Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and Forest Glen Road in Silver Spring’s Montgomery Hills neighborhood is currently a dangerous mess of a suburban arterial. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is looking at ways to transform it into an urban boulevard.
At a meeting last week at Woodlin Elementary School, SHA planners presented 7 alternatives to improve pedestrian, bike and transit access on Georgia Avenue. This stretch of road has the most vehicle collisions of any state highway in Maryland, as the reversible lanes make drivers confused. There’s no median and the lanes are all at least 12 feet wide, making Georgia incredibly dangerous to cross on foot.
But this stretch of Georgia Avenue also has a number of notable small businesses in early 20th-century buildings close to the street. The popular Y and Q route Metrobuses stop here, and it’s also within walking distance of the Forest Glen Metro, though few make that walk due to safety concerns. This area is ripe to convert to an urban boulevard.
SHA has produced 7 alternatives for this portion of Georgia Avenue, including not doing anything at all or using Transportation Systems Management, basically reworking the traffic lights but not actually building anything.
Alternative 3 is based on the North and West Silver Spring Master Plan. It includes 13.5 foot wide sidewalks but no specific bike facilities. A 16 foot grass median would replace the existing reversible lane. SHA also proposes narrowing each intersection to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street.
Alternatives 4 and 5 build on the Master Plan option by including a 14 to 16 foot curb lane that could accommodate a striped bicycle lane. It would also close the off-ramp from southbound Georgia Avenue to southbound 16th Street, which encourages motorists to drive as if they were on an interstate highway. It has no place in a dense residential area that’s in walking distance of two Metro stations.
Alternative 6 would place 2 Bus Rapid Transit lanes in the median and room for a station at Seminary Road. The Planning Board is currently considering a countywide BRT network which would include a route on Georgia Avenue.
Alternative 7 would build a tunnel underneath Georgia Avenue between the Beltway and 16th Street. Not only would it be the most expensive choice, but it would move Montgomery Hills in the wrong direction in the Whirlpool of Induced Demand.
All 5 of the alternatives that involve building things would require widening the road, meaning that businesses may lose some property or even their entire building. Everyone I talked to at the meeting preferred Alternatives 4 and 5, with its median and bike lanes.
Most agreed that Alternative 7 was not a good choice. Not only would make the pedestrian experience even worse, it would cause more driver collisions due to its confusing nature. Where the tunnel ended at the Beltway, drivers would have to merge across three lanes to get to the on-ramps.
It’s surprising how different SHA’s work in Montgomery Hills is compared to what the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s proposed redesign of Old Georgetown Road in White Flint, which encourages speeding and has few accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists. While Montgomery County transportation planners have chosen to ignore the county’s vision to turn White Flint into an urban area, SHA planners have embraced an urban future for Montgomery Hills.
SHA’s urban boulevard alternatives for Georgia Avenue are a step in the right direction. Hopefully, they’ll find a solution that can make this street a place worth spending time in, not just a traffic sewer.