Keeping it in balance at Lyttonsville

The MTA returned to Lyttonsville for a neighborhood meeting on Oct. 3, to follow-up on questions raised during the Sept. 13 Lyttonsville neighborhood work group meeting. As reported in the Gazette at Silver Spring residents question Purple Line redesign, some local residents remain very unhappy about the MTA proposal to “flip” the CCT to the north side of the project and to move the maintenance facility to the east side of Lyttonsville Place. Residents expressed strong views that this proposed change was a major “supersizing” of the storage yards and maintenance facility from anything that they had been shown before, and many felt the neighborhood had been blindsided at the Sept. 13 meeting with this major change. The two major concerns of local residents about the future CCT appear to be that the proposed flip would cause the loss of shade along the trail and would make access to the trail more difficult.

I saw little at this second meeting that would change my first assessment of the new plans for the CCT at Lyttonsville. I feel that the Lyttonsville Civic Association representatives and neighbors are greatly overstating the significance of the changes the MTA is proposing. The CCT can work well in this area with the new proposed alignment, provided proper attention is given to several key design issues. In particular, the new proposal should be tweeked to keep more green buffer along the trail and to improve the local access routes.

Warning: This is a long post. If you would rather not get into the neighborhood issues, then skip down to the discussion of the CCT green buffer and local access issues.

The scope and size: Not greatly increased from before.

Numerous speakers at the meeting complained bitterly that the MTA was greatly expanding the scope of the project at Lyttonsville with little prior notice. Claims were made that this was the first time MTA had shown that the project would take all of the area between the Georgetown Branch Trail corridor and Brookville Road. It was even asserted by one speaker that the plans for double tracking and running transit vehicles on headways as short as 6 minutes in the Lyttonsville area were new. These assertions, though certainly heartfelt, simply do not line up well with the public record. MTA has posted links to the presentation material for the two meetings on its website at Lyttonsville station area work group. The MTA presentation given at this second meeting addressed the history of the project, and is available as a pdf file at Oct. 3, 2011 MTA Presentation.

One can find from the history that the transit alignment was described clearly as being double tracked at Lyttonsville, and running as frequently as 6 minute headways, as early as 1990. (See, for example, the pdf file 1990 Georgetown Branch Master Plan, p. 44, for specification of double tracking along the northern side of Lyttonsville neighborhood.) The maintenance facility has grown considerably from that shown in the 1990 plan, but it was shown nearly three years ago, in this sketch presented at the Nov. 2008 public hearing, that the maintenance facility would require taking many of the businesses on the south side of Brookville Road from Lyttonsville Place to Stewart Avenue:


Lyttonsville Station as presented at the Nov. 2008 Public Hearing
(source: Oct. 3, 2011 MTA Presentation)

The Oct. 3 MTA Presentation also showed drawings that had been presented to the community in Feb. and Oct. of 2009 where all of the businesses on Brookville Road to Stewart Ave. would be impacted except one (the Counter Intelligence showroom) at the Stewart Avenue corner. Claims being made by the neighborhood that the project suddenly grew dramatically with the plan shown at the September 13 meeting don’t hold up.

Neighborhood disturbance: Little worse than what is there now.

The changes from that earlier LPA plan and the new plan do not much change the total scale, but they do change relative positions substantially. Those changes are:
1) The location of the trail, Purple Line tracks, and storage tracks are flipped, mostly with little change to the overall project footprint, to put the trail and Purple Line tracks on the north side of the project further from the Lyttonsville neighborhood.
2) The maintenance building is moved to be east of the Lyttonsville Place Bridge and closer to the Claridge House.
3) A 200 car, two level parking garage is new to the project, to be built south of the maintenance building, and
4) Stewart Avenue will be realigned with a new bridge over the Purple Line, bringing the project closer to the homes at the end of Albert Stewart Lane.

The MTA pdf file Design Option Roll Map shows the location of these features. MTA also presented the following sketch to show relative locations at the Claridge House:


The maintenance building and parking garage near the Claridge House
(Click on the image for a larger view.)

