Capital Crescent Trail to be extended

photo by Erica Flock

photo by Erica Flock

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) recently announced the Purple Line light rail project in suburban Maryland will move forward, ending months of deliberation. As part of this rail project, the popular Capital Crescent Trail will be extended from its current endpoint in Bethesda to downtown Silver Spring.

Completion of the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring is a major WABA advocacy priority. These two economic centers of Montgomery County are only 4.5 miles apart, but lack a direct and low-stress bike connection. The trail will be completely separated from motor vehicle traffic, even at intersections. This will require a number of new bridges and a tunnel. When complete, you’ll be able to ride your bike from Bethesda to Silver Spring in about 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.

Montgomery County is responsible for the cost of the trail project, about $55 million.  The County has budgeted funding for the trail in the last five Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budgets. The County is committed to completing the trail with the Purple Line.

Governor Hogan’s approval of the Purple Line project is contingent on reducing Maryland’s  state contribution from about $700 million to $168 million. This reduction would come from a mix of sources. The Maryland Transit Administration is looking at changes to the overall project to reduce the cost. The Governor is asking Montgomery and Prince George’s County to increase their contribution. And finally, the Governor will ask the private teams bidding on the project to increase their capital contribution. The details of this arrangement were not announced.

Though Montgomery County will be looking to find additional funding for their contribution to the Purple Line, we expect their commitment to completing the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring will be honored and the trail funding will remain in place.

You can read our analysis of the Purple Line / Capital Crescent Trail project here.

Whole Foods Bethesda and WABA!

wfm_bethesda_logo-01Our friends at the Whole Foods Bethesda store, (conveniently located right on the Capital Crescent Trail) have selected WABA as the beneficiary of their next 5% day. This means that on Wednesday, April 8th, WABA will receive 5% of the store’s total receipts!  

The first 25 WABA shoppers who show their member card, buy a membership, or check in with our WABA staff to confirm status, will receive special Whole Foods swag bags, plus win other fun prizes. For all our family riders, there will be a fun scavenger hunt and healthy snacks and kids prizes too! So bring your shopping lists and get ready to stuff your panniers.

After you stock up on groceries, meet and chat with WABA staffers (and a few guest star Board members) about WABA’s work in Montgomery County.

Plus, we’ll have a table set up to hand out maps and other goodies for WABA supporters who say hi!

Updates on Important Bike Funding Debate in Montgomery County

We wanted to share some details about a quiet advocacy victory that happened this week:

Last month, funding for bike infrastructure in Montgomery County looked bleak. County Executive Ike Leggett had sent his proposed budget amendments to the County Council, including major cuts and delays to the entire bikeways program—most significantly, the Met Branch and Capital Crescent Trails.

Two weeks ago, WABA sent a letter to the Montgomery County Council asking that the bikeways budget not be cut or delayed.

Just this past Monday, the next part of the process began. The Transportation & Environment (T&E) Committee held their budget work session. The T&E Committee’s role is to assess the budget amendments proposed by Executive Leggett and to pass a final budget later this spring. Overall, the committee supported the funding of bike projects. The committee is comprised of Councilmembers Berliner, Floreen, and Hucker, all of whom were present. Additionally, Councilmember Riemer (not on the committee) attended the hearing in support. Many Councilmembers asked the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to keep moving bike projects forward, despite various challenges. You can watch the full discussion on the Montgomery County Council website here.

Here are some of the highlights.

Met Branch Trail in Silver Spring


The Metropolitan Branch Trail project is being considered in two phases. Phase one is the trail from west of Georgia Ave. to the Silver Spring Transit Center. while phase two is the trail segment east from Georgia Ave. to Montgomery County College. The T&E Committee recommended restoring the original project timeline, not the proposed delay. Phase one cannot start until two buildings are constructed. Without the delay, the anticipated completion of the trail would be 2019.

During the discussion, MCDOT showed plans for the trail around the historic B&O Station. As currently planned, the trail will not go under the trail station canopy. It will curve around the north and east side of the station. Councilmember Floreen voiced many concerns with this plan (Around 43:00 in the video). She clearly wants the trail to follow the master plan alignment which is the straightest path through the property, underneath the canopy. She thinks curvy trail around the entire property is a lose-lose scenario for trail users and for Maryland Preservation Inc. (owners of train station).

