White Flint residents, property owners and developers are keeping up the pressure in their push for a more pedestrian-friendly design of Old Georgetown Road near Rockville Pike.
In a letter sent Monday to County Executive Isiah Leggett, a group of 15 organizations and two individual residents called for a review of the county Department of Transportation’s policies for White Flint, more cooperation between the department and local stakeholders and a letter to state transportation officials emphasizing the importance of a four-lane Old Georgetown Road.
The letter comes almost a week after Lindsay Hoffman, executive director of the Friends of White Flint, criticized MCDOT for presenting an Old Georgetown Road design that kept the existing six lanes and added two lengthy turning lanes that in some stretches make the road seem like eight lanes.
That set off a strong rebuke from county officials, who claimed that the “70 percent design” threshold for the road Hoffman referred to hadn’t even been completed.
“It’s very disappointing and frustrating to see that a community group have taken facts from I don’t know where that are inaccurate and made assumptions,” said county assistant chief administrative officer Ramona Bell-Pearson last week.
MCDOT did present some working designs for the road to Federal Realty during a meeting about traffic studies, according to Regional Services Director Ken Hartman. But Hartman said those designs did not constitute the more formal 70 percent designs that will be complete in late October or early November.
Federal Realty is building the Pike & Rose project along the section of Old Georgetown Road in question, between Rockville Pike and Executive Boulevard. The developer is also part of the Friends of White Flint and a member of the White Flint Partnership, a group of major landowners in the White Flint Sector area.
The Friends of White Flint displayed the designs next to what the Sector Plan recommended. Together with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Friends group encouraged supporters of a more pedestrian-friendly road design to write to county officials.
So far, more than 350 people have written emails calling for an Old Georgetown Road design that matches the Sector Plan, according to the group.
Meanwhile, county officials have said making Old Georgetown Road four lanes is in the hands of State Highway Administration officials, who have final authority over the road design. Bell-Pearson said Leggett moved up funding for an extension of Hoya Street to provide another way for drivers to connect to Rockville Pike, perhaps helping to convince the SHA that fewer lanes are needed on Old Georgetown Road.
According to Bethesda Magazine, SHA officials aren’t yet on board with the idea of fewer lanes.
County officials have also suggested that the section of road could be redesigned to four lanes later, when the amount of vehicle traffic decreases and the lanes are no longer needed.
On Monday, the Friends of White Flint, Coalition for Smarter Growth, White Flint Partnership and a number of local civic and condominium associations were among the groups to send the latest letter to Leggett:
We find ourselves in a difficult situation. While we all want the infrastructure built as quickly as possible, we cannot accept a design which defeats the shared vision we’ve spent years working for. Thus we ask you, as County Executive, to once again engage with us to help implement our shared vision in the White Flint Sector Plan. This will be one of the most important legacies of your tenure as County Executive and we find ourselves at a critical juncture that will ultimately determine the success of the plan. As County Executive, we ask you to take the following actions:
1. Direct MCDOT to work collaboratively with MNCPPC, property owners, residents, civic leaders and other stakeholders in the White Flint area to design the Western Workaround and all other Sector road improvements in a way that reflects the Sector Plan’s vision for a multi-modal, mixed-use White Flint.
2. Initiate a comprehensive review of MCDOT policies for White Flint, with regard totraffic projections, trip modeling and related methods that the agency employs to determine the character of roads within White Flint. These methods should reflect the dynamic, pedestrian-oriented environment that White Flint will become, rather than perpetuate the auto-oriented status quo.
3. Send a letter to SHA, MDOT and Governor O’Malley communicating the importance of designing and implementing infrastructure under state control in accordance with the vision of the White Flint Sector Plan. Further, we ask that you work together with the Governor’s office to develop a strategy to allow SHA and MCDOT to jointly implement transportation projects in a way that reflects the multi-modal vision of the White Flint Sector Plan.
Casey Anderson, the new chair of the Planning Board, said he’s been following the issue closely. It first became apparent that county officials were considering the six-lane design last year, when they presented the 35 percent designs to a meeting of the White Flint Implementation Advisory Committee.
“I’m concerned about making sure that the road network in the White Flint area is consistent with the vision in the master plan,” Anderson wrote in an email response. “This is not just a question of making it easier and more attractive to walk or ride a bike — it’s about reorienting the way we design communities to make them more appealing places to live and work. If we don’t get this right it will make it much harder to achieve our economic development goals, because our competitive position depends on building high quality, livable places where people want to be.”
At the end of the letter, the group of local residents, property owners and developers suggested Leggett take a guided walking tour along the streets of White Flint.
“Please stand with your constituents and make this national model of best practices in economic development and community building a reality. We also invite you to stand with your constituents, literally, in taking a guided walking tour along the streets and sidewalks of White Flint to better understand our concerns from the pedestrian’s perspective.”
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