The MTA presentation makes several important points about the impacts of these changes on the neighborhood:
1) The noisiest and most active part of the system is the main Purple Line tracks and station, and they have been moved to be substantially farther from the Lyttonsville neighborhood.
2) The maintenance building is expected to be relatively quiet since work is performed inside. The storage tracks may be noisier with activity from shuttling vehicles back and forth. Switching the maintenance building location with the storage track location can help reduce the noise near the Claridge House from the prior plan.
3) The new configuration allows through movements on the storage tracks, which should reduce the amount of shuttling needed to access the vehicles.

Many residents at the meeting appeared to be very skeptical of the MTA claims that the new configuration would not seriously degrade their neighborhood. But I think an obvious fact was largely ignored by the neighbors during the discussion – that while the Lyttonsville residential area is very attractive, the area between the north side of the residences and Brookville Road is a noisy dump, and could hardly be made worse by the Purple Line. One only needs to walk around the area and listen to realize this is true. I especially encourage those who think they already know the area to do this. People who live in an area quickly become deaf to the constant noises that are in the background, and need to consciously listen to experience it as it really is.

I offer the following two Google Map views as a poor substitute for a walking tour:


View Larger Map
Behind the Claridge House, where the two level
parking garage is planned.

On my two most recent visits to the area above, a heavy front-end loader was busy moving materials in the landscaping yard near the Claridge House swimming pool. The engine noise and backing signal noise it was generating easily exceeded anything that would come from a light-rail vehicle.


View Larger Map
Looking toward the back yards of homes on
Albert Stewart Lane from Stewart Avenue

I regularly see a forklift noisily working in the Serra Stone staging yard immediately behind the homes seen in the view above. Stewart Avenue serves dozens of businesses, and there are nearly 200 parking spaces and vehicle loading spaces associated with those businesses. This draws considerable heavy truck and delivery vehicle traffic in addition to the automobile traffic. I am not convinced that removing the Serra Stone yard for the Stewart Avenue realignment, and adding automobile traffic from 200 Purple Line employees coming to the new parking garage, will have a heavy impact on the homes in this area compared to what is there now.

Shade on the CCT: Little difference from the prior plan, a green buffer should be added to either plan.

Several neighbors commented at the Oct. 3 meeting that the new Purple Line plan left the CCT with no shade through the Lyttonsville Station area. The trail would be adjacent to Brookville Road, and the MTA plan shows no green buffer at all between the trail and either Brookville Road on one side and the Purple Line tracks on the other side.

This is a big issue, but it is not a new problem that results from the “flip” from the previous plan. Close inspection of the previous plan, shown in the pdf file LPA Roll Map, reveals that the previous plan also left the CCT without shade through this area. The future CCT is pushed south from the current location of the Interim Trail, pushing into the industrial yards and eliminating the thin line of trees there now. The CCT would be left with no buffer from the treeless industrial yards. This issue must be addressed, regardless of whether the plan is flipped or not.

Trail supporters need to press MTA and other decision makers to provide some green space alongside the CCT in this area to preserve the trail experience. The Impact Comparison map suggests how this can be done:


MTA Impact Comparison map
(Click on the image for the full map.)

The map above shows the areas as shaded in green where the proposed “flip” would reduce the impact from the previous plan. There is considerable green area on the south side of the Purple Line project adjacent to the WSSC facility, west of Lyttonsville Place. I propose that area be reclaimed for the project, to expand the total width of the project to enable the storage tracks and Purple Line tracks to be shifted south by 10-15′. This shift would create space for a 10-15′ wide planted buffer along the CCT at the north side.

Expanding the project on the east side of Lyttonsville Place to also create room for a planted buffer there will have more impact on the properties along the south side, but nonetheless this should be seriously considered. The new “flip” plan has moved the Purple Line tracks farther from the Lyttonsville neighborhood than before – we can move the tracks 10-15′ south and still have the main line tracks be farther from the neighborhood than in the prior plan. In my view having the mass of tracks and trail be softened by adding a green strip with trees beside the trail would more than compensate the view from the neighborhood for having a slightly wider total project. And the experience for both the trail user and transit user will be greatly improved with small trees and green space alongside.