The Committee also asked the trail to be built at a width of 11-12 feet with a two-foot shoulder where possible. It was clarified that the trail will have lighting. The Committee wants MCDOT to show how to make some progress on phase two as well. After much discussion, the Committee asked MCDOT to come back to the committee with revised plans for phasing, budget and timeline later this spring. Councilmembers were clearly frustrated with the lack of progress on the trail.

Seven Locks Road, MacArthur Blvd, Falls Road, Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas, etc.

County Executive Leggett’s proposed budget recommended delaying all of these important bike projects. However, the T&E Committee recommended restoring all the funding to all of them. Councilmember Hans Riemer–who championed the Bicycle-Pedestrian Priority Areas (BPPA) last year–was astonished that the program was proposed to be cut after just one year. MCDOT presented progress made so far on the BPPA program, much of which has been planning work. Implementation of bike and pedestrian safety improvements are scheduled to begin soon, if the Committee’s recommendations are accepted and the program is not cut.

Capital Crescent Trail – At-Grade Trail at Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda

The general consensus at the hearing was to pause the development of the at-grade trail and crossing at Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. Without a firm date for Purple Line construction, development of the at-grade trail is less pressing. As it stands, the trail tunnel will remain open to trail traffic until construction of the Purple Line starts.

Thank you to everyone who reached out to Council. We will be meeting with both Councilmember Berliner and MCDOT Director Al Roshdieh in the coming weeks. We will share our thoughts with him on these budget amendment among other issues.

No Tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail at Wisconsin Ave

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail.

The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project. The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.

Repeat, there will be no trail tunnel.

A redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to design a larger, more efficient Bethesda Purple Line station with better multimodal facilities. A new building above the station would be considerably taller and denser. The plans also included a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave for the Capital Crescent Trail.

With this latest news, the MTA will go forward with the original plan for the project: when construction begins in late 2015, the existing trail tunnel will be closed and the light rail station will be built in that space. The completed station will include a very narrow pedestrian (and walking bicycle) entrance from Woodmont Ave. The Capital Crescent Trail will follow a surface route described below.

Now what happens to the Trail?

Plans for the Purple Line have always included the construction of an additional “surface route” for the Capital Crescent Trail through downtown Bethesda. You can think of the surface as the “business route” and the tunnel as the “express route”. The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation is developing the plans for the surface route right now. The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and WABA have been involved for over a year with a stakeholders group advising MCDOT on their plans. With the tunnel now off the table, the surface route will carry all of the traffic on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The stakes are now much higher for the design and execution of this surface route. Councilmember Roger Berliner has tasked MCDOT to build a “gold standard” trail experience for the at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. MCDOT is hoping to have draft plans to present to the public later this fall, finish designs and begin construction by next summer. This sounds like an aggressive timeline because it is one—the surface route must be completed before construction starts on the Purple Line, as the tunnel will be closed. We will post notice about a public meeting here when the information becomes available.

What next for the trail?

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

Tell Montgomery County you want a safe trail crossing

Don’t Let MCDoT Eliminate Part of the Capital Crescent Trail


Updated 4:15pm.
We received the following email from Bruce Johnston at MCDOT informing us that the agency has suspended its request to MTA:

Good afternoon Shane,

As directed by Director Holmes, MCDOT staff has contacted MTA to suspend the previous orders to MTA to make changes to the Capital Crescent Trail configuration at Jones Mill Road.

Subsequent to the aforementioned order, additional engineering information has been provided to our staff, which is currently being reviewed by MCDOT engineers.

After our evaluation is complete, and before any further decision is made, the results of our evaluation will be vetted with the Capital Crescent Trail stakeholders, including the bicycling community.

Be assured that Washington Area Bicyclist Association will be involved.

I hope this information is helpful.

Bruce Johnston

 

Thank you to everyone who contacted the County Executive, T&E Committee, and MCDOT about this matter. And thank you to Bruce, Director Holmes, and MCDOT for reconsidering this decision.  We look forward to continuing to push for a safe, well-designed Capital Crescent Trail with grade separated crossings, as promised.


 

Original action alert below

After years of public input and agreement on the design for the future Capital Crescent trail, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) just moved unilaterally to eliminate the long-promised grade-separated crossing of busy Jones Mill Rd.

jonesMillwait

The grade separation makes the trail safer, and safety is vital to ensuring this heavily travelled trail remains a viable transportation option. Through thousands of hours of meetings on the future of the Capital Crescent Trail, County officials have promised safe crossings of major roadways that don’t leave bicyclists competing with cars or pressing “Walk” buttons and waiting for minutes.

