- Ensure balanced growth by implementing development in stages
- Consider staging gates, such as periodic traffic impacts analysis, completion of the Purple Line transit station, bikeways, greenways, and improvements to the overall pedestrian experience
When drafting its May 2015 Bethesda Downtown Plan, the Planning Department defined a vision for how land within the sector would be used. Rather than determining infrastructure capacity first, they set desirable target heights and densities for each property, tallied it, and then modeled traffic studies to see if the plan would work. (Source: Leslye Howerton, December 15 Planning Board meeting, time 07:08:45-07:09:06.
The results of the analysis were deemed adequate. However, they are not adequate.
According to the Staff Draft (page 36 printed, 44 of the PDF, section F. Capacity):
Immediately outside the Sector Plan area, four intersections are forecast to exceed the Bethesda/Chevy Chase Policy Area congestion standard of 1,600 CLV. Those intersections are discussed [sic] below:
- East-West Highway and Connecticut Avenue
- Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane
- Bradley Boulevard and Huntington Parkway
- Connecticut Avenue and Bradley Lane
What does this mean? It means that there are traffic choke points that inhibit vehicular entry and exit, which affects local residents and businesses alike.
WHAT ABOUT PUBLIC TRANSIT?
Anyone who has traveled the Red Line with any frequency knows that Metrorail is not a panacea for Montgomery County’s infrastructure woes.
First, Metrorail has a load of its own problems to fix. Until it restores public confidence that it is a safe and reliable form of transportation, Montgomery County planners cannot assume that new residents will forgo cars for public transit. Residents who choose not to be car owners will still be on the road, but using taxis and increasingly popular ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.
Secondly, Metrorail has its own capacity targets and makes adjustments accordingly. WAMU reported in January 2016 that “researchers at the University of Maryland developed a new ridership model that analyzes how the location of jobs and homes will impact the system’s already strained capacity.” It reported:
Development patterns will determine which stations see the largest ridership gains. Every ten households located with a half-mile walk of a station will add two riders during morning rush hour; every ten jobs within a half-mile walk will lead to eight riders using Metrorail to get to them, according to the study.
WAMU quotes Gerrit Knapp, director of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, and one of the study’s three authors:
“If you price it too high, no one rides it. If you price it too low, it’s overcrowded.”
So what does that mean? It means that, like our roads, Metrorail capacity is not infinite. If ridership exceeds capacity, Metrorail will impose rate hikes to discourage ridership. Montgomery County planners need to reconcile the actual capacity of the Red Line with our development plans for downtown Bethesda.
There is plenty of room and opportunity for development in Bethesda. But without first doing the hard work of planning, aggressive development will likely diminish, rather than enhance, the quality of life for current and future residents.