Apr 172012

Two-way cycle track concept

The Montgomery County Planning Board just approved a revised plan for the Woodmont East development in Bethesda, including the design of the Capital Crescent Trail on Bethesda Avenue.  The developer JBG was revising its development plans anyway (to incorporate more property), but changes were also needed to incorporate the trail into the Bethesda Ave streetscape, since the trail has essentially been kicked out of the tunnel.

Cycle track driveway crossing

The trail will be a two-way cycletrack along the north side of Bethesda Ave from Woodmont Ave to Wisconsin Ave.   The new development will include a hotel on the north side of Bethesda Ave, so people entering the hotel will have to walk or drive across the trail.  No doubt many will stop on the trail.  So maintaining visual and physical separation between the trail and the the sidewalk and between the trail and the street is imperative.  In this case the trail will be closer to sidewalk level than street level (unlike the diagrams shown here).

(4/18/12 note:  Although it will be designed like a two-way cycletrack, the trail will be shared use; so pedestrians may walk along it).

If it works, this could blaze the way for other urban trails in Montgomery County (like the planned Silver Spring Green Trail).  Or it could show that workable urban trails are a pipe dream.

You can view Planning Department staff’s recommendations to the Planning Board here.  On page 36 are staff’s recommendations about what the developer should be required to provide regarding the trail:

14. The applicant must finalize design details for frontage improvements along Bethesda Avenue to accommodate the Capital Crescent Trail at least 30 days prior to the submission of a certified site plan for the development. The following design elements, in addition to the trail concept details provided on the Preliminary Plan and Site Plan dated January 20, 2012, must be included by the applicant:

  • a. Low-level plantings with a bollard and chain within the entire length of the buffer area between the trail and the travel lanes. Planting placed in the buffer must not grow into the road or the trail.
  • b. A reduction in garage driveway width to encourage slow turns by vehicles turning into and out of the driveway.
  • c. Adequate differentiation for the trail from the sidewalk through redundant measures, including variation in the elevation of the trail as shown in the plan, the barrier to the edge of the proposed amenity space, and asphalt paving, where appropriate.
  • d. Colored paving (green color) for the driveway at the two site access points per the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide for two-way cycle tracks.
  • e. Signs inside the garage and along the trail to identify trail crossings, sidewalks, and vehicle crossings.
  • f. A trail cross slope of 2% maximum at the driveways.
  • g. Adequate lighting to illuminate both the sidewalk and the trail, especially at intersections and driveways.
  • h. Bollards at all driveway access points and intersections to prevent motor vehicles from entering the trail.

The Planning Board agreed with these requirements in principle.  (4/18/12 note: The Board changed some of these requirements to objectives to increase flexibility.  For example, the Board modified requirement (a) to be an objective saying the design shall “prevent vehicles from crossing the buffer between the travel lane and the shared use path, through design elements such as bollards”.  In any case, proposed designs will have to be approved by planning staff before the project can move forward).

I also saw this in the staff recommendation:

   …MCDOT states, in its letter of March 23, 2012, that the trail must not be built until after the parking garage in the Lot 31 project [an adjacent development] opens to the public, in order to avoid the loss of the parking spaces on Bethesda Avenue before the new spaces in the garage become available. The MCDOT requirement could delay construction of the trail by several years…

I think urban parking decisions should be made by someone besides MCDOT.  A transportation department can tell you how to design parking, sure.  But anything that takes up that much space in the urban environment and has such broad implications as far as urban design and modal priorities should be determined at the urban planning level.

  4 Responses to “Development putting Capital Crescent Trail on Bethesda Ave is approved”

  1. I agree MCDOT has way to much unchecked power to make decisions that impact public space.

    The MCDOT demand that the alternate CCT route not be built until after the Lot 31 construction project is complete could in theory result in the CCT being left with no route at all through Bethesda for a while IF the Purple Line construction in the tunnel starts before the Lot 31 construction is completed. By MCDOT’s logic, it is more important to protect the 13-14 on street parking spaces than it is too maintain a trail that only has 500+ users an hour in peak periods. Fortunately the Lot 31 construction has already begun and will likely be finished in time to permit the alternate route to be built in time.

    Another example of the unchecked power of MCDOT here is that the future alignment of the trail crossing of Woodmont Avenue is planned to be moved south, to be much closer to and parallel to Bethesda Avenue. This is because MCDOT is holding that a direct crosswalk location like the one there now is set too far back from the intersection to be safe. While I think sight lines for vehicles turning from Bethesda Avenue is a valid issue, there are other ways to deal with this.

    Finially, there is still the hope that there can be a 5-6 foot wide sidewalk continuous through the tunnel. While that will not support the main regional CCT, it would offer pedestrians a choice between a tunnel route and the sidewalk route down Bethesda Avenue. We may know in a few months whether MTA designers can fit that sidewalk in alongside the Purple Line through the tunnel.

  2. What are the pros and cons of realigning the crosswalk crossing Woodmont Ave? Is it just that one leg that would be realigned?

    • The leg across Bethesda Ave. would remain roughly where it is now – but the Lot 31 project will extend the south curb, so it will be a little shorter.

      A “pro” to realigning the crosswalk corssing Woodmont to be closer to Bethesda Ave. is that it puts the crosswalk where traffic turning off of Bethesda Ave. would expect to look for pedestrians, instead of further back. Another pro will be that if the CCT route is changed to run down the north side of Bethesda Ave., then the crosswalk will align well with the new trail route.

      A “con” to realigning the crosswalk is that if the trail route is through the tunnel, trail users will have a very indirect path and must take a sharp turn at the northeast corner of Woodmont/Bethesda to go north and up the sidewalk before turning east toward the tunnel. All pedestriants wanting to go to the new South Bethesda Metro Station or Purple Line station, or to the Woodmont Plaza public space, will also have this indirect route. It will also be a much longer crosswalk.

      • Pedestrians will tend to take the shortest route anyway, regardless of where you put the crosswalk. But even so, the current crosswalk location seems safe enough, so I agree, what’s the big problem keeping it where it is?

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