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Thursday, June 14, 2018
Parks dept. lays out options for Little Falls Parkway Capital Crescent Trail crossing (Photos)
Montgomery Parks officials presented twelve different concepts to create a "permanent, safer condition" at the increasingly-controversial Capital Crescent Trail crossing of Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda at a public meeting last night. Andy Frank, a civil engineer, predicted that the ultimate project solution would likely be a "compromise." But many in the crowd expressed frustration that all of the compromise appears to be on drivers, and anger that "crazy cyclists" who routinely break traffic laws on the CCT and at the crossing continue to avoid punishment.
Residents of neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the parkway criticized Parks for not considering the impact of constricting increasing traffic loads on their communities. Attendees who live in Kenwood and along Hillandale Road reported increased cut-through traffic since Parks instituted a "road diet" on the parkway 18 months ago. Frank acknowledged that official traffic counts show the road diet has reduced traffic on that stretch of the parkway between Hillandale and Arlington Road, as drivers seek to avoid the new bottleneck.
David Barron, President of the Kenwood Citizens Association, told Parks officials the current road diet on Little Falls Parkway needs to end. "It needs to be open. We have an influx of traffic [since the road diet]. They're turning down Kennedy Drive. Waze is putting traffic in our neighborhood," he said, referring to the app that helps drivers avoid traffic jams. Calling the parkway "the aorta" of the nearby road grid, he invoked the name of the late District 1 councilmember Betty Ann Krahnke (R), whom he said "would want to open up the parkway."
Many in attendance also questioned why the parkway now, and in the future, would be reduced to one lane when new development downtown and at Westbard is expected to bring over 10,000 new residents and their cars to the area. Marriott and the Intelligence Community Campus - Bethesda are each bringing over 3000 employees to the same vicinity. It would be the equivalent of declaring you are entering the Olympic decathalon, but first having blockages intentionally installed in your circulation system.
"We are already seeing a tremendous increase in traffic" since the road diet, noted a resident of Hillandale Road. Residents of the road must back out of parking spaces that line the busy cut-through. But the War on Cars in this area is just getting started. Parks officials announced that the increasingly-political Montgomery County Department of Transportation is now studying road diets for both Hillandale and Arlington Road, apparently not realizing how absurd it sounds to suggest a "road diet" for already two-lane Hillandale.
Near the end of the meeting, Frank acknowledged that Parks does not consider traffic flow or throughput as priorities for the parkway, saying the road is only meant to allow access to the park. This attitude is a major concern going forward, as the Planning Board and County Council each included Little Falls Parkway in their traffic volume allowances for the Westbard sector plan. To now say that the road is not a critical artery is fraud of the highest order.
The options available boil down to several concepts. One is to make permanent the current road diet by replacing the bollards with concrete curbs (which doesn't sound very park-like; there are no curbs on the rest of the parkway). Second, is to control the crossing via traffic lights - either at the current crossing site, or by forcing CCT users to walk to existing signaled crossings at either Arlington Road or Hillandale Road.
Third are the Cadillac options: a bridge over the parkway, or a tunnel beneath it. A grade-separated crossing had strong support from the crowd, and was the most-mentioned solution by those who spoke during the comment period. Such a crossing is not popular among the Council and Planning Board, who won't dare charge their developer masters a fee or tax to fund it. It also has little support among anti-car extremists, as a bridge or tunnel would allow drivers to continue on their merry way with no new hardships to navigate.
Fourth are extreme road solutions. A roundabout at Arlington and Little Falls intrigued one commenter, but received dismissive murmuring among the larger crowd. Parks' proposal to entirely close Little Falls Parkway between Arlington and Hillandale was found to be laughably ridiculous. All solutions are likely to include a wide speed hump at the crossing, which Parks is calling a "speed table."
One couldn't help but notice that all solutions allow CCT users to keep doing what they are doing, and what many of them are doing is clearly illegal. A resident who regularly uses the trail declared all of the proposals to be "overkill. The issue is not motorists. The real issue is crazy cyclists. Solving the problem at Little Falls Parkway is not solving the problem of cyclists. Cyclists never stop, particularly those crazy guys in the morning."
Park Police have on one or two occasions ticketed cyclists who blew through the stop signs on either side of the crossing, one attendee said. One resident echoed my sentiment on this page a few weeks back, in suggesting deploying cameras that could ticket cyclists on the trail for speeding and ignoring stop signs. The intersection being discussed is not a safety issue at all, if drivers and trail users follow existing traffic laws. For example, when crossing the four-lane parkway, just because the driver in the nearest lane has stopped doesn't mean a cyclist or pedestrian is to rush forward without looking at who may be approaching in the second lane. It's just common sense.
Instead, we are confronted with government, and the infamous MoCo nanny state, run amok. Special snowflakes must be fully protected from evil drivers, and their own lawbreaking, lest they melt. Indeed, the whole controversy started over a very tragic crash where the driver was determined not to be at fault after striking a recumbent cyclist. In last night's most dramatic moment, the widow of the cyclist addressed the crowd, and blamed a guardrail for her husband and the driver being unable to see each other - though she acknowledged that detectives said it appeared her husband had ignored the stop sign before crossing.
There were a couple of good news items at last night's meeting, however. One is that Parks is planning to install lighting at the crossing - much needed, especially since their "brilliant" idea of erecting dozens of signs and bollards that now obscure the view of trail users crossing in the dark. Second, whatever project is chosen, they plan to fund it by legal means this time. The current "road diet" was funded through illegal means, by using a countywide trail maintenance fund for a road-only project.
Parks officials say they will use last night's public feedback, and additional feedback from a Town Hall message board on their website, to whittle the project options down to 3 or 4. By fall, they will further flesh those concepts out, and obtain more public feedback on them. By winter of 2018 and 2019, they will develop a budget, and present the final option to the Planning Board for approval. They will then (legally!) request inclusion of the project in a future CIP budget.
Roundabout proposal for the intersection of Arlington and Little Falls