Rockville Pike Plan On Display
Residents braved snow to get a look at a plan for the city's main street
Joe McClane is excited by the new businesses popping up near his townhome in Twinbrook.
The new Twinbrook Station development promises apartments and condominiums with a mix of office and retail space — in short, “A lot more street life. A lot more places to walk,” said McClane, who is president of the Cambridge Walk II Homeowners Association.
The next step, McClane said, is putting a plan in place that ties it all together.
That idea is what brought McClane and dozens of other Rockville residents to Richard Montgomery High School on Tuesday night to learn about a draft plan for the future of Rockville Pike.
About 60 people braved the snow to come out and hear a consultant’s presentation on the plan. More perused artists’ renderings and exhibits during an open house earlier in the evening.
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, as well as 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 aims to make the pike more attractive and safer for pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
“I want a walkable, livable city,” McClane said. “I take Metro all the way to Capitol Hill to work and then [at home] I have to get in my car to get my dry cleaning. Something’s not right.”
Urban planners who presented a new vision for the pike agree.
“The pike needs this redevelopment to stay economically competitive in the region and become the signature address that the community wants it to become,” said Gianni Longo, co-founder and principal of ACP Visioning and Planning, which the City Council hired in 2007 to develop a new plan for the Rockville’s main thoroughfare.
For now, the appearance of the pike “is disheartening,” Longo said. “You cannot walk along the pike. It is not an environment that is safe for pedestrians. It is not an environment that is safe for bicycles.”
One way to make the pike safer would be to try to reduce traffic and give vehicles better access to businesses in the corridor by expanding the network of streets, said Joel Mann, a transportation consultant with AECOM Technical Services, Inc., which is also under contract with the city.
That would give local traffic “an alternative to being on Rockville Pike itself,” Mann said.
One recommendation is to consider extending Jefferson Street as a parallel street to the pike's west.
The extension would be part of a larger goal of the plan: To expand the street network in the south part of the corridor in order to improve pedestrian and vehicle traffic flow.
Expanding the street network would provide better street spacing, more city blocks, and “a better foundation for development in the south part of the corridor,” Mann said.
Adding to the grid also would better connect the Twinbrook Metro station to development around it, making it “an equally important interface” as the Rockville Metro station is to downtown, Mann said.
“No one’s really getting off at Twinbrook because it doesn’t have the same range of destinations [the] Rockville [station] has,” he said.
Planners face another challenge to making the pike more pedestrian friendly: Narrow sidewalks near fast-moving traffic present safety issues.
“The street design of Rockville Pike today is one of the greatest deterrents to more people feeling comfortable using it outside cars, and even in cars,” Mann said.
The solution? An expansion from six lanes to 10 lanes that would add “a two-lane access road in each direction, parallel to and separate from the primary roadway,” the draft report recommends. One lane would be for buses and bicycles and the other “a general vehicle lane to accommodate local traffic movements.”
Members of the Rockville Bike Advisory Committee would prefer dedicated bike lanes, said Nancy Breen, the group’s chairwoman. But the group, at a meeting earlier this week, discussed the possibility of shared bike-bus lanes, Breen told the planners.
Committee members considered that bus operators are professional drivers and that buses run on scheduled intervals and are not traveling fast because they make frequent stops, she said. Committee members also said that they had observed the bus-bike lanes in Dublin, Ireland and in Chicago.
“It seems like that would be an OK option to have that mixed use, even though it seems a little bit intimidating,” she said.
David Hill is glad that people are talking about the plan.
When the city embarked on the planning process the economy was still robust and enthusiasm for a pike makeover was high, said Hill, a city planning commissioner.
Now, the city must get people “re-interested in the process,” he said, acknowledging that the economy would make it difficult to put the plan in place in the short term.
But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Hill said, comparing planning during the economic downturn to building from the bottom up.
“This is a great time to be setting up a plan,” he said.
Be Part of the Planning
There are three ways to testify on the draft plan for Rockville Pike.
The city Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on March 9 at City Hall.
The commission will also accept testimony by mail at: City of Rockville Planning Commission, c/o Long Range Planning, CPDS, 111 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850. Include name, address and, if applicable, affiliation.
Or, email testimony to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When writing, include name, address and, if applicable, affiliation.