2014 | News

Council Members Caution Against Plowing Capital Crescent Trail

A $75,000 pilot program to clear snow from the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda is still alive, though members of a County Council committee had doubts about how practical the project would be.

The Council’s Planning Committee discussed the proposal, provided by Montgomery Parks at the request of Councilmember Roger Berliner, in regards to next year’s county budget.

The Committee agreed to put the program on a reconciliation list to be discussed by the full Council. But Councilmember George Leventhal worried that plowing the trail would actually invite bicyclists into dangerous situations.

“I’m worried we are inviting a dangerous activity,” Leventhal said, in comments to Parks staff at the hearing. “No one ever thinks they’re going to get into an accident. I’m envisioning a lot of bicyclists losing control and having problems on black ice.”

Parks Director Mary Bradford said the pilot is possible because the hard trail surface is the only commuter trail in the county that could sustain the required snow removal machinery. Montgomery Parks operates the 3.8-mile stretch of the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to the D.C. line.

Bradford also pointed to snow removal on the D.C. section of the Trail — provided by the National Park Service — as a reason for why the Capital Crescent Trail was unique.

But the Trail’s distinction among other county trails isn’t the only issue, Councilmember Nancy Floreen said. She wondered why resources should be targeted toward plowing the Trail when the county doesn’t have snow removal plans for much-used sidewalks or other facilities.

The pilot would last for two years and assumes five snow events each winter.

“I think the time is coming where there will be more and more demand for this as Bikeshare stations are going in and more people bike to work,” Bradford said. “I think this is just the beginning of this.”

Parks has been reluctant in the past to commit to plowing specific trails over others. But pressed by Berliner — who was pressed by bicyclists who said the Trail was effectively frozen over for long stretches — Parks provided the $75,000 cost estimate.

The cost includes a new piece of equipment that could be modified to work on other Parks projects, just in case the pilot didn’t last or there were fewer significant snowfalls.

The pilot would also include hand snow removal on 13 feeder trails along the 3.8-mile section.

That led Councilmember Marc Elrich to question how bicyclists would get to the Trail if certain roads or sidewalks aren’t plowed.

“The more we talk about it, the more impractical it seems,” Elrich said.

The Committee did agree to send it to the full Council for more discussion.

“I’m not going to be the bad guy on this,” Leventhal said.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation separately operates the Georgetown Branch Extension of the Trail, much of which is not a hard surface.