Friday, July 24, 2015

Montrose Parkway extension would reduce congestion, increase Pike access in Pike District (Photos)

Representatives of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and Maryland State Highway Administration held a public hearing at the Executive Office Building last night, regarding the planned eastward extension of Montrose Parkway. Bruce Johnston of MCDOT's Division of Transportaton Engineering said that despite the addition of transit and bicycle facilities in the Pike District, those improvements "still need to be accompanied by additional roadway capacity."

Like the already-completed segment of the Montrose Parkway, the extension would again utilize the Rockville Facility right-of-way. That highway facility dates back to the 1960s, when it was planned as part of the never-built Outer Beltway. By the 1970s, that road site moved northward to the present Sam Eig Highway/Interstate 370/ICC in Gaithersburg. The Rockville Facility was then expected to be used for the 6-lane Rockville Freeway, which would stretch between Falls Road in Potomac and the ICC east of Layhill Road. The Rockville Freeway was ultimately canceled by County Executive Sid Kramer in the 1980s, which remains one of the biggest blunders in county transportation history.

Needing more road capacity for then-percolating redevelopment plans for White Flint, planners and politicians then resurrected a portion of the Rockville Facility between Montrose Road and Veirs Mill Road. This time, they planned a 4-lane parkway, named the Montrose Parkway. Phase 1 has already been built between Montrose and Randolph Roads, included a grade-separated interchange at Rockville Pike. Completion of that project produced tangible results, cutting travel times between Bethesda and Rockville by up to 5 minutes.

With that success in mind, two more eastward segments are in the works. The one discussed last night will run from Randolph Road, cross over the CSX railroad tracks and Parklawn Drive as an elevated highway, and connect to Phase 3, the final leg to Veirs Mill.

The parkway will allow east-west through traffic to pass through the Pike District without causing congestion on the Pike District's urban street grid. At the same time, it will provide additional connectivity between residential developments around it and the Pike, engineers said. Residents of the Bethesda Park condos, for example, could walk from Parklawn Drive to the 10 foot shared-use path along the Montrose Parkway, and end up at Rockville Pike, they said.

Speeds on the new parkway segment would be 40 MPH, and forest conservation and environmental improvements would be part of the project, Johnston said.

Unfortunately, a developer-backed effort continues to try to foil the grade-separated section of Phase 2, and make it just a local street with more traffic lights and slower speeds. That is because such a street would facilitate higher-density development around it.

That effort was foiled temporarily when the Montgomery County Planning Board voted 4-1 to approve the grade-separated interchange.

Why is the grade-separated interchange so critical?

Because the Montrose Parkway design will have countywide traffic impacts now, and for decades to come. Most of the area around the Rockville Facility is now planned to experience a massive increase in population and vehicle traffic over the next 20 years. The White Flint Sector Plan is already on the books and building out steadily. Coming soon are the City of Rockville's Rockville Pike Plan, White Flint 2 Sector Plan, and Aspen Hill Sector Plan, to name a few.

Two consecutive Planning Board Chairs have expressed support publicly for an urbanization of Aspen Hill, which would involve demolition of existing affordable housing, and construction of thousands of new luxury apartments and condos there. Neighboring Glenmont will be growing even larger. In short, nearly every stretch of the Rockville Facility is scheduled for a building boom, but without any new major roads to support that growth.

This means that eventually the Montrose Parkway will have to be extended from Veirs Mill to Connecticut Avenue, Georgia Avenue, Layhill Road and the ICC. Such a connection would have positive benefits for economic development between White Flint and the I-95 corridor, as well as boosting small businesses in places like Aspen Hill, which would be more accessible.

That's why the big picture has to be remembered when discussing this one tiny portion of the Montrose Parkway around Parklawn. If you gum up the Parkway there as an urban street, it will cause backups countywide years later.

If you want an idea of how big of an impact the Rockville Facility has on areas that aren't even adjacent to it, examine old planning documents. In the 1970s, county planners told the County Council that they couldn't tell them how many housing units they could approve in the Kensington Sector Plan, unless the Council told planners whether or not they were going to build the Rockville Freeway (they never did build it, of course, which is one reason traffic is bumper to bumper through Kensington every rush hour).

