Monday, January 05, 2015

SAFE SIDEWALKS IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY? NOT QUITE... (PHOTOS)

Expect to hear a lot of media reports about "Safe Sidewalks" in Montgomery County today, as a press conference is scheduled at the County Council office building in Rockville. Ah, our public officials with our safety at heart, right? Not so fast. Let's take a tour of some of the "safe sidewalks" the County Council is responsible for in downtown Bethesda:
7100 Wisconsin Avenue looking north
7100 Wisconsin Avenue
Woodmont Avenue at
Wisconsin Avenue
Woodmont Avenue between
Montgomery and Hampden Lanes

Bethesda Avenue at
Woodmont Avenue
Fairmont Avenue

Fairmont Avenue
Long-term sidewalk closures are supposed to be illegal under a law passed several years ago by the Council. Construction sites are required to have open sidewalks alongside them, unless they request and are issued a temporary waiver. Well aware of these closures, the Council has proven utterly impotent to take action against them. Whether it is out of fear of losing their hefty developer campaign contributions, which all members except Marc Elrich receive, is left to the pedestrian to decide.

If you thought people walking down the middle of Fairmont Avenue last year - when construction closed sidewalks on both sides of the street - was dangerous, wait 'til you get a load of the people walking into oncoming traffic on Wisconsin Avenue in front of the former Eastham's Exxon property.

Of course, today's press conference and "safe sidewalks" theme are actually part of a PR-blitz regarding a so-called "snow removal" bill passed for (re)election purposes in late October. Headlines trumpeted messages of a council taking bold action against a common winter problem in Montgomery County - unshoveled sidewalks after snow storms.

"County Council Passes Snow Removal Bill" - MyMCMedia
"Winter Is Coming: Snow Removal Bill Approved by County" - Patch

People who didn't have time to read the articles in detail were given the impression that snow would be removed in future winters. Actually, all the new law did was require some PR posturing like this nifty website you paid for without knowing it, and does not actually require removal or physically remove snow via the county government. There has already been a law requiring sidewalks to be shoveled within 24 hours of a storm. But that didn't matter to Councilmember Hans Riemer, who basked in the free election publicity eagerly granted to him by local media.

When the latest PR blizzard is over, can we finally start addressing the (un)safe sidewalks of downtown Bethesda?

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hope MoCo will be monitoring Lerner's properties this year for snow removal enforcement. They did nothing last year along 355 in front of White Flint for days after it snowed. Totally impassable for pedestrians or those trying to catch a bus there.

Meanwhile, Fitz Auto Malls did an excellent job next door clearing their sidewalks.

Anonymous said...

Fitz has always been a great community leader.

Anonymous said...

The Woodmont between Montgomery and Hampden closure is ridiculous. As we can see in your photo (and I observed this weekend), they have closed off the sidewalk and a lane of traffic so contruction workers can park their trucks there. I see your photo was taken at night, so then it's just an empty area and a loss of a lane and sidewalk.

What part of the county is responsible for monitoring this? I'd like to file a complaint, but I need to know which office. Also, can you cite the law about how they need to keep sidewalks open? I'll include that in my complaint.

Anonymous said...

You were taking quite a chance there with those last two photos, Robert.

Had you remained outside even a few minutes longer, the rising sun would have turned you to dust.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me 9:36 AM but Robert is busy working during the day.





Just kidding.

Anonymous said...

Without mentioning the danger of shutting down also the woodmont bike lane between Montgomery and Hampden).
Totally agree with 8:04 AM: They just park their car there!
When I complain to one of them there, he just answered: "The lane is closed, buddy"

Anonymous said...

You know, these pictures would be a lot more persuasive if they had been taken at a time of day when pedestrians are actually using these sidewalks.

Anonymous said...

The old Easthams site is particularly dangerous since folks just walk in Wisconsin Avenue rather than doubling back a block to cross to the other side of Wisconsin.

I'm wondering if that is a legal sidewalk closure? There's really no excuse for it.

Bull said...

Take a close look at those red stickers on the "Sidewalk Closed" sign. Those are new stickers for the reduced pricing for Washington Sports Clubs. Bethesda has two locations. WSC has recently dropped the prices for every DC area location down to to $19.95 per month. The real scoop here is the downfall of the once predominant fitness chain in the area now in a race to the bottom. Could be a foretelling of an eventual sale to a competitor. You heard it here first.

Dyer, can you look into the two WSC locations and see whats going on?

Robert Dyer said...

1:50: I have previously posted daytime photos, and photos of pedestrians walking in the street. But the sidewalk is clearly closed in these photos, as well, so it doesn't make any difference. A closed sidewalk is illegal at any time of day.

Robert Dyer said...

9:36: You sound like an idiot, because I'm doing more than your beloved, failed County Council members about a serious pedestrian safety issue.

Robert Dyer said...

10:38: Yeah, your comments are usually a joke, but there's nothing funny about illegal sidewalk closures, pedestrian safety or a council utterly impotent to move against the companies who fund their campaigns.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:44 PM -

WSC is part of a national company, which is struggling at the moment.

http://clubindustry.com/town-sports/tsi-announces-revenue-and-income-decrease-conversion-low-price-model-some-clubs

Anonymous said...

"I'm doing more than your beloved, failed County Council members about a serious pedestrian safety issue."

