On February 28th, Montgomery County Planning Staff plans to give the Planning Board a briefing on the Purple Line, Capital Crescent Trail, and Silver Spring Green Trail Projects. That briefing will cover several issues of interest to cyclists.
1. Perhaps most relevant is that no one really knows how the state will pay for any of it, and thus whether or not it will be built. The Preliminary Engineering phase of the Purple Line will wrap up this summer.
At that time the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will issue a Record of Decision (ROD), which signals formal federal approval of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The current schedule is to start final design in fall 2013, start construction in 2015, and to begin service in 2020. This is contingent upon securing funding. A recent cost estimate for the Purple Line estimated a capital cost of $2.2 billion (year of expenditure). The project is proposed to be funded evenly by the state (50%) and the federal government (50%), but the state does not currently have a funding mechanism.
2. As reported previously, if the Purple Line is built, the Air Rights Tunnel will no longer be open to cyclists, but cyclists will be able to walk along a 5-7 foot sidewalk and exit through the Woodmont Plaza walkway.
Council requested that the project team consider a protected signal phase for pedestrian and bicycle crossing of MD 355, and consideration of a left turn prohibition for eastbound Bethesda Avenue at MD 355. Businesses and the Town of Chevy Chase oppose the turn prohibition. MCDOT has developed a potential signal phasing concept that provides for a protected portion for the trail crossing within the signal cycle, while maintaining the left turn movement. The project team is also working to find the proper method to handle crossings for the intersection of Bethesda Avenue and Woodmont Avenue, which is proving to be a challenge based on traffic and pedestrian movements at that location.
4. But, it's noteworthy that they haven't given up on keeping the trail in A tunnel, even if it doesn't remain in this tunnel
The Planning Departments work program includes an update to the Bethesda CBD Sector Plan starting in April 2014 and Planning staff has asked MTA to determine whether a new tunnel crossing for the trail beneath the Apex Building, Wisconsin Avenue, and the Air Rights Building is feasible, and if so, to identify the location and spatial requirements of the tunnel so that it can be considered as part of the Sector Plan update.
5. Until they determine the future of any tunnel, they can't determine the need for the easements they required the Woodmont East development to provide for the trail.
6. Original designs included trail connections to East-West highway and an at-grade crossing of the tracks, but these were pulled for safety reasons. But lately, MTA has developed concepts for a direct connection to Lynn Drive with an underpass below the train. "MTA presented both concepts to the Town of Chevy Chase Mitigation Advisory Group on January 23, 2013 and is awaiting a formal response...Planning staff has concerns with both options."
7. They've redesigned the Silver Spring Transit Center so that there is "no longer a conflict area between cyclists using the Capital Crescent Trail and transit patrons traveling between the second level of the transit center and the Purple Line." You can see how it passes above street level but below the purple line in the images below.
8. In addition to the Capital Crescent Trail, the Purple Line also shares right-of-way with the Silver Spring Green Trail. The Green Trail between Whole Foods and Sligo Creek was delayed to accommodate Purple Line planning. "The Silver Spring Green Trail will ultimately be constructed in conjunction with the Purple Line."
The cross section requirements of the Purple Line require more width than was originally anticipated in the 2003 Silver Spring Green Trail plan. Therefore, it is not possible to continue both a sidewalk and a shared-use path to Sligo Creek Parkway without severely impacting residences. Instead, MTA is proposing to provide a minimum 8-foot shared use path and a minimum 5-foot landscaped panel. The County Council and Planning Board have adopted this recommendation as part of the Purple Line Functional Plan. Bicycle advocates have stated that if the sidewalk is eliminated, the shared-use path should be 10-foot-wide at a minimum, per AASHTO recommendations.
Staff believes that there is room for a 10 foot wide trail with a 5 foot buffer from the road and 2 feet of shy space from the retaining wall.
In addition, the intersection of Wayne Ave and Cedar Street is particularly problematic for cyclists (see Exhibit 17). Crossing Cedar Street requires cyclists to make four right angle turns, negotiate four ramps, cross a street, and avoid pedestrians. This does not create an experience that matches the importance of this trail. And because of this, it is likely that many cyclists will ride against traffic in Wayne Avenue to cross Cedar Street. While there is limited right-of-way available to better accommodate the trail crossing, there may be some space along the frontage of #801 Wayne Ave. It appears that the stairs to this building were constructed in the public right-of-way. If the stairs were removed, it may be possible to shift the trail away from the road and to improve the crossing. This issue will need to be evaluated in greater detail to better understand if and how the staircase was approved in the public right-of-way. If this encroachment was not approved, the County could consider removing it, which might allow the trail to be shifted away from the road and provide a better crossing