Pike Plan Is Ready for Its Closeup at Open House
Proposed Pike makeover goes on display on Tuesday
The Rockville City Council on Monday saw a vision of the future for Rockville Pike where cars, bicycles, transit and pedestrians coexist on an attractive commercial boulevard.
Gianni Longo, co-founder and principal of ACP Visioning and Planning, spent more than an hour detailing a draft for amending the city’s comprehensive master plan for the city's commercial thoroughfare.
“We wanted a plan that integrated transportation and land use consideration,” Longo said, adding that, “the two are completely hands-to-hands. They cannot really be taken apart in this plan. Because at the end of the day, it is going to be through the creation of a great place and through the creation of better mobility to the pike that in fact the plan is going to thrive.”
Consultants and city staff will present the draft plan on Tuesday at Richard Montgomery High School. City staff and consultants will display exhibits and answer questions in the school's cafeteria from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by a formal presentation from 7 to 9 p.m.
The draft plan covers a 2.2-mile-long stretch of the road between Richard Montgomery Drive to the north and Bou Avenue to the south and the land and right-of-way on both sides. It is the result of a three-and-a-half year process that included community meetings and interviews with business and community leaders.
It is “an extension and an expansion,” Longo said, of the 1989 Rockville Pike Corridor Neighborhood Plan and seeks to outline policies and steps to put in place its vision of a boulevard with bike and access lanes, room for transit and mixed-use commercial and residential buildings closer to the street.
“The biggest difference, the thing that has to give is really to create a shift from the almost exclusive use of the private automobile” to more trips using transit, walking and bicycles, Longo said.
Fostering such a cultural shift means creating an exciting, attractive and safe place for people to walk and use bicycles and public transit, he said.
Longo offered comparisons using design elements of great boulevards of the world, such as the Passeig de Gracia, a retail and business thoroughfare in Barcelona that is of the same size as the Rockville Pike study area.
More locally, Longo said, the study space is similar in scope to K Street in northwest Washington, DC.
A major difference between Rockville Pike and those better-known urban boulevards is the use of space.
The urban boulevards have more buildings closer to property lines.
“Why is that important? Because place is contained,” Longo said.
The pike’s “floor-to-area ratio” is .35, Longo said.
“For every parcel you only use one-third of it for the building,” he said. “Which leads to a lot of empty parking lots surrounding the pike.”
Bringing the buildings closer to the street “is very important to create a sense of place.”
“There really is no sense of place along the Pike,” Longo said, reading from a slide that continued — even though Longo did not — by saying: “it has the undistinguished look of generic suburban strip developments; it is difficult to navigate on foot.”
City Council members and city planning commissioners who participated in the discussion raised questions of cost and culture.
The next step is to do the engineering work in order to determine the cost of converting to a multi-way boulevard that includes two-lane access lanes in either direction, Longo said.
“It just seems to me that that is an incredibly fundamental question given the state of the state and county’s finances,” said Councilman Mark Pierzchala.
Planning Commissioner David Hill said that there has been support for the beginning of urbanization of Rockville Pike, but asked how to bring the public along.
“That’s quite a cultural shift in the city,” Hill said.
“Visuals. Visuals. Visuals,” Longo said. “These are concepts that we cannot convey without the visuals.”
Many people hear about adding stories to buildings and “the next image is Manhattan,” Longo said. “Well, it’s not. There is a big range of choices in terms of the actual physical environment.”
Among those choices is a streetscape similar to that of Chico, CA, “which is a really suburban model. Two-story high [buildings], but compact. Parking in the back.”
Planning Commissioner Dion Trahan said that the vision for the pike could be hindered by the need to analyze traffic flow and by an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that bars any further residential development without additional capacity to accommodate the potential for more students in county schools.
“We can’t even discuss how pretty it looks or the benefits unless those two obstacles are overcome,” Trahan said.
Longo acknowledged that the draft plan raises cost issues and will require tough decisions related to the facilities ordinance and about transportation.
“The function of the plan in a lot of ways is to inspire,” Longo said. “If we don’t do that, where are we going to go?”