Photo by Dome Poon on Flickr.

Plans for White Flint call for roads that accommodate people walking, biking, and sitting at cafes as well as driving, but Montgomery County transportation officials are disregarding those plans, as Dan Reed reported. Councilmember Roger Berliner took them to task in a recent letter.

Berliner, who is the County Council’s transportation chair and whose District 1 also includes White Flint, points out how the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) didn’t design the same road as in the approved Sector Plan.

That plan specifies a road with bike lanes as well as a path for walking, and enough room for sidewalk cafes. Instead, MCDOT squeezed all of these into less space in order to move even more cars faster.

MCDOT officials told Berliner they plan to redesign Old Georgetown a second time in the future to fit in bike lanes, but only once traffic drops in the area!

That’s right — while the White Flint plan aims to encourage bicycling as one of several ways to reduce dependence on driving, transportation officials are saying they want to see the effects of this lesser dependence before putting in the basic infrastructure to make it possible. That wasn’t in the plan, and they haven’t specified how much of a traffic drop is enough to make them willing to tolerate biyclists on the road.

As Berliner more circumspectly points out, MCDOT seems to have a pervasive attitude that it should design its roads solely around driving needs, and then only if there’s extra room, it can accommodate other users, or just promise to do so at some vague future time. This is similar to county officials’ baffling attitude in Clarksburg that they won’t build an important crosswalk until after an planned but unfunded multi-lane road gets built, who knows when.

MCDOT treats pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure as “nice to have” extra features on roads, not integral parts of a transportation network that shares space and balances needs among all users — even when a plan says otherwise. Elected officials like Berliner will have to keep calling out this bad behavior in hopes that the department will eventually get the message.

Here is the relevant part of Berliner’s letter:

I am very concerned that the current design for Old Georgetown Road between the current Executive Boulevard alignment and Rockville Pike — the first and one of the most important areas being developed — is inconsistent with the approved White Flint Sector Plan. 

As you know, the Sector Plan calls for both a shared use path and bike lanes along this stretch of road (p. 56). Regrettably, MCDOT’s 35% design drawings include no bike lanes and only a 13 foot shared use path/sidewalk as opposed to a sidewalk and a shared use path.  The combined facility would not be wide enough to allow for the desired cafĂ© seating in front of the adjacent properties, customers exiting and entering retail establishments, and safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. exiting and entering retail establishments, and safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists.  These functions simply cannot coexist in a 13 foot span directly adjacent to retail structures.  The shared use path should be ten feet wide according to ASHTA [I think he means AASHTO] standards.

Adding to these concerns is the fact that this segment of Old Georgetown Road is also supposed to accommodate the Recreation Loop called for in the approved Sector Plan (p. 59).  In the current design you shared at the meeting on Monday, there is no Recreation Loop. If it will not be possible to accommodate this element, important to many — if not all — residents involved in the WF Sector Plan process, then I am interested in hearing what options are being considered as an alternative route.

MCDOT has stated that the current realignment for Old Georgetown Road is a temporary measure and that when the Plan meets its mode share goals and traffic has lessened, a second realignment of the road will be considered/

constructed and that this realignment would include bike lanes.  The problem with this approach is threefold:

(1) MCDOT’s statement is predicated on an assumption that bike lanes are only warranted where vehicular traffic meets a certain, but yet unspecified, level.  This creates great uncertainty regarding the future of bike facilities, the shared use path, and recreation loop as called for in the Plan;

(2)  In order to meet the Plan’s mode share goals, we should implement multi-modal, complete streets on the front end, not at the end stages of the Plan; and

(3)  It is costly and a potential waste of scarce tax dollars to reconstruct Old Georgetown twice as opposed to taking a long term approach and reconstructing it once, integrating multimodal elements into the design.


Read the whole letter and thank Councilmember Berliner for his action on this isssue.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.