The County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a law requiring narrower streets, lower speed limits, sidewalks and bicycle lanes when it comes to new or redesigned roads in areas such as Bethesda and White Flint.

Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer introduced the “Urban Road Code” bill late last year amid the debate over a section of Old Georgetown Road near Rockville Pike.

While the design standards in the bill won’t to apply county roads already under design or state roads, Berliner said Tuesday that part of his motivation for the new standards was to avoid the type of “fights road by road” with MCDOT seen in White Flint.

“We want to have a new paradigm where we say,’ Let’s slow down, let’s make the lanes narrower, let’s make the turning shorter, let’s make pedestrians have a safe place,'” Berliner said. “And we are doing that literally by shrinking the roads from 12 feet to 10 feet.”

Shrinking lane widths to 10 feet wide, shrinking the space between curbs at intersections to a maximum of 15 feet and setting “maximum target speeds” at 25 miles per hour are three major aspects of the new law. Those aspects also led to some disagreement with MCDOT. Officials from the department said the narrower lane and curb radii widths could pose problems for large trucks, buses and county emergency vehicles.

The new road code allows for MCDOT to get a waiver from the county executive if a 10-foot wide lane “would significantly impair public safety.”

The bill also requires MCDOT to come up with “Complete Street Guidelines” within 18 months, based on the model of other cities such as Boston and Dallas.

“If you look around the country and you see what a progressive policy is for creating really urban districts, it’s always about changing the landscape, changing the built environment,” Riemer said. “Changing the roads so not only can drivers get through but so everybody can feel safe and comfortable walking around.”

The Old Georgetown Road controversy that played a part in spurring the bill pitted smart growth advocates, developers, residents and Berliner against MCDOT — which has been designing a new section of the state-controlled road between Executive Boulevard and Grand Park Avenue for more than a year.

While advocates were hoping the section of road would be made narrower to four thru-traffic lanes, county officials said the State Highway Administration and traffic congestion concerns were causing them to consider keeping the road at its current width.

Montgomery County officials recently brought the State Highway Administration a new traffic study touting the positive effect of connecting Hoya Street to the Old Georgetown Road intersection, according to the SHA.

Connecting Hoya Street would allow drivers on Old Georgetown Road to use Hoya to get to Rockville Pike and Montrose Boulevard, which could mean less traffic congestion and allow for a narrower road section near the new Pike & Rose development.

SHA spokesperson David Buck said the officials met last Tuesday and are “in early discussions” about swapping control of the section Old Georgetown Road and Hoya Street, which could allow the narrower road design complete with bicycle lanes outlined in the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan:

It is important to note this is far from final.  Any road exchange is based on the overall function of the road. The County and State agree that they may be merits to a road transfer to support the regional traffic circulation and the local grid network of street in this area.  The County and State are reviewing information to support the master plan vision for the roadway widths and number of lanes.

Those advocating for the narrower road have said it would provide a safer and more inviting pedestrian and bicycling experience.
Before voting on the Urban Road Code bill on Tuesday, Councilmember Nancy Floreen said that’s why the new regulations were so important.
“It is the design, it is the visual layout of a community that affects behavior and as legislators we really have an opportunity to change that,” Floreen said. “Unless we create parameters that limit and control human behavior, we will continue to see the kinds of devastating deaths and problems on the streets that we’re continuing to see, particularly in urban areas.”