Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fence fight exposes “Save the Trail” conflict of interest.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

An upcoming appeal trial about a back yard fence exposes a severe conflict of interest of “Save the Trail”. In short, the president of “Save the Trail” has been found guilty in District Court of building his back yard fence and shed on the publicly owned Georgetown Branch right-of-way, and he is appealing the order to remove it.

The appeal is scheduled for trial on 04/23/2013. (Case #8929D, filed on 02/21/2014 with the Maryland Circuit Court for Montgomery County, for Violation of Montgomery County Code.) Mr. Ajay Bhatt of the 3300 block of Coquelin Terrace, Chevy Chase, is appealing the District Court of Montgomery County finding on 01/21/2014 that he was guilty of violating county code by installing a fence beyond his private property.


Back yard fence going up on 5/13/2013
as seen from the Georgetown Branch Trail

A brief background:

A few key dates put Mr. Bhatt’s fence into perspective:

  • 1988: The Montgomery County Council allocates $10.5M to purchase the abandoned B&O Railroad right-of-way, for potential shared use for both transit and a trail.
  • 1994: An interagency task force recommends an Interim Trail be installed on the r.o.w. between Bethesda and Stewart Avenue, to have a gravel surface built on the railbed with minimal improvements to convey the INTERIM nature of the trail pending a decision about the kind of transit to be build in the corridor. Two years later the Interim Trail opens.
  • 2006: Ajay Bhatt purchases his house adjacent to the publicly owned Georgetown Branch r.o.w. and Interim Trail, at the 3300 block of Coquilin Terrace. The County Council is on record in support of building the Purple Line in this r.o.w. and the MTA is holding public meetings evaluating alternative transit modes in this r.o.w. throughout this time period.
  • May 2012: MTA representives meet with the Coquelin Run Citizens Association (CRCA) and give a briefing on current Purple Line plans in the neighborhood. MTA presents a detailed map showing where lot lines are on Coquelin Terrace relative to future Purple Line construction.


    Partial MTA map presented to CRCA
    (click on image for full map as large .pdf)
  • May 2013: Mr. Bhatt constructs his fence at an approx. 27′ standoff from the centerline of the Georgetown Branch r.o.w. (a minimum 45′ standoff is needed here to stay out of the publicly owned r.o.w.). The fence stands directly in the path of a proposed Purple Line retaining wall.
  • October 2013: Montgomery County issues a citation for a Building Code violation – building a fence beyond private property. Mr. Bhatt challenges the citation and the issue goes to court.
  • Jan. 21, 2014: Mr. Bhatt is found guilty of the violation in District Court and is fined $500, suspended and is given 30 days to remove his fence and shed. Mr. Bhatt appeals, and the appeal is scheduled to be heard in the Maryland Circuit Court on 4/23/2014.

A fight Montgomery County must win for the public:

The Georgetown Branch Corridor right-of-way is lined along its length by many encroachments from adjacent property owners. The majority of the encroachments are old fences and sheds that were erected years ago when the B&O Railroad still ran trains, before the county had purchased the r.o.w. and declared its intention to use the corridor for joint transit/trail use.

Mr. Bhatt’s encroachment is very recent – done after specific plans for public use of the right-of-way had been published widely. Mr. Bhatt’s encroachment is very egregious – extending deep into the publicly owned r.o.w. so that his fence and back yard shed stand directly in the path of a planned Purple Line retaining wall. The County has little choice but to defend this right-of-way against Mr. Bhatt’s direct challenge.

This fence exposes a conflict of interest for “Save the Trail”:

No one questions Mr. Bhatt’s right to use the court system to assert his claim that he can legally build a fence in the Georgetown Branch right-of-way. But his fence does raise some questions about “Save the Trail” regardless of the outcome of the trial.

1) “Save the Trail” is hiding a serious conflict of interest.

Opponents of the Purple Line frequently assert that proponents have a conflict of interest – and in particular that they are mostly developers or paid by developers who will benefit financially from the Purple Line. And nearly all of us do have a conflict of interest of some kind. We expect advocates to disclose their major interests so we can better evaluate their positions. I have disclosed my affiliations and interests at About the author. The advocacy organization Purple Line NOW! lists its board member affiliations and its major fundraising event sponsors on its website.

