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.

A First Step Toward Better Bike Lanes in MD and VA

Two way protected bike lane illustration from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

This week, WABA sent letters to local departments of transportation requesting consideration and adoption of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The NACTO guide presents state-of-the-practice solutions that create safe, enjoyable complete streets for current and new bicyclists.

The NACTO guide provides county traffic engineers with additional designs for innovative bicycling facilities that use several techniques to encourage new bicyclists, primarily by separating bike lanes from car traffic. The guide also has recommendations for designing on-road facilities such as buffered bike lanes, protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), bike boxes, contraflow bike lane and other facilities.  Adoption of the NACTO guide by local DOTs clears one of the many obstacles to building protected bike lanes.

Why protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes keep current bicyclists safer while encouraging new people to use bicycles for transportation. WABA is working to increase the miles of protected bike lanes throughout the region. Learn about our advocacy priority and our local campaign to build a protected bike lanes in Bethesda. More local campaigns are coming soon.

We sent letters to the Directors of Transportation for Fairfax County, Prince Georges’ County, Montgomery County and the City of Alexandria*.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Arlington County have already endorsed the guide and are currently implementing protected bike lanes. We will publish the written responses we receive from the departments to the blog.

Read the full letter requesting adoption of NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

* Update: The City of Alexandria has also endorsed the NACTO guide. 

A Rebuilt Rock Creek Park Trail is One Step Closer

Trail rehabilitation would include widening the trail through the tunnel. Photo credit: neinfein

The long wait is over. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) released today the Final Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Rehabilitation of the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail. Also released today from DDOT is the required Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI, the best acronym ever) from Federal Highway Administration, a document that allows the repaving and upgrade of the trail to finally move forward.

In February, we asked our members and supporters to sign a petition to NPS and DDOT to release the Final EA.  Final design, engineering and construction could not move forward without the environmental review process being finished. Over 2500 people signed our petition in less than 10 days. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter to NPS asking for a complete status update in March. Thank you to everyone who signed the petition.

Over the coming weeks we will dig into the Final EA and FONSI to understand how the project will move forward and what has changed since the Draft EA. As for a rebuilt trail, DDOT now must finish the final design and engineering which is already budgeted for Fiscal Year 2014. Construction funds are available when the final design is ready. Learn more about the entire rehabilitation on the DDOT website.

A little more waiting, but a new trail is one major step closer. Wahooooooo!

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.

Attend the Great MoCo Bicycle Summit

On Sat., April 5, Montgomery County residents can join Councilmember Hans Riemer, MoBike, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for the Great MoCo Bike Summit.

The summit kicks off with a family bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda and will discuss the future of biking in Montgomery County, from Bikeshare to next-generation infrastructure. Read more about it here.

Montgomery County has emerged one of the most exciting grounds for new cycling innovation in the D.C. area. This first-ever summit to discuss the future of biking there will provide important insight on how Montgomery County can become a world-class area for biking for transportation.

“Our goal as a county must be to encourage biking—to work, to run errands, and for recreation. To do that, we must expand our bikeways and make them safe for the average person who wants to bike. That’s my goal and I know the goal of Councilmember Riemer,” says Councilmember Roger Berliner, Chair of the County’s Transportation and Environment Committee and a speaker at the summit..

The summit will be held at the Jane Lawson Rec Center, 4301 Willow Lane, Bethesda. Panels start at 10 a.m. The ride starts at 9:15 a.m. at the Silver Spring Metro station. To RSVP for the Great MoCo Bike Summit, click here. See the event on Facebook here.