting a little tired. Heading into Regal for a Coke.

Anyway, it's not clear at this point how the 6900 site will handle two post offices' worth of foot and vehicular traffic. The county, the developer, and the Postal Service are not volunteering answers, and the politicians and journalists don't seem too inclined to ask any questions. Maybe they've got a genius solution, but wouldn't it have been a good idea to tell us up front.

All I know is, the 6900 lot has less than half of the spaces the Arlington Rd. post office has. And 355 is a state highway. The current post office is a notorious congestion point on Arlington Road. But it's one of many such points in the Bethesda Row area, and is probably a positive for pedestrian safety on the busy crosswalk ahead of it.

Imagine that volume of traffic now zipping (crawling?) in and out of 6900 during rush hour. Yikes. Assuming they'll put a time limit on the spaces, the ingress and egress is bound to cause dist-ress. Can they allow the public into that garage? Will people illegally park in the alley, and run up the back stairs to mail something?

OK, Grandpa's as far as Starbucks now...

People like Grandpa, who live near the center of town, or even farther north in "Old Town" Bethesda simply aren't going to be willing and/or able to walk that many blocks. So they are likely to drive, and who could blame them? But Government and developers keep telling us they're going to "get people out of their cars" and make walkable communities. So why are they letting the USPS move to 6900?

It seems these days that there is no adult supervision for politicians and planners. Want to build something without the infrastructure to support it, while you make the profit and the taxpayer picks up the tab? Done. The folks are away, and the bigshots are throwing a party. We don't need a well-planned, underground subway; just throw some surface rail or bus line up so we can build, build, build!

Shouldn't Bethesda's main post office for the next 100 years be centrally-located in the urban core? After all, it is a basic utility everyone uses. You'd think the politicians could have worked out a deal to put the post office in the ground floor of one of these lackluster, boutique buildings they've approved recently, closer to the center of town.

The USPS chose not to reopen in the future development at its current Arlington Rd. site, Dwell Bethesda. There are no pictures of the proposal so far, but the name is already getting things off to a bad start. "Dwell Bethesda?!" And the historic Wisconsin Avenue Post Office, complete with Madonna of the Trail statue, adds no value to the community as a private building for the private profit of Donohoe, the new owner.

But the big problem is that both sites - which together provided walking-distance mail services to all of downtown Bethesda - are closing at once. Forever. And the new location woefully underserves the urban population.

Forget about the farmers market moving; this is the issue Action Committee for Transit should be at least equally concerned about. Farmers markets are informal affairs that can be moved at will, and it is certain to return to Bethesda Row once The Darcy opens.

But the post office is going to be stuck at 6900, way out of walking distance for the average busy person. For many decades. It's just poor planning, but it's probably too late to stop the process now. Just tell us what the plan is. Can the Bethesda Circulator add the Post Office, Safeway and Bradley Shopping Center to its route sometimes? That might be an easy but insufficient fix. Are they going to somehow expand parking, since they've chosen a site beyond walking distance?

And don't say we won't use mail in the future. Unless you know how to squeeze that box of shoes-that-were-the-wrong-size into the USB port, so you can email them back for a refund!

So let's check back on Grandpa. He's finally made it down to the new post office. The sun is going down. He's going in! He's mailing his package! He's coming out! Uh-oh! He's starting to get a chest pain from overexertion. Fortunately, the new post office is convenient to CVS, and Grandpa can get a refill on his heart medication. At least it's convenient for something!


waxwing said...

I agree, this is a poor location for the post office. I don't even like going to that CVS because the parking is so limited. I will probably go to the post office near Montgomery Mall.

Dan Krell said...

Montgomery County Planning has a great page on the future of Bethesda, that has a map and describes the vision of a future Bethesda MD.