Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s isn’t giving up on proposals for an anti-urban skybridge connecting the Silver Spring library to a parking garage.
This past weekend, Leggett unveiled concept sketches for the new library at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. It strongly evokes images of “an open book,” along with large glass windows said to represent “the openness of government” and limestone similar to that in other Silver Spring buildings. A coffee shop and art gallery will line the ground floor, with artist studios above, followed by three stories of library. Two more floors on top will contain community meeting space and some county offices.
The design also leaves room for a future bridge across Wayne Avenue to the adjacent parking garage. Original plans contained the bridge, but urbanists protested that this costly endeavor would only draw pedestrian traffic off the surface streets, encouraging faster traffic and road designs hostile to those who wish to cross at ground level.
Existing Silver Spring plans prohibited bridges, and the Montgomery County Council voted to sustain that plan, with only Councilmember George Leventhal (at-large) voting for the bridge. Instead, to accommodate persons with disabilities, the library will contain a small amount of handicapped parking on site. Nevertheless, Leggett hasn’t given up on the opportunity to put cars above pedestrians by building the bridge, and Duchy Trachtenberg might be wavering on the issue.
In his letter to the County Council this summer (large PDF), Leggett insisted that “accessibility and sustainability” drove his recommendation:
The primary rationale is not one solely of safety; it is primarily one of accessibility and sustainability. The use of the existing underutilized parking garage is a “green” decision which saves the use of materials and taxpayer dollars which would have been otherwise needed to provide new on-site parking for the library. The disadvantage of utilizing the existing garage is the greatly increased travel path to the library for many patrons — including, but not limited to, the elderly and disabled. The bridge is being proposed to address this concern.
It’s funny Leggett should mention a “greatly increased travel path.” That’s exactly what county DOT staff would create with their secret vehicular underpass at the Medical Center Metro that forces pedestrians to walk over 100 feet out of the way, just to facilitate greater car volume in and out of the NIH and future Walter Need National Military Medical Center site. The direct Metro station entrance would have added both accessibility and sustainability, but apparently speeding up cars is more important.
Leggett’s and his staff view transportation through the lens of the driver. Sure, Montgomery is a suburban county with a lot of drivers, but it also has fantastic walkable places and some of the best transit of any suburban jurisdiction in the nation. But Leggett sees auto-oriented development as natural and walkable development as dangerous. He views the proper role of streets as carrying as many cars as possible above all, with the needs of pedestrians and transit secondary.
As with Gaithersburg West versus White Flint, Leggett cleverly ties in themes of sustainability, “Smart Growth,” and more to justify suburban development patterns and oppose urban ones. His PR staff are remarkably defensive about it, too, saying I “just don’t get it.” It’s Leggett who seems not to get it. He doesn’t seem like a stupid man, but is listening too much to traditionalist transportation officials who can rattle off Level of Service letter grades but, despite some terrific examples in their county, don’t recognize the value of walkable places designing around people and transit instead of driving above all.