On June 9, 2022, the Montgomery Parks Department issued a press release announcing a plan to reconfigure driving lanes on part of Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda to study “the operational effects of reducing the Parkway from four lanes to two.” This study is a key step towards creating a permanent, linear park on the south side of Little Falls Parkway and a slower, narrower path for car traffic between Dorset Ave and Arlington Rd (one in each direction).
In 2016, Parks temporarily reduced the number of car lanes from two to one in each direction. This was in response to the death of a cyclist who died crossing the Parkway while on the Capital Crescent Trail. This new plan could create a linear park along this stretch of Little Falls Parkway. It would create additional safe outdoor recreation space in the Bethesda area. Let’s show our support for the study and for a permanent road diet at the crossing of the CCTrail and the Parkway. Use the form below to email the Parks Department, Councilmember Friedson whose district encompasses the Parkway, and the at-large Councilmembers.
On October 17, 2016, Ned Gaylin was out for a bike ride on the Capital Crescent Trail when he approached the trail crossing of Little Falls Parkway, a four lane (two car traffic lanes in each direction) boulevard road. As Professor Gaylin, was biking through the marked crosswalk there, one lane of cars stopped. He proceeded through the intersection and was then struck and killed by a car because of the multi-lane threat that existed at that crossing. Within days, the Montgomery Parks Department reduced the number of car lanes to one in each direction, thus implementing a road diet eliminating that multi-lane threat to those walking and biking through that intersection. Since 2016 there have been no fatalities at that crossing.
Parks did hold a series of meetings since the fatal crash to explore how to remake that crossing and developed ideas that would keep the crossing safe. Almost all of those ideas retained the road diet as the most effective means of keeping the crossing safe.
After the onset of the COVID pandemic, Parks also implemented an ‘Open Parkways’ policy on Little Falls Parkway, Beach Drive and Sligo Creek Parkway, closing parts of those Park roads to cars on the weekends. While there has been broad support across the County for the weekend closures, some living near Little Falls Parkway have been vocal in their opposition to the closures. Thus, the Parks Department has decided to suspend the weekend closures on Little Falls alone, while retaining the road diet near the CCTrail. Parks simultaneously has announced the plan to study placing two lanes of car traffic (one lane in each direction as currently exists near the Trail) on one side of the Parkway median, while developing a plan for a linear park on the other side.
As advocates for safe walking and biking in Montgomery County, we should show our support for retention of the road diet on Little Falls and the creation of a linear park along Little Falls that would enhance the amount of outdoor recreation space in that area.
Update: On Tuesday, March 23rd, the Montgomery County Council unanimously supported restoring funding for the new Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue in the County’s six-year Capital Improvement Program. This decision upholds the Council’s unanimous support in 2020, the Transportation & Environment Committee’s February 2021 recommendation and rejects County Executive Elrich’s proposal to delay the tunnel construction by at least two years.
A final vote on the budget will take place in late April or early May. Thanks to everyone who contacted their councilmembers. WABA will continue to track this funding through the budget reconciliation process. The discussion and vote starts around 41 minutes into this video.
Last year, the Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to fund construction of a new trail tunnel to carry the Capital Crescent Trail under Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda starting in late 2024. But this Spring, County Executive Elrich removed the tunnel from his budget, delaying funding to 2026 or later. Email your council member and urge them to restore funding for the trail tunnel.
With the construction of the Purple Line project, the Capital Crescent Trail is being upgraded and extended from Bethesda to the Silver Spring Metro. Without a new tunnel under Wisconsin Ave, the estimated 15,000 weekly trail users must cross Wisconsin Avenue’s (MD-255) six travel lanes and 40,000 daily cars and trucks at an improved, but still at-grade intersection. Restoring funding for the tunnel is critical not just for Bethesda, but for preserving safe access to jobs, recreation, transit and services from all the neighborhoods connected by the region’s trail network.
Urge the Council to restore funding for the tunnel now! Add some personal details to make the message reflect you and why you support a new trail tunnel.
As far back as the 1994 Bethesda CBD Sector Plan, Montgomery County has planned for both a tunnel route and a surface route for the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda. After the Hogan administration made significant changes to the Purple Line which removed the trail from the Air Rights tunnel, the County Council and Planning Board reaffirmed the vision for both tunnel and surface alignments by adding a new tunnel project to the adopted 2017 Bethesda Downtown Master Plan and 2018 Bicycle Master Plan. Based on this vision, the Planning Board secured an agreement with Carr Properties to build a part of that tunnel under 7272 Wisconsin Avenue and the Council approved $3.8 million for the remaining tunnel design under Wisconsin Avenue and Elm Street. Construction funding was expected in the Capital budget.
