Three Montgomery County Council members are questioning the local Planning Board’s decision to abandon a temporary road-lane reduction and realign the Capital Crescent Trail’s crossing with Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda.
After a bicyclist was killed at the crossing in 2016, county officials implemented a “road diet” at the crossing, reducing the number of driving lanes from four to two. The Planning Department staff said the road changes reduced the number of crashes in the area from 12 in the two years prior to the safety modifications to five in the two years following the changes.
In June, the Planning Board voted to reinstate the road’s original four-lane design and move the trail to an existing traffic signal at Arlington Road, just a few yards away. At the time, board members said the road with fewer lanes was also dangerous because it did not provide a signalized crossing for pedestrians. With four lanes, they noted, there will be a crossing signal for pedestrians and stop light for vehicles.
Last week, County Council members Tom Hucker, Evan Glass and Hans Riemer, all members of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, wrote a letter to the Planning Board about its recent decision. The council members wrote that the decision weakens the county’s effort to eliminate pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, an initiative known as Vision Zero.
“This was an alarming decision and we hope that as the facility plan process continues, you will take pedestrian safety precautions into consideration,” the council members wrote.
When an intersection has four lanes, drivers are more apt to hit pedestrians and bicyclists, county planners said in a report to the Planning Board. The phenomenon is called “a multi-lane threat” – when one driver stops to allow a pedestrian to cross the street, a second driver coming from the same direction hits the pedestrian because the stopped car makes it tough to see the pedestrian.
In an interview Monday, Glass said he does not support the Planning Board’s decision to reinstate the road’s four-lane design.
“In Montgomery County, we have made a commitment to implementing Vision Zero … and the action taken by the Planning Board takes us further away from realizing that goal,” Glass said.
The trail move to the Arlington Road signal is estimated to cost $2 million, with $17,500 per year for maintenance. Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson was the lone member to vote against the move.
The change is expected to add 13 seconds to travel times through the area and about 30 seconds for users of the popular hiker-biker trail.
Riemer said the decision is “not nearly as good” as the lane reduction, “no matter how you look at it.”
“You can’t just kick the can down the road. You have to create a safer crossing,” Riemer said. “Vision Zero is partly about changing infrastructure, so there are safer interactions between cars and people. The road diet was working.”
The Capital Crescent Trail is an 11-mile trail that runs from Silver Spring to Washington, with approximately 5.5 miles of the trail in Montgomery County. It was created in the 1990s. About 5,000 people use the path daily.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org