Last month, the Montgomery County Planning Board made a hasty and very bad decision on the permanent design for the Capital Crescent Trail’s crossing of Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda. While perhaps made with good intentions, this decision will create unacceptable daily safety risks for the thousands of people who use the trail. The board has started a new term and has a new member.
In the letter below, we call on the board to reconsider its decision and to put its park users and people first. Use the form below to sign the letter.
Members of the Montgomery County Planning Board,
On June 13, the Planning Board voted 4-1 to reject the analysis and recommendation of Montgomery Parks staff to implement Alternative A including retention of the road diet already in place, and placement of a speed table forcing cars to slow at the crossing. We are deeply concerned by the Planning Board’s recent decision to not only reject Alternative A as recommended by Parks but to also disregard all other carefully proposed alternatives. The decision to eliminate the road diet put in place after a cyclist died in 2016 runs directly counter to Montgomery County’s core Vision Zero principles, ignores all objective data regarding this intersection, and will endanger vulnerable trail users on the most popular trail in the region. The Planning Board should reconsider this decision, retain the road diet and endorse the Alternative A approach that has the Trail cross at-grade with Little Falls Parkway.
Montgomery County’s Vision Zero commitment is grounded in just a few core principles.
- Traffic fatalities are preventable.
- Human life takes priority over moving traffic quickly and all other goals of a road system.
- Human error is inevitable, so the transportation system should be designed to anticipate mistakes and reduce their consequences.
- People are inherently vulnerable and speed is a fundamental predictor of crash survival.
While straightforward in theory, designing intersections and roads that follow these principles often requires different tools and different priorities than have been traditionally used. Relying on old auto-oriented values will not help the county eliminate all traffic fatalities.
The board’s chosen intersection design contradicts every one of these (Vision Zero) principles. Restoring Little Falls Parkway to four lanes prioritizes moving cars quickly over the safety of people on the trail. More travel lanes encourage speeding, especially at off-peak times when the road is empty. And doubling the crossing distance increases a person’s exposure to traffic. If everyone follows the rules precisely, the intersection may work. But everyone makes mistakes.
Unfortunately, diverting the trail to the traffic signal and widening the road makes everyone wait much longer. More waiting will bring more cut-through traffic on Hillandale and encourage an increase in frustration, bad choices, and dangerous behavior. Frustrated drivers may run the light or turn right on red. Trail users may cross the Parkway against the light. When someone makes a mistake or a bad choice, it will be more likely to end in a crash and a severe injury or death under the Board’s chosen design.
Montgomery County and Montgomery Planning have committed to Vision Zero with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries in just over 10 years. If we are to achieve this goal, we must be consistent throughout the County. The plan Parks recommended for this intersection is consistent with Vision Zero and putting a road diet here has been proven safe and effective with minimal impact on cars. The decision you made on June 13 is just the opposite, makes human life and safety the lowest of priorities, and will set us back in achieving our goals of protecting Montgomery County residents.
We implore you to reconsider this decision and choose a path forward that puts your park users and their safety, first.