This is important – we need to get more green space into the design, and we can do so if we make it a priority.

Local CCT access: Give attention to the four bridges.

Residents of Lyttonsville are understandably concerned that moving the CCT to be alongside Brookville Road will make access to the CCT more difficult for them. But there is a trade-off here, since those working at the Army Walter Reed Annex and the businesses in the industrial park will find it easier to reach the CCT. If the MTA goes forward with the new plan, the design should incorporate upgrades to all four bridges crossing over the Purple Line so that Lyttonsville residents have the best local access to the trail possible under the circumstances.

At Grubb Road: The MTA drawing for the new plan shows that access to the trail from Grubb Road/Terrace Drive to the CCT will be by a new pedestrian bridge over the Purple Line where the access trail to the Interim Trail is now. But the plan also shows a long switchback ramp on the south side of the Purple Line to gain the elevation needed for the bridge to clear the Purple Line. I believe this switchback is not needed, and that a cursory inspection of the area by MTA will confirm that little more is needed here than a short ramp.

The old Brookville Pike crossed over the B&O Railroad tracks at this location for many years. The crossing is shown in the 1918 Right-of-Way and Track Map of the Southern Metropolitan Railroad Company, and the map has an annotation that the Mont. Co. Council authorized the removal of the bridge in 1967. The western abutment to that bridge is still in place and can be seen from the Interim CCT.


The eastern abutment to the Brookville Pike Bridge,
across the Interim CCT from the Grubb Road access path.

Brookville Pike worked with the existing grade in the area to get enough elevation to clear the railroad – it used no switchback. When the Grubb Road access path to the Interim Trail was built in 1996, the western bridge abutment had to be removed so the path could be cut into the hill to get down to the railroad grade. There is no need for a switchback here for a new pedestrian bridge if we use the existing elevations in the area effectively.

At Lyttonsville Place: Under the new plan, anyone wanting to reach the CCT or Purple Line Station from the Claridge House area will need to use a rebuilt Lyttonsville Place Bridge. Traffic on the roadway is heavy and fast. It will be essential that the new bridge have a generous pedestrian and bicycling path with a physical barrier separating it from the roadway. I would suggest at least a 5′ sidewalk and adjacent 8′ bicycle path on the east side of the bridge. This pathway should extend the full length of Lyttonsville Place to Michigan Avenue.

At Stewart Avenue: As for the Lyttonsville Place Bridge, the new Stewart Avenue Bridge will be an essential crossing for area residents to reach the CCT and Purple Line Station. It will also need a strong pedestrian/bicycle path on its west side. The path should extend down Stewart Avenue to Kansas Avenue.

At Talbot Avenue: Under the new plan, local access to the CCT that had been planned at the end of Kansas Avenue and Michigan Avenue will be lost. Lyttonsville residents who want to go east on the CCT from the general area of Rosemary Hills Elementary School will want to access the CCT via. Talbot Avenue and the Talbot Avenue Bridge. This access would be important even under the old plan, because pedestrians will strongly resist walking north to a Michigan Avenue access point if they intend to go south on the CCT.

The Talbot Avenue Bridge is planned to be extended at its west end to accommodate the Purple Line, but to remain with the same center span structure in the same location. Little can be done to improve pedestrian access on the narrow bridge itself. But motor vehicle traffic patterns to the bridge are not expected to change, and the tight curves and stop signs slow motor vehicles so that the bridge works reasonably well now to carry the existing Georgetown Branch Trail traffic. We can live with the bridge much as it is for local trail access, the future CCT through traffic will not be using the bridge.

But more can be done to improve the one block of Talbot Avenue that leads up to the bridge. Motor vehicle traffic is faster and more intimidating on Talbot Avenue than on the bridge. A sidewalk should be planned along the west side of Talbot Avenue from Lanier Drive to the stop sign at the end of the bridge.

The CCT can work with the proposed new alignment.