There were also transportation compromises in the Pike District that made the Montrose Parkway the linchpin of the White Flint Sector Plan. An emphasis on transit, biking and walkability meant no future streets in the Pike District's urban grid are designed for maximum vehicle flow during rush hour. And more recently, a "road diet" was approved for Old Georgetown Road between Executive Boulevard and Rockville Pike. That decision was facilitated by directing a large portion of that existing traffic to take the Montrose Parkway to access the Pike. So reducing speeds and increasing congestion on the Parkway would have a disastrous impact on Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike traffic.

It doesn't make sense to try to develop around Parklawn by sabotaging the transportation needs of the County as a whole, when there is the possibility of decking over the parkway's interchange with the Pike, and creating a large development site there. A similar decking was done to create the Wisconsin Avenue "air rights" development between Elm Street and Bethesda Avenue in downtown Bethesda. Federal Realty, for example, could connect Pike & Rose with its future potential redevelopment of Montrose Crossing, as one way to make a seamless connection between White Flint 1 and 2.

Aside from development interests opposing the grade-separation over Parklawn, nearby residents have concerns about noise. Out of 8 total speakers last night, several mentioned the need for sound walls along the parkway extension.

A Franklin Park resident also brought up a good point about the existing parkway traffic signals. While travel time has been reduced on Rockville Pike over the parkway, the traffic signals along Montrose Parkway tend to turn red too often, and stay red too long. I notice this particularly when trying to make the left turn under the MD 355 bridge to reach the Pike. That will have to be adjusted as greater vehicle loads use the road.

One Bethesda Park resident brought up a fallacy regarding the potential to extend Montrose Parkway eastward past Veirs Mill Road. This is a common misperception that even planning staff and the Planning Board were not aware of until I testified at the hearing where they ultimately switched their votes to approve the grade-separated parkway segment for Parklawn. The misperception is that the rest of the Rockville Facility has been permanently designated as Matthew Henson State Park, and cannot be used as a transportation facility in the future.

That's not true.

The truth is that the misguided state legislation that was used to help kill the Rockville Freeway contains a loophole, that allows the state legislature to revert Matthew Henson State Park to a highway facility at any time in the future.

Again, this is why we have to keep the big picture, and the greater good in mind. Certainly, it would be important to have sound walls where needed. But it's important to remember that the Rockville Facility/Montrose Parkway isn't a new idea dropped on the area like the Westbard or Chevy Chase Lake urbanization plans. As far back as the 1960s, residents knew that some kind of major road was coming through there. In fact, the prior roads were going to be far noisier and higher-speed than the current parkway proposal.

This is one of several unbuilt highway projects critical to the future of Montgomery County.


Anonymous said...

The things I like about the western US cities are the many through streets and grids.

Anonymous said...

A waste of money, land and time.

What's really needed is a bridge, on Randolph, at the railroad tracks.

Anonymous said...

So aside from the CIP budget to build this, are we considering the added maintenance cost forever?

Anonymous said...

When I heard forest conservation I thought, really, wtf? Look they are planning to build a parkway where it's ALL trees now, how is that conservation? So for the road it's essentially a straight shot from before Parklawn Rd to Veirs mill Rd. People will use this segment as a drag strip or generally go above the speed limit I.E 50-60mph. There should be some safe places along the road for cops to park and monitor speed or have speed camera's installed. The road is designed for 60mph when the proposed limit is 40mph and that doesn't make sense. The road should be designed around a 30-35mph speed limit. Sound barriers should definitely be built to protect the near-by communities. I don't get how is this road is safe for pedestrians near parklawn either, a point that was made last night.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how building a highway that dead-ends at Veirs Mill is supposedly going to reduce traffic in the slightest.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Dyer you are really focused on cars cars cars. Show us this "loophole". I highly doubt that you can ever find a shovel big enough to cut through it if there is one. I have spoken to officials about road building east of Veirs Mill, and they say it will never happen. The Trees and Wildlife of Rock Creek Park and Matthew Henson State Park want to give you a message, and it's not pretty.
You have conveniently ignored all the other concerns regarding the hot rights and perils of the interchange. It's not just the developers who would rather see an intersection rather than an interchange. I am from NYC and I grew up with intersections---it is a CITY thing. I would have hated crossing on-ramps when I was a kid,instead of a regular intersection. Both are not perfect of course, but at least some progressive signal action can be done with an intersection. Not the case with HOT RIGHTS on a ramp! I love the way you blame or praise certain parties, all whilst trying to manipulate the reader or listener into your world. If you think the planning board changed their tune in 2013 because of your presentation, think again. They KNEW how they were going to vote beforehand. They did not all of a sudden switch their mindset because of your testimony about continuing MPE past Veirs Mill. They used your shtick as a way to take the responsibility of approving this asphalt hydra off of them ( by accepting a 'reasonable'excuse', that being future road plans that would extend it) and then they RUBBER STAMPED it. Casey Anderson was the ONLY voice of reason.If you remember, a few members of the board did not even know about important details of the plans!How 4 people could further a serious project like this is mind boggling. You claim to be for affordable housing, but you don't seem to have any compassion for what people from affordable housing do---WALK to the stores, etc. This interchange is a disaster-----the last leg of Montrose Parkway East is a disaster, as it will only lead to Veirs Mill, essentially a road to nowhere, and it will cause a dump of traffic.If a dump of traffic is to be made, just do it on PARKLAWN and forget the interchange and last leg. I live here and I can deal with that.Maybe you want to see this area with roads all above you, so be it. But don't start wanting to rip OTHER people's neighborhoods up for your Rockville Facility pipe dreams.It will never happen. The only reason this has come so far is due to patchwork politics; it was about whose hands could be washed at any given time, and who could continue their job.Yes, the concerns for the RR crossing also, but Randolph will still be open, so the only thing MPE will solve is that someone has the option to not cross over them in a car, and taking a bit of the load off Randolph. And to see someone lobby for destroying an existing park for roads, well, it's just very sad. Mass transit, walking and biking is the future here, but with this design, you will never guess it. Our next hope is to find some endangered organism in Rock Creek.