High quality, accessable, and continuous trails are critical to our region’s transportation and sustainability goals, Vision Zero commitments, economic competitiveness, and public well being. Trails provide low stress access to open space and reliable transportation for people of all ages and abilities. Funding the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue will deliver on a generation of planning and promises with a truly accessible trail between Silver Spring and downtown Bethesda.
Restoring funding follows the unanimous recommendation of the Council Transportation & Environment Committee last month, reaffirms the 9-0 vote by the Council in May 2020 to put funding into the Capital Budget (FY 21-26) and fulfills the promises made by County officials for over 25 years to provide a facility that will allow thousands of Trail users to safely travel to and from Bethesda.
Update: The County Council heard you and voted unanimously to fund the tunnel! Construction is expected to be complete in 2026, which is a couple of years later than we hoped, but still a success.
We’ll have more analysis soon. In the meantime, read more at Bethesda Magazine.
February Action Alert:
In 2017, the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda permanently closed to make way for the Purple Line’s station and tracks. At the time, Montgomery County leaders assured the public that a new tunnel for the trail would be designed and built to take the county’s busiest trail under Wisconsin Avenue. Now, the design is nearly done but County Executive Marc Elrich proposes no funding to build it.
When trains begin carrying passengers on the Purple Line, a new extension of the Capital Crescent Trail will open too, connecting Bethesda to Silver Spring. It will fly over Connecticut Ave, Colesville Rd and Rock Creek Park on new bridges. But when it enters Bethesda you will not see the old trail tunnel. Instead, it will hit a stop light and Wisconsin Avenue’s 40,000 daily cars and trucks.
The County must finish the tunnel by the time the Purple Line is complete. Contact your Montgomery County Council members using the form below to urge them to provide full funding for the construction of the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2023.
While the CCT tunnel is WABA’s #1 priority in this budget, we need your help to restore funding for other important projects too. When you’re done, you will be automatically redirected to weigh in on those too.
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.
Update: WABA has written a letter to the Montgomery County Planning Board asking that they reconsider this decision. Sign the letter here.
On June 13th, the Montgomery County Planning board met to review and approve a permanent safety improvement plan for the intersection of the Capital Crescent Trail and Little Falls Parkway where a bicyclist was hit and killed in 2017. In a shocking turn, the Planning Board voted 4 to 1 to reject the staff’s recommendation. Instead, the Board chose to restore Little Falls Parkway and remove a successful road diet, detour the trail to the traffic signal at Arlington Road, and study an expensive bridge crossing over the widened Parkway.
This decision should have been a simple one. After a bicyclist was hit and killed here in 2017, the Parks Department sprung into action with a temporary plan to make this intersection safe by removing a travel lane in each direction and lowering the speed limit. In the 2.5 years since then, the interim road diet has proved to be an impressive safety improvement, with fewer crashes and safer driver speeds. Traffic studies showed that drivers experienced just 7 seconds of additional delay due to the road diet.
After a 1.5 year comprehensive study of 12 possible permanent configurations for this intersection — including a bridge, tunnel, removing the road diet, and completely closing Little Falls Parkway — Parks staff concluded that the safest and best-for-all option was a slightly modified version of what is there today. They recommended, and WABA supported, permanently reducing Little Falls to a two-lane road, lowering the speed limit, adding a raised crosswalk at the current trail crossing, and numerous other changes to add green space, improve connections and calm traffic. Coincidentally, this was also the least expensive and least environmentally impactful option.
But at the hearing, the Board rejected that plan and instead made up a new plan on the spot, directing staff to restore Little Falls Parkway to four lanes and divert the trail to the traffic signal at Arlington Rd.
This decision undermines 1.5 years of careful staff work. It disregards objective data collected here and case studies from across the US that demonstrate that road diets cut crashes by up to 50%, decrease speeding, and create easier crossings, all without major traffic impacts. The decision contradicts the County’s Vision Zero commitment and other policy goals by prioritizing moving cars quickly at the expense of people’s safety.
We at WABA are adamantly opposed to this decision which we believe will have a dramatic, negative, and daily impact on the safety of the 3,000 people who use the Capital Crescent Trail each day. If you share our frustration, we encourage you to email the Planning Board (MCP-Chair@mncppc-mc.org) and email your County Councilmembers. For a thorough look at the options and repercussions of this decision, see Ross Filice’s post on Greater Greater Washington.
* Sound good? Take a City Cycling Class!