I regret that this post is so long, but there are many issues to consider in this new MTA Purple Line plan. I believe that when everything is considered, there are fair trade-offs. The CCT can work about equally well under either an alignment on the north side or south side of the Purple Line in the Lyttonsville area – provided good attention is paid to the trail and local access as the design progresses. The MTA has made a reasonable case that the proposed change will make the Purple Line work better. Trail users and the community should give the MTA proposal fair consideration.

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10 Responses to “Keeping it in balance at Lyttonsville”

  1. excellent analysis, as always — many thanks esp. for highlighting “This is important – we need to get more green space into the design, and we can do so if we make it a priority.” — yes!

  2. Eliz says:

    took me a while to find a map showing the old “Brookville Pike”: found it by zooming in on http://historicalcharts.noaa.gov/historicals/preview/image/DC1914
    Now I understand why Brookville Road north of the tracks is so wide, for a road that goes nowhere today! Any idea what happened to the old Pike?

  3. Dan says:

    While I agree that some of my neighbors made inaccurate claims about what yard sizes were publicly announced when, the story is a bit more complex than the MTA version. From October 2009 to September 2011, MTA had not presented any of the larger yard maps directly to the community or directly alerted community stake holders. While these documents were presented publicly and were online, this was a serious and preventable public relations mistake that could have saved them a lot of hassel now. I hope they very regularly engage the community about the yard from now on. This doesn’t excuse some community members from not searching for this information, but for a project this big, the onus for communication does lie with the developers.

    The actual timeline is also shows serious communication problems between the principles. Before the rail plan was approved by the county & state, there were many yard sketches of widely varying sizes depending on whether it was a bus or rail yard. None of these should be considered to have set precedents. The one document that is relevant is the “Alternatives Analysis: Draft Environmental Impact Statement” that was published in September 2008. That is what was presented to our elected leaders to let them decide the impacts of the bus vs rail proposals. Table 4.1-1 of that document, readable at: http://www.purplelinemd.com/images/stories/purpleline_documents/deis/deis/09_chapter4.pdf lists the business property displacements for each bus & rail option. In that plan, ALL possible rail options were listed as displacing 1-2 private businesses. This is in accord to what some in my community assumed was still true and radically differs from the 11 displace businesses in the map you copied here from October 2008.

    Considering some of the same people wrote the AA/DEIS that was published in September 2008 & put together the October 2008 area map, it brings up the serious question of whether there was gross internal communication errors or if the AA/DEIS knowingly underreported the impact to Lyttonsville. If this holds up Purple Line construction, MTA has no one but themselves to blame and I really want the Purple line and trail built.

    As for how the yard would affect the area, while I agree that some of my neighbors were overly dramatic, I think you didn’t pay attention to people talking about neighborhood history. This was not always an industrial area. Homes and churches were slowly changed to industrial within the lifetimes of people present in the room. To use your own words, every change was only “slightly worse” than what was previously there, but the cumulative effect is real and neighbors are legitimately concerned about what the next “slightly worse” change will be. That these “slightly worse” changes have happened in one of the few historically black (Lytton was a freed slave who purchased the land) is not a coincidence to anyone who knows local history. Recent efforts to rezone the neighborhood schools to include a greater proportion of low income families and larger classes have heightened these concerns as more than a historical curiosity.

  4. Dan says:

    I wanted to talk about some plan specifics in a separate comment. I regularly bike to work through this area between 8 & 9:30AM. I regularly bike home between 5 and 6:20PM. When were you there? During my hours, this area is usually very quiet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a moving fork lift. I see a moving car or truck on Stewart Ave south of the trail on around 1 out of every 5 commutes. Perhaps there’s more noise during the day when many home owners are at work, but it’s quiet other times. 80 people driving cars to work at 4:00AM will be a nighttime noise increase. Late night work in open yard areas will be a noise increase. It might not be a significant increase, it it will increase.