Anonymous said...

PS, and yes, the paths to the Pike will be nice too, as far as the middle section goes. As long as bikers respect the people they share the mixed use with.

Anonymous said...

"They did not all of a sudden switch their mindset because of your testimony about continuing MPE past Veirs Mill."

Remember that you're dealing with someone who wants to build a six-lane freeway through Sligo Creek Parkway and Wheaton Regional Park, as well.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he has become granite and asphalt incarnate. Incarnation Bob. Unfortunately, not unlike many others.
The Planning Board Meeting can be found on the Moco Planning Board website for anyone interested. It is March 21, 2013 under past meetings, and it is toward the middle of the day's agenda. I think it gives a good idea of the process. I rolled my eyes more than a few times.

blennerhassett said...

Bob is disappointed that only 9 out of 10 people drive. Let's put an end to transportation welfare programs like Metro and Ride-On!

Robert Dyer said...

9:17: Keep in mind that those were set aside as highway facilities, not parks. That was how they were created originally. And these plans were designed to handle the traffic volumes from the development already approved and built through the 1980s. So it's no surprise that we have total gridlock, with an incomplete highway system.

Robert Dyer said...

9:52: I support both Metro and Ride On. It would be nice if we could spend the BRT money on 8-car Metro trains and updating the Ride On fleet. Also, roads like Montrose Parkway and M-83 will allow improved bus service, so there is a transit (and a bike) benefit with the added capacity and bike path.

Anonymous said...

Upgrade the Ride-On fleet? I find the buses pretty nice and I take them a few times a month. Why do they need upgrading?

If you mean upgrade the routes, I agree -- expand service and increase operating hours.

Steve D. said...

Ironic to see people suddenly concerned about preserving parks when they ridicule Chevy Chase for trying to preserve the Capital Crescent Trail.

blennerhassett said...

The only way to improve bus service is dedicated lanes.

Anonymous said...

Ride On fleet currently is not that great. I've been on Ride On buses that have broken down on 355. Not modern at all.

Anonymous said...

Montrose Parkway improve bus service? Montrose Parkway East will only go to Veirs Mill, a paltry 1.5 miles from Parklawn. 1.5 miles!!!!!!!!!A horrible interchange and expensive road that bulldozes a part of Rock Creek Park----for 1.5 miles!!!!! I walk it all the time because it's only 1.5 miles!!!!!!!! If I take a bus it takes 2 minutes. That sure does justify a project like this. TWO minutes and 1.5 miles!!!!!! Some bus gridlock we have here. Oh, I forgot. In twenty years it will take 3 minutes if we don't build the parkway!!!!!! My bad.

Robert Dyer said...