Ajay Bhatt is the president of Save the Trail. Mr. Bhatt is attempting to enclose part of the publicly owned Georgetown Branch r.o.w. for his own private use. If he succeeds, the value of his home will increase substantually. He has a very strong and direct financial and personal interest in stopping the Purple Line that has nothing to do with the merits of the project. Mr. Bhatt has every right to speak out about the Purple Line, but “Save the Trail” should disclose that their president and chief spokesman has this unusually strong conflict of interest. There is nothing on the “Save the Trail” website or Facebook page to make this important disclosure.

2) “Save the Trail” is pursuing an agenda very different from “saving” trees, park or trail.

“Friends” of parks or trails typically give to their favored park or trail, not take. “Save the Trail” publicly asserts the Georgetown Branch corridor is a precious and unique park-like public space that should be cherished and shared by the public. Yet we have the president of this so-called friends of the trail group attempting to take a significant chunk of the Georgetown Branch rignt-of-way out of public use as a park or trail, and convert it into an extension of his own very private back yard.


This is no way to treat a park!

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming trial, this case shows us a lot about “Save the Trail”.

WABA submits 400+ Purple Line FEIS comments

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

MTA Purple Line team member Joy Hamilton informed the Purple Line NOW! board at their monthly meeting that MTA has received over 1000 comments on the FEIS. 400+ were from WABA!

WABA used its website to encourage its members to submit comments on the Purple Line FEIS. The WABA comment input form had this suggested text:

I write to express my support for the Purple Line project because I support the accompanying work to complete the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The CCT must be completed as part of this project as a paved, grade-separated, safe connection between downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring. This should be done regardless the details of the alignment and the ownership of the necessary right-of-way, and the FEIS should more clearly state that MTA will work with MCDOT and necessary stakeholders to ensure that the trail is built as promised.

While I support the Purple Line as a means of providing alternatives to the use of single occupancy vehicles for east-west transportation in the region, the completion of the CCT as a viable bicycling connection is critical.

The CCCT has also submitted comments on the FEIS, available at FEIScomments.pdf . The CCCT continues to neither support nor oppose the Purple Line, and concluded in its comments:

“MCDOT and MTA must act well together as a CCT design team if we are going to realize the potential of the CCT. If the Purple Line proceeds to final design, the design team should include designers who have professional training and experience specific to multi-use trail design, and who have the responsibility to design the CCT to meet or exceed current trail design guidelines and best practices.”

Purple Line Project Manager Mike Madden has stated that the FEIS comments are not meant to be a “beauty contest”, meaning they were not counting “for” and “against” but were looking for new issues that had not already been dealt with in the many public meetings and hearings. But still, this large response does effectively counter some of the “Save the Trail” hype that a few local Chevy Chase residents have been pushing.

MTA shows latest plans for Silver Spring

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

MTA held a Silver Spring Station area meeting this evening at the Silver Spring Civic Center, and showed several concept drawings of the most recent design plans for the Purple Line and CCT at the Silver Spring transit station. A snapshot of one of the drawings has just been posted by Chris Gillis, of Councilmember George Leventhal’s staff, as a PLN twitter pic. As Chris indicated in the twitter comment, there is a lot going on there, but it looks like it will all work.

(5/31/2012 update: The MTA has posted its drawings and presentation at www.purplelinemd.com.)

The major change from past MTA renderings is that the Purple Line and the Trail are both higher than previously shown. MTA has raised the proposed Purple Line platform and tracks to be at a fourth level. The CCT would be on an areal structure passing through the station at the third level, while the MARC and Metro Red Line platforms would remain on the second level as they are now. Having the Purple Line at a higher elevation makes it possible to use vertical separation to manage potential conflicts between the trail users and the pedestrian traffic to the MARC and Purple Line platforms. The new arrangement puts the trail on a different level than the train platforms.

The trail would will hold straight and to a 12+ foot width through the station, but there would be a sharp turn at the south end of the station where the CCT would meet the MetBranch Trail. MTA and M-NCPPC planners are aware this is a problem and are trying to work out a more gradual curve alignment, but space is very constrained in that area as the MetBranch Trail and the new “Ripifant” Street Road must both pass under the Purple Line tracks there where the tracks turn to the east.

