Montgomery County’s DOT wants to increase vehicle speeds on Connecticut Avenue, build a road through parkland, and cut off a neighborhood’s local street connections to Connecticut, further showing that they are out of touch with what we’ve learned about traffic and the design of communities since the 1960s.
The upcoming move of Walter Reed to Bethesda Naval will bring more traffic, partly due to the increased employment and partly because the county’s DOT has taken few steps beyond a few bike trails to improve non-auto access to the area.
Instead of aggressively increasing transportation choices to the facility, the DOT has primarily focused its energies on finding ways to make the surrounding roads handle even more cars and move them at higher speeds.
Their biggest plan is to try to make the entrance to the complex and NIH on Wisconsin Avenue into a freeway-like interchange, but it’s not the only one. They also want to widen Connecticut Avenue and restrict turns in and out of the Chevy Chase Valley neighborhood.
To compensate, they propose building a road through adjacent parkland, to create a back entrance to the neighborhood. There are even some houses whose driveways connect directly to Connecticut Avenue. MCDOT is suggesting cutting those off as well in the long run and building more roads inside the neighborhood.
Across the region and the world, communities are trying to make large roads more hospitable to their surrounding communities by increasing the connectivity of roads and adding places for pedestrians to cross. Virginia now requires a certain level of connectivity for new subdivisions. At White Flint, plans call for making a more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly boulevard, and even Prince William County is adding a stoplight on VA-234 where a pedestrian (ironically the contractor about to install the light) was killed.
In Montgomery County’s DOT and the office of the County Executive, however, no transportation idea less than 50 years old seems welcome. DOT officials constantly talk about “level of service,” a measure based on the premise that moving motor vehicles is the only purpose of roads, and use that obsolete concept to grade intersections “F” or “failing.” County Executive Ike Leggett keeps trying to kill the White Flint boulevard because it will slightly slow travel times through the area but create a better immediate area.
And in Chevy Chase Valley, they have convinced neighbors that since they need to move Connecticut Avenue cars at high speed, that poses a danger to that neighborhood, and therefore the neighborhood should be partly or fully cut off from Connecticut Avenue.
The better way to avoid the impact of higher speed traffic on Connecticut Avenue is not to make higher speed traffic the objective. Improve access to Medical Center Metro. Build the Purple Line. Build some of Marc Elrich’s BRT proposals, too. Put in bus lanes so that transit vehicles can navigate the county more efficiently and become a more appealing alternative.
There will eventually be a Purple Line station nearby, which will create demand for walking along Connecticut Avenue to and from surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. This part of Connecticut Avenue already has far too few places for pedestrians to safely cross. The intersections MCDOT wants to close have no marked crosswalks today (though by law, they areas where crosswalks would be painted are considered crosswalks, like all intersections). The avenue needs to become safer and more friendly to pedestrians, not even more hostile to walking than it already is.
Montgomery County has a lot of choices for addressing BRAC and general growth downcounty. It’s too bad Leggett and the officials at the county DOT only have one solution in mind.