But the County’s own transportation officials just sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Agency (MTA), requesting that the separation be removed from the request for proposals (RFP). Despite years of working together on this project, MCDOT did not notify the public. They did not hold a meeting. They did not mention this at a Council hearing. They did not send a note to representatives of the bicycling community. It is unclear whether they even communicated their intentions to the County Executive.

Frankly, they tried to sneak this past without any of us noticing.

We noticed. We noticed that at the first opportunity to save money by sacrificing trail safety, they attempted to do so in a manner that evades public scrutiny and reneges on years of promises.

We need you to take action today to tell the County Executive that we will not stand for such a downgrade to our prized trail, or for such misleading actions from our local transportation officials.

Our hope is that the County Executive’s office was as misled as we were, and that they will immediately, clearly, and unambiguously tell MTA that the County is NOT seeking an amendment to the Purple Line RFP to eliminate the grade-separated crossing at Jones Mill Road.

With years of work still ahead to complete the trail as promised, we cannot stand for a precedent of closed-door decisions that remove, or compromise, long-promised trail improvements.

For an in-depth engineering perspective on why a grade separated crossing is both doable and the best option. check out this post at Silver Spring Trails

For WABA’s position on the Purple Line project, have a look at this post.

Montgomery Co. Transportation Forum on May 29th

As Montgomery County continues to grow, what are the county’s best approaches to transportation and development for a more sustainable and equitable future? Join Coalition for Smarter Growth, WABA and WAMU reporter Martin DiCaro to learn what the candidates for County Council think about these critical and interconnected issues. Candidates will be prepared to discuss a range of transportation issues and answer questions about funding prioritizes, building better transit, increasing bicycling through protected bike lanes, and making the streets safer for pedestrians.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY TRANSPORTATION FORUM
Montgomery County Council Candidates Share Their Views
Thursday, May 29th, 7:00-9:00pm | Silver Spring Civic Building (Metro: Silver Spring)
RSVP here on Facebook

All candidates for County Council seats are invited to participate, creating a terrific opportunity for the public to hear directly from a number of the candidates.  This is strictly an educational event since some of the co-sponsors are 501(c)(3) non-profits and cannot and do not endorse candidates.

The forum is co-sponsored by Coalition for Smarter Growth, Purple Line Now, Action Committee for Transit, Montgomery County Sierra Club, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and the TAME Coalition.

Montgomery Co. Council Funds Snow Plowing for Capital Crescent Trail

The Capital Crescent Trail will be cleared of snow next winter after Montgomery County Council allocates $75,000 in the budget. Photo credit: PedroGringo

On Monday, we announced that Arlington County has included snow plowing on County trails in their FY2015 budget. Montgomery County Council is including funding for snow plowing on the popular Capital Crescent Trail to continue the trend of providing winter maintenance on area multi-use trails. In March, we asked our Montgomery County members and supporters to contact Council members

Montgomery County Parks Department proposed a pilot snow cleaning plan to Montgomery County Council during the spring budget deliberations. On May 15th, Council approved the  funding of $75,000 for a snow removal pilot program for the Capital Crescent Trail for 2014-2015 winter. $50,000 will cover the initial purchase of specialized plowing equipment with the remaining budget for labor costs. The Parks Department estimated the labor to cost about $1,100 to handle light snow events and $5,800 for heavy snow.

The planned section for snow plowing of the Capital Crescent Trail will extend from the Bethesda Metro Stop to the D.C. border. Montgomery Parks will not use chemicals, salt, or sand to treat the trail thereby reducing the environmental impact on the trail’s sensitive areas.

Council member Hans Riemer wrote in an email to residents who contacted him in support of this program, “Given the wide use of the CCT by bicycle commuters, it only makes sense to get the trail back to normalcy as soon as possible after a snow event. I see this as another important step in our quest to make Montgomery County more bike friendly, health conscious and environmentally friendly.”

We would like to thank Parks Department Director Mary Bradford for proposing a workable solution for snow plowing and a thank you to Montgomery County Council for funding a pilot program. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most heavily used bike paths in the region and with reliable winter maintenance the trail will continue to provide an accessible bicycle commuting route all year round.

Update May 23: We have received many questions about snow plowing on the DC side of the Capital Crescent Trail. National Park Service already plows their portion of the trail from the DC/MD border to Georgetown. The Montgomery County section was previously not plowed after a snow storm. Next winter, plowing should happen on both the DC and Maryland sections of the trail.