The Bethesda edition of the Gazette reports that the Town of Chevy Chase is opposing a proposed trail, at Chevy Chase says new bike path may be dangerous. The proposed new bike path is part of an alternative CCT trail route through Bethesda, between the east end of the Bethesda Tunnel and Woodmont Avenue. The trail would be an alternative, in addition to and NOT instead of the CCT through the Bethesda Tunnel. The alternative route would be mainly a sidepath trail along Willow Street and Bethesda Avenue, and would have a counterflow bike lane down 47th Street on the west side of the Elm Street Park.
The Town is refusing to allow the counterflow bike lane down 47th Street, the one section of the alternative trail route that the Town controls.
47th Street is one-way northbound, and a counterflow bike lane is needed to give cyclists a direct on-road route from the east end of the Bethesda Tunnel to Willow Street and Bethesda Avenue. No parking is permitted on this street, and the street is already wide enough to accommodate a 6 foot wide counter flow bike lane without the issues that trouble the proposed Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring. As the Gazette reports, the Town does not assert that this bike lane would be unsafe but rather the Town asserts the alternative trail route will be unsafe elsewhere, at the Wisconsin Avenue crosswalk. The Town cares too much for our safety to permit the trail to be built if it believes any part of it is unsafe. The Town is therefore obstructing the bike route where they have control – at 47th Street.
The Town claims that the Wisconsin Avenue crosswalk is unacceptably dangerous. The Town’s solution – don’t build the alternative trail. That will discourage people from using this crossing, and thereby keep people safe.
I’m having trouble buying it that the Wisconsin Avenue crosswalk is unacceptably dangerous. Whenever I’ve crossed there the traffic appeared to be relatively calm. It is a direct, well marked crosswalk with a generous median. There is turning traffic from vehicles turning north onto Wisconsin Avenue from Bethesda Avenue, but that is a sharp turn that slows the turning traffic, and the pedestrian activity in this area is heavy enough to draw the attention of motorists. As crosswalks go, I would rate each of the CCT crosswalks nearby at Little Falls Parkway, at Woodmont Avenue, and at Connecticut Avenue as much more dangerous.
If we accept the Town’s approach to keeping trail users safe by blocking the trail if it leads to a crosswalk that has any risk, then some interesting questions arise about how we solve safety problems on trails elsewhere. When you follow the Interim CCT through the Bethesda Tunnel you emerge at the west end of the tunnel at the Woodmont Avenue crosswalk, shown at right. This crosswalk is much more dangerous than the Wisconsin Avenue crosswalk. The intersection is not squared, and this creates an awkward and dangerous crosswalk pattern. In particular, vehicles turning north from westbound Bethesda Avenue have an easy turn that encourages speed. I have seen many near misses at this crossing.
If the Town of Chevy Chase is sincere in its belief that obstructing trails is the best way to keep us safe from risk at crosswalks, then why does the Town not urge us to close the Bethesda Tunnel? Closing the tunnel would keep thousands of would be trail users from using the risky Woodmont crosswalk every week. If the Town cares so much for our safety that they will block one trail, why do they not try to block both trails?
We need this proposed alternative trail route. The Bethesda Tunnel is closed at night. It must be closed from time to time for repairs or construction. The Town gave us an example of the need and acceptability of closing the tunnel for construction in 2007 when The Town acted (in partnership with the CCCT) to close the tunnel for several days for construction of a fence to block graffiti, see CCCT April 2007 news.
In addition to needing an alternative route for periods when the tunnel is closed, trail users need access to the streets of downtown Bethesda to go to destinations on or near near Wisconsin Avenue like the Women’s Farm Market, Starbucks, Papa Johns Pizza, etc. Trail users do not want to be blocked from using the local street network in and around Chevy Chase.
The Town position of obstructing the alternative trail does not appear to be consistent or logical – until you consider it as a piece of their campaign against the Purple Line. This is not about trail safety. This is about the Town creating ways to make the conflict between the CCT and the Purple Line as intense as possible, to generate opposition to the Purple Line. The blog Greater Greater Washington sized up the Town position moments after the Gazette article appeared, with the comment “Bike paths only good if they block trains?”.