Current trail. Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

As a part of the Purple Line, Montgomery County will fund upgrades to the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Tomorrow, the Planning Board will hear recommendations from its transportation planning staff about several issues facing the trail.

After hearing testimony, the Planning Board will send their recommendations to the County Council.

The current design from the Maryland Transit Administration includes a number of improvements to the trail. The upgraded trail will be expanded to 12 feet wide, where feasible, and paved. Additionally, the trail will be extended from its current terminus at Lyttonsville 1.5 miles farther east to Downtown Silver Spring. New overpasses or underpasses will be provided over Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, and Colesville Road.

This is good news for trail users.

Planning staff is calling for the installation of lighting along the new trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring. The trail would be lit during the hours the Purple Line is open, and would allow the trail to be used safely during commuting hours. The recommendation is to design lighting so that it does not disturb neighboring properties.

Staff is also calling for emergency call boxes to be placed at intervals along the trail. This will help to promote security and reduce crime. New landscaping will help to create a pleasing trail experience and will screen trail users and neighbors from the Purple Line.

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The most costly decision that will have to be made is whether to put the trail above the train in the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue.  Right now, estimates place the cost of keeping the trail in the tunnel at $40.5 million, which is 43% of the cost of the entire trail. Planning staff have recommended against putting the trail in the tunnel if the price remains so high. For a fraction of that cost, the surface alignment could be significantly improved. The Planning Department is calling for more study before making a final decision.

Not having the trail in the tunnel would mean that trail users would need to cross Wisconsin Avenue at grade. If a surface alignment is chosen, the staff recommends prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists crossing Wisconsin Avenue. They recommend a working group be convened to hammer out the design details.

A surface alignment is clearly not as nice for pedestrians and cyclists because of the Wisconsin Avenue crossing. But there are plenty of ways to make the crossing of Wisconsin safe and efficient for trail users.

The Planning Department recommends that if the surface alignment is used through Bethesda, that the trail will be made as user-friendly and safe as possible. While the exact design solutions have not been determined, many solutions will be considered, including creating a bicycle/pedestrian only signal phase for crossing Wisconsin Avenue, a separated “cycle track”, raised crosswalks, and more.

A separated cycle track in Vancouver. Photo by Paul Krueger on Flickr.

And let’s not forget that even if the tunnel under Wisconsin is lost to the Purple Line, the trail will still be vastly improved. It will be paved, bridge several major arterials where people have to cross at grade now, and extend 1.5 miles farther to downtown Silver Spring.

Cross-posted at The Straight Line.