Friday, February 22, 2013


A Montgomery Planning Department memo by Senior Planner David Anspacher provides not only an update on the future Purple Line light rail, but also some little-known effects it will have in the Bethesda Row area.

Earlier, I reported on the noisy nighttime Capital Crescent Trail tunnel work planned for the first half of March.

That is part of the preliminary design phase, which Anspacher says will conclude this summer. At that point, the Federal Transit Administration will accept that report, and issue a Record of Decision. Then there will be a mandatory referral of three projects: the rebuilding of the Capital Crescent Trail, the future Bethesda South Elevators that will access the Red and Purple Lines, and the Purple Line itself.

What's new?

South Entrance

While the long-overdue Bethesda Metro South Entrance elevator project has been much-discussed, this memo also mentions that the current Regal Bethesda 10-side parking lane on Elm Street will be seized for the elevator site.

The high-speed elevators will take pedestrians down to a lobby level for the Purple Line, and to the Metro Red Line mezzanine level. There will also be a stairway from Elm Street down to the Purple Line.

Capital Crescent Trail

The CCT is currently planned to cross Wisconsin Avenue as a glorified crosswalk, a potentially-dangerous situation that has concerned many trail users.

Anspacher says one option is to deny drivers left turns onto Wisconsin from Bethesda Avenue.  However, that idea is opposed by the Town of Chevy Chase and some Bethesda businesses.

MCDOT is preparing a second option, which is simply a "protected" light cycle for trail users at the intersection.

The surprising part of the memo, is that planners have resurrected the idea of a new underground crossing under Wisconsin Avenue. They've asked the Maryland MTA to study the feasibility of such a tunnel - which was declared dead by the County Council last year - in time for its possible inclusion in the 2014 update of the Bethesda Central Business Sector Plan update.

Fan Towers - Bethesda Row "Smokestack"

Here's the big one. Maybe this was discussed in some meeting somewhere, or buried in thick reports, but this is the first I've heard of it:

A 9-story exhaust tower will be erected outside of the current Capital Crescent Trail tunnel entrance at Bethesda Row, in full view from Barnes and Noble, Landmark Bethesda Row Theatre, and Haagen Dazs.

Essentially a smokestack, it will only emit smoke during a smoke emergency within the tunnel.  But the exhaust fans within the smokestack will have to be tested once a month, and are required by federal law.

A second smokestack will be at the Air Rights Building garage.

Planners clearly anticipate community displeasure regarding the smokestacks.

They are pleading with the MTA to find an alternative location, or to design "an iconic treatment that makes it a landmark in Bethesda." Good luck with that, man.

The only real hope of hiding the tower, in my opinion, is to incorporate it into the new Woodmont East development.

Elm Street Park

While Elm Street Park is not expected to be impacted physically by Purple Line construction, the MTA will erect screening to block the view of construction from park patrons.


Anonymous said...

What is the big concern about the crosswalk for CCT? Won't it be the same as the crosswalk on Little Falls Parkway?

Also, is there any data on pedestrian collisions on Wisconsin Ave to indicate there is a risk?

Robert Dyer said...

I think the main difference is the higher volume of traffic, and that there will be cars potentially coming from 4 directions, rather than 2 like on Little Falls Parkway. It is probably frustrating for cyclists, because it will interrupt their ride more than the current setup. But the issue is pretty much moot, as there is simply no money for a separate trail tunnel. So they're going to have to make this crossing work. And good luck with that, much like camouflaging the smokestack! I think it can work for the non-racing cyclist who uses common sense. There are crossings like this on other major trails in the area.

Anonymous said...

Robert is right to reference the Nonracing cyclist in his reply. Unfortunately the trail east of Wisconsin is being built for high speed road cyclists who expected to use the tunnel and are upset at having to cross Wisc. The trail will be paved, unshaded, and right next to trains running every 3 minutes in two directions. Not for pleasure riding.