Chevy Chase cares too much.

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.

Looking south on 47th Street in Chevy Chase.

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?”.

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2 Responses to “Chevy Chase cares too much.”

  1. admin says:

    Pat Burda and I had this exchange in May on the old http://www.finishthetrail.org blog:

    Pat Burda said…
    Chevy Chase has asked the County to postpone, not cancel, putting the bike path on city streets until the numerous construction projects scheduled to occur at the end of Bethesda Avenue (Woodmont East and Lots 31/31a) are completed. As the County plan currently proposes, the on-street bike path will end at Wisconsin Avenue and Willow Lane because the path will not be completed down Bethesda Avenue at this time. So, the County’s proposal suggests just dumping the bike riders at that dangerous intersection without a place to go beyond. Right now the County is looking at ways to make Wisconsin Avenue between Leland Street and Montgomery Avenue safer for pedestrians because 16 people were struck there by cars over the last few years. It is dangerous — period.

    We are not saying that the on-street bike path should not someday be completed. But with all that is slated to go on at the end of Bethesda Avenue, it makes no sense to spend money on a project that could be a safety hazard or to direct riders on a partial path that potentially gives them a false sense of security crossing the intersection.

    Honestly, Wayne, you really have to tone down your hatred of the Town.

    Pat Burda

    May 14, 2009 11:33 AM
    silverspringtrails said…
    Thanks for that perspective.

    But where is the benefit to postpone completion of a better bike access from the east end of the Bethesda Tunnel to Wisconsin Avenue, until the part on the alternate route on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue is improved? People use this signed route now to get to local destinations or when the tunnel is closed at night.

    Few will use any part of this alternate route if the tunnel is open and will get them where they want to go. Refusing to give cyclists a safe counterflow bike lane on 47th street only increases the inconvenience or risk to them when they need to use this part of the alternate route, and does not make them safer.

    May 14, 2009 12:46 PM

    May 14, 2009 2:13 PM
    Pat Burda said…
    Wayne, 47th Street is one block long and does not have heavy traffic at all. The real danger is crossing Wisconsin Avenue and continuing down Bethesda Avenue.

    This is not the outrageous issue you are trying to make it. We support someday completing the on-street bike-path. Now, however, is not the time.

    Pat Burda

    May 18, 2009 11:11 AM

  2. admin says:

    On Oct. 6 Jack joined that discussion with this:

    Jack said…
    From the old post revival department: The only reason Chevy Chase residents care enough to argue against this bike connection is because they think it’s a backdoor attempt to eliminate the CCT tunnel under Wisconsin Ave. in order to build the Purple Line which they fear. At the public meeting on this trail, individuals said as much to me. I’ve never encountered any neighborhood in Montgomery County that has shown up at a meeting in such large numbers in SUPPORT of a bike path to improve safety. But many many neighborhoods have opposed paths, bike lanes and sidewalks in the name of safety. In fact most bikeways are opposed. Here it’s all about Purple Purple Purple. Pardon my skepticism. If the same Chevy Chase residents start vociferously supporting other trails besides just the CCT — maybe the Bethesda Trolley Trail? — I’ll take them more seriously.

    October 6, 2009 11:23 AM