I will post more on this design in a few days, after the MTA has posted better images of their concept drawings on their website.

Help keep the MetBranch alive in Silver Spring!

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Update – The Council T&E Committee will take the MetBranch Trail funding issue up at its February 27 meeting, not February 13. This gives us more time to contact the Council.

My last two posts focused on the impass between MCDOT and Montgomery Preservation Inc. (MPI) over the proposed alignment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail through the historic B&O Train Station property. I’ve been in contact with MPI and MCDOT to try to sort out what has gone wrong. There are very conflicting versions about what the problem is. It is complicated. But there does appear to be a path toward an agreement that is still available, that will work for the benefit of both the station owners and for the trail. That will take some time, I’ll report more on that soon.

We have an immediate problem that we must address now – restoring funding for the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The County Executive has proposed that the next CIP budget have NO funds to continue any work on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Montgomery County, for fiscal reasons. But this part of this regional trail has already suffered from several episodes of foot dragging and attempts to cut its budget over the years that has significantly delayed it. Montgomery County should get on with building the trail instead of trying to delay it yet again.

Bruce Johnston, Head of MCDOT Division of Transportation Engineering, has indicated to me that the ongoing disagreement with the owners of the station museum does not prevent MCDOT from designing and building the MetBranch from the new Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Station south through the Ripley District to the station museum. A temporary at-grade crossing of Georgia Avenue could be provided there while the historic station issues are being worked out with MPI. MPI is on record in support of continued funding on its website:

We recommend at least the restoration of funds for planning and consultation with stakeholders to the budget so it can move forward during this period.

Now is the time for trail supporters to urge the County Council to restore MetBranch funding to the CIP budget. The Council T&E Committee is scheduled to take this up in one week, at its February 13 meeting at its February 27 meeting. All Councilmembers will receive an email sent to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. The T&E Committee Members are Council President Roger Berliner, Councilmember Hans Riemer, and Councilmember Nancy Floreen. Contact information for individual Councilmembers is at www.montgomerycountymd.gov.

a nature trail

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

The Washingtong Post has an article on community development around future Purple Line stations, at Lack of money doesn’t stop Purple Line station development plans. The article only discusses the impact of the Purple Line on the trail very briefly, with this quote from Purple Line opponents:

“It would change the trail from what it is today — a nature trail through a quiet community — into a strip of asphalt through an urbanized area,” said Bill Schulz, a board member of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Post article does not quote any trail users who support the Purple Line. But the Post print version of the article has a good photo that would have helped Purple Line supporters make their point if they had been asked, available online at: a stretch along Connecticut Ave.

The photo shows trail users at Chevy Chase Lake looking toward the pedestrian barrier at Connecticut Avenue, and watching the many automobiles stream by. This is the “nature trail” to be saved at Chevy Chase Lake? And when did asphalt become a bad thing to have for the Capital Crescent Trail?? Many trail users would agree that a trail bridge and asphalt paving would be welcome here.

Bikes on light rail

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

The Washington Post has a feature article Phoenix offers lessons for Purple Line that is well worth reading. A photo album and video are with the article that provide a good look at what a modern light rail looks like.

Check out the video to see how well the Phoenix light rail accommodates bicyclists – you can see cyclists boarding about 45 seconds into the video. Smooth!

A Minneapolis rail-with-trail

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Those who follow this blog know I have some interest in rail-with-trail. I had to check out the Hiawatha while in Minneapolis.

Hiawatha light rail and trail.
(Photo taken from the trail bridge over Highway 55,
near the Hiawatha Trail/Midtown Greenway Trail junction.)

A typical Hiawatha Trail section.
A simple fence is all that separates the trail from rail.

Pedestrian crossings of the light-rail tracks are simple,
typically at-grade crossings with warning signals.

I’m revealing no secrets to report on the compatibility of the Hiawatha light-rail and trail. The blog rails-With-trails has photos and video at railswithtrails/hiawathatrail.

The Hiawatha Trail is safe, attractive and well used even though it has only a simple fence for separation from the light-rail. Consider what is planned for the Capital Crescent Trail alongside the Purple Line, a rendering is at www.purplelinemd.com.