Remind me again - what results have you gotten, to date?

Robert Dyer said...

5:04: Glad you acknowledge the Council has been utterly impotent, and made no change in the situation. Unlike the councilmembers, I've actually gone to the sites. I've also spoken to Councilmember Berliner directly back in May. What does the council's failure to act have to do with me? You're now trying to blame engaged citizens for the failures of government officials? Remind me again, what results have your beloved councilmembers gotten, to date? Examining the above photos, their inaction is obvious.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Why is Dyer trying to imply that the sidewalk closures are illegal? Dyer, I take it you didn't actually look into this at all and have no idea if they closures are valid. What's the point of this - besides being your usual inflammatory self - if you're not even going to do the basic research to determine if your whining is valid or not.

Obviously, in a number of cases, a sidewalk closure (and the proper signage directing people to cross safely to another sidewalk) is the safest course. Or do you prefer the idea of people being injured or killed because they're allowed too close to a construction site, Dyer?

Robert Dyer said...

8:18: Please acquaint yourself with County law. Short-term closures are permitted via permit. Many of these sidewalks have been closed for more than a year. As for me going through records, consider that Councilmember Roger Berliner had to request such a list from the DPS, because he could not find out who had in fact received the necessary waivers to close sidewalks.

How is it "inflammatory" to report on illegal sidewalk closures? They keep sidewalks open in New York City during construction. Only in the comments section of this site can be found people who praise Barwood cabs, non-functioning pedestrian crossing signals and closed sidewalks.

Robert Dyer said...

8:04: It's the Department of Permitting Services and Montgomery County Department of Transportation who have oversight of this, along with the County Council. I don't know the name of the law, but it was an amendment sponsored by Roger Berliner in 2007.

G. Money said...

So request the records from DPS. That's your responsibility as a journalist. As for the legality, it would be helpful if you could provide the full details - how long may sidewalks be closed legally with a permit, how long have sidewalks actually been closed, how many sites have said permit, etc.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:05 PM -

In other words, you've accomplished nothing.

You've been a gadfly, rather than engaging those who can actually address the problem.

Flynn said...

From what I understand, the developers file and pay for a permit for legal sidewalk closures. The problem seems to stem from unsafe walking alternatives during that closure as well as the length of such closures.

Anyone with any real knowledge able to provide some real insight? Versus all the conjecture all of us writers and readers are spewing back and forth?

Anonymous said...

Bob's hardly a "gadfly". He's actually part of the community and involved in every major issue in Bethesda.

Just ask the guy who comments here and admires watching Robert speak at public meetings.

If only everyone was involved as Robert, our city would benefit.

Anonymous said...

Hello, "Woodmont". LOL

Robert Dyer said...

G. Money & Flynn, the law allows only a 2 week closure with an approved waiver from the County. As you know, most of the above sites have been closed more than 2 weeks, if not all.

Robert Dyer said...

5:46: Would you consider Councilmember Roger Berliner someone "who can actually address the problem?" I spoke to him about it in person last May. In my opinion, that's "engaging those who can actually address the problem."

Robert Dyer said...

9:38: Hello, "Frank." LOL Or is it "Wrol" or "Robert Diller" or "Hank Dietle?" Who are we talking to here? It's kind of like a séance.

Flynn said...

Does someone have a link to the law? What's the penalty for non compliance?

Flynn said...

Lol, please don't lump me in here.

Anonymous said...

"Would you consider Councilmember Roger Berliner someone "who can actually address the problem?" I spoke to him about it in person last May. In my opinion, that's "engaging those who can actually address the problem."

So you've spoken to exactly ONE person on ONE occasion in the space of an entire year? That's not exactly "engagement". If you had a real job, you would have been fired a long time ago for your lack of diligence.

Robert Dyer said...

2:31: So you're saying Roger Berliner should be fired? Or that the County taking zero action in 8 months against illegally closed sidewalks is a good thing?

Robert Dyer said...

Flynn, they should issue a Stop Work order if they are in non-compliance with county code.

Flynn said...

What is the appropriate process to follow up on the sidewalk closure concerns? Other than waxing poetic in a blog? Is there a formal complaint process? Perhaps if we were better informed about the appropriate action items there might be a proper follow up.

Robert Dyer said...

Flynn, the procedures were already followed last year, with no result. At least one reader filed an official complaint with the County, and the County Council discussed the issue. But no *action* was taken, suggesting the Council is impotent to challenge its campaign funding sources in the development community.

Flynn said...

Did anything ever come of Berliner's inquiry into the issue?

http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/2014/Councilmember-Concerned-about-Bethesda-Sidewalk-Closures/

Flynn said...

Robert, I'm trying very hard to have a constructive objective conversation with you on this topic.

",the procedures were already followed last year, with no result"

What is the procedure and where is it listed? What is the listed result requirements?

"At least one reader filed an official complaint with the County, and the County Council discussed the issue. But no *action* was taken,"

What are the rules for corrective action and consequence?

"suggesting the Council is impotent to challenge its campaign funding sources in the development community."

Now that's simply a connection you are implying. Not to say it may or May not be the reason.

Flynn said...

Robert? Where did you go? You disappeared.

Anonymous said...

You say you care so much about this topic. Real questions have come up trying to help and understand and get others involve. Why drop out of the conversation now?