True, Steve. I haven't heard of anyone chaining themselves to the trees coming down for the townhomes in Grosvenor or Little Falls Stream Valley Park, or along the Green Mile for the road, er, "shared use path" behind the Chevy Chase Club, or many other examples of deforestation that - unlike the Rockville Facility - were either unplanned or purely for private developer profit. The trees in Caroline Freeland Park are next. #SaveTheTrees!

Robert Dyer said...

blennerhassett, the BRT study showed traffic flow on the future M-83 would not require dedicated lanes for BRT.

Robert Dyer said...

2:30: Yes, and let's not forget the Ride On buses that burst into flames!

Robert Dyer said...

3:03: I'm talking about longer range trips like Aspen Hill to White Flint, or Wheaton/Glenmont to White Flint, or Park Potomac to White Flint or Glenmont. Or MTA bus from Pike District to Columbia or Laurel.

Robert Dyer said...

8:00: I agree that sound barriers should be funded for this project.

Anonymous said...

Dyer thinks that a mile-long sidewalk, or a couple of new townhouses on private land, is worse than a 10-mile long freeway through parkland.

Dyer thinks that new sidewalks are "purely for private developer profit", but freeways are not.

Dyer thinks that a freeway that only he wants is somehow "planned", and that the sidewalk which had been discussed for decades, is somehow "not planned".

Dyer is funny. Bethesdans laugh at him.

Robert Dyer said...

3:59: It's not parkland, it's a highway facility. As for developer profit, the entire Rockville Facility corridor is already fully developed. The problem is, they never built the road that was supposed to support that development. Now they're going to add thousands and thousands more units - and don't need to build the road out to the ICC to do it! This is something that would benefit residents, not developers, countywide.

Bethesdans don't laugh at me, they read my blog. There's nothing funny about having the nation's worst traffic congestion.

Anonymous said...

I was a big supporter and had high hopes for the western segment of the Montrose Parkway when it opened, but has been a disappointment. Lots of traffic signals, not synchronized, a poor interchange with 355. The old Montrose Road connection between 270 and 355 was just about as good. Why spend all that money and destroy a park just for 5 minutes of drive time?

Anonymous said...

@ 9:30 PM - it's called "Matthew Henson Park", not "Matthew Henson Highway Facility".


Anonymous said...

Exactly, 10:16. Why? The whole thing was/is over-engineered and they insist on continuing its model because it was designed way to far in advance. They have a thick book of architectural drawings on this now that really should be used for lining all of North Bethesda's birdcages.

The bus trips you mention Dyer,'Aspen Hill to White Flint, or Wheaton/Glenmont to White Flint, or Park Potomac to White Flint or Glenmont. Or MTA bus from Pike District to Columbia or Laurel'---These are in your Rockville Facility Dream Scenario, and even then it's a stretch---and that carved out road plan is NOT going to happen!!!!!!! The MPE plans that stand now do not do much for bus improvements,as it covers only a short distance--- and I take the bus, my whole family takes the bus, and we will get by fine WITHOUT this parkway. There are plenty of ways to improve bus service without building roads. --And please stop speaking for the residents. Edgar Gonzalez (the Moco project rep at the time) did this at the planning board meeting in 2013 regarding an interchange vs. an intersection. It's offensive, wildly pernicious, condescending and self-serving.

Part of the problem is that there are not enough residents speaking up. When that happens,people fill in the void that they create with spun tales and manipulations.

I have unofficially renamed this parkway "Hinkey Highway". Meaning something is not right. Something smells rotten in the state of Maryland, and it's "business as usual".

Anonymous said...

PS---5:51---Yes, and somehow I feel like Dyer is not the only one who thinks that a road can be a possibility in the future. Matthew Henson State Park was established in 1989--and the 'powers that be' have pushed plans all along since then to build this parkway and have it end at Veirs Mill---there must have been some people who never took that park as seriously as they should have---or else why would they have traffic just dumped on Veirs Mill? I suppose some money changed hands over the years, and some people just never cared where it went to, or where it went through, or anything about it, as long as thier objectives were filled. Seems to me that there are some hidden formulas in this history,(I am not a conspiracy person)and they don't end with traffic projection statistics. This is a big project---for 1.5 miles.

Anonymous said...

PSS...and at one time they wanted it to go up Parkland Drive, and I am sure the residents are happy that this will not happen. I guess that was the alternative to Matthew Henson----It will never switch back to Matthew Henson!!! Never!!!! This whole thing is a boondoggle. If it gets built, people will look at it in years to come and say WTF? Is this what we want?