The CCT will have more horizontal and vertical separation, more landscaping in the buffer, possibly green treatment for the tracks, more attractive fencing. The Hiawatha clearly demonstrates that claims the Purple Line will destroy the trail are hyperbolic.

Another hazard at Connecticut Ave.

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Waiting for the light, then crossing six highway lanes while watching out for motorists making turns is enough nuisance and hazard for one place on the Interim CCT. But now crossing Connecticut Avenue safely has become more difficult for cyclists.

New curb and curb cut on west side of Connecticut Ave.

A new curb cut has been installed at the Interim CCT crossing of Connecticut Ave. The new configuration may be an improvement for pedestrians and especially for those in wheelchairs, since it better separates the sidewalk from the driveway to the Parkway Custom Drycleaning parking lot. But cyclists will find it hard to use the new curb cut because of the hard turn one must make to avoid hitting the new curb that is right behind the curb cut. The alternative, using the ramp into the Parkway Custom Drycleaning driveway a few feet to the south, will put cyclists into direct conflict with any motorists trying to use the driveway.

We need a trail bridge over Connecticut Avenue! Until then, use extra caution in this area.

Montgomery Bicycling Conference May 14

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

I hate that I’ll be missing this – I’ll be out of town. But this really looks like a worthwhile conference!

MONTGOMERY BICYCLING FOR ALL OF US! CONFERENCE

A kick-off for “Bike to Work Week”

DATE: Saturday May 14
PLACE: 1st Floor Auditorium, Executive Office Bldg. 101 Monroe Street, Rockville

TIME:
8:45 a.m. coffee & registration
9:00 to 1:00 p.m. conference
1:00 to 2:00 lunch break
2:00 p.m. bike tour of Rockville*

Join members of the County’s Department of Transportation, M-NCPPC Parks and Transportation Offices, elected and appointed officials, bicyclists and bicycle advocates to brainstorm on how to get more people to bicycle to transit, work, shopping, errands, entertainment, recreation, and to and from school and after-school activities.

Organized by the Montgomery County Civic Federation with details on website: www.montgomerycivic.org.

Co-sponsored by Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the Maryland-National Capital//Park & Planning Commission.

Please RSVP to dte.bike@montgomerycountymd.gov if you are bringing a bike to the meeting.

*BYOB – Bring Your Own Bike. Experience Rockville’s bicycle-friendly features. Tour leader from Rockville’s Citizen Bicycle Advisory Committee

CCT/MBT named a Regional Priority

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

From purplelinenow.com:

Alliance logoThe Washington Sustainable Growth Alliance held an awards ceremony on April 27 on the lawn at George Washington’s Mount Vernon to announce their 2011 Regional Conservation Priorities awards. The completion of the Capital Crescent and MetBranch Trails was named as one of six conservation priorities selected from over 50 candidate projects by a jury. Representatives present from Purple Line NOW!, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and Rails-to-Trails were recognized for promoting this project. The selection criteria and the priority projects are described in the award publication, A Call to Action (a pdf).


The award publication, A Call to Action, describes what is needed to complete these two trails, and gives the reasons for the selection as a Regional Conservation Priority:

WHY A PRIORITY?

  • Linking the Capital Crescent and the Metropolitan Branch
    Branch Trails in Silver Spring will close the final gap in a trail system that circumnavigates the District of Columbia, connecting many urban centers, major destinations, parks, as well as public transit stations in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
  • The completed trails will provide convenient, safe and accessible pedestrian and cycling options to many neighborhoods along their routes, including some areas that until now have been underserved.
  • Scarce funding for major capital improvements is a constant challenge for state and local governments today. For this initiative to progress in a timely manner, they must maintain trail and associated projects at the highest possible level of priority.

The Washington Sustainable Growth Alliance is comprised of these organizations:

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Coalition for Smarter Growth
  • Enterprise Community Partners
  • Greater Washington Board of Trade
  • Metropolitan Washington Builders’ Council
  • ULI Terwilliger Center for Workforce Housing
  • ULI Washington

(Disclosure: I helped Purple Line NOW! nominate this project for consideration for this award.)