    I was the person commenting about trail shade at the meeting. I was a bit disturbed that this seemed to be an unconsidered issue to them. There is a difference between the LPA roll map & the design option. In the LPA roll map, there would be no shade past the WSSC facility west of Lyttonsville Pl, but there would be trees either shading the trail or on the other side of a service road for the full stretch east of Lyttonsville Pl. The deign option would have no shade & nothing more than a few cosmetic trees for the full 1/2 mile section. I agree they can partially fix this by moving everything slightly south, but suspect they’re also considering using some of the WSSC parking lot that was claimed in the LPA roll map for another yard track. I agree that it is possible and important to add more green space.

    I frequently used the Grubb Rd access to the trail. A lot will depend on the actual heights of the trails & trail at this location. That the planners were noncommittal on how it would look probably means they don’t know yet. One think I know know is the height of the old trains versus the height of the new trains with catenary wires above. Using the hill off Grubb should help, but I’m not sure how, once they get over the wires, they’ll be able to smoothly ramp down to the trail heigh. If anything, I suspect the switchback will be needed north of the tracks.

    Both the Lyttonsville Pl and Steward Ave trail/station access bridges seem too narrow for cars, bikes, & cycles. These will probably need to be widened without other majors design changes.

    At the September 13th meeting, they said they will need to completely rebuild the Talbot Ave bridge to make it longer. They expressed willingness to consider making it wide enough for 1-way car traffic & a solid bike/pedestrian lane. I plan to keep pushing for this. I think you are significantly underestimating how bike/pedestrian traffic will change here with the CCT. The current option is not easy for less serious commuters & kids. A direct, fairly level path from this neighborhood to downtown silver spring will attract a lot more people. For many people, it will be a shorter distance & and a nicer walk than the East West Hwy sidewalk. They need to plan for this increase regarding Talbot Ave.

    As I hope you see, I am giving the proposal fair considering & I get that more than 2 businesses east of the station will probably be needed, but there are realistic concerns that will require more than cosmetic changes that need to be addressed.

  5. admin says:

    Dan:

    You make some good points – I’ll try to answer a few.

    I usually go through the area between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. But I’m about equally likely to be walking my dog as cycling. I seldom notice the noise when I’m cycling, I guess I’m just more focused on the ride. But I see and hear much more when I walk the area. I agree the larger difference may be in the evening and weekend hours, when the businesses are closed but the future light-rail would be continuing operations. But light-rail is much quieter than the Metro rail we are used to. I think noise studies can show that the distance between the nearest homes and the light rail tracks is more than enough so that the increase in noise from light rail will be slight.

    I must be reading the LPA roll map more cautiously than you, but I am not confident at all that there will be any significant trees between the trail and the service road east of Lyttonsville Place. In any case, we are agreed that it is important and possible to add more green space.

    I asked Mike Madden about the switchback at the Grubb Road access at the first meeting, and he admitted MTA had not taken any measurements there. LIght-rail does not need as much overhead clearance height as freight rail, light rail can typically get by with as little as 16′ clearance while I believe the old standard for freight rail (and for the old Brookville Pike bridge) is 24′, and is now going up in newer standards. We won’t know for sure until the design progresses, but I still think a switchback will not be needed on either side.

    I agree the Lyttonsville Place and Stewart Ave. Bridges appeared too narrow in the sketches. But these are conceptual scketches only and I would not put too much meaning into that. We need to press for wide bridges here, however.

    It is true that more local bike and ped traffic will come to the Talbot Ave. bridge for access when the CCT is complete, but I think that increase in trail traffic on the bridge will be more than offset by the decrease in trail traffic because all non-local through traffic will be rerouted onto the future CCT trail bridge over the CSX tracks. In any case, I think we are agreed that we need to make this access route more safe and pleasant, especially for pedestrians.

    I am not pushing hard either for or against the new proposal to “flip” the trail to the north side. I think we can work with either the north side or south side alignment, but both need work. I just hope we don’t get so caught up in some of the overly dramatic claims that we give too much aid to those who are trying to kill the Purple Line completely. If that happens, then we may never see the off-road CCT get east beyond Stewart Avenue, and that would be a much greater loss than losing the thin line of trees along the Interim CCT today.

    Wayne P

  6. Dan says:

    I agree that we want to focus on the big picture that will bring us to an active purple line & CCT as soon as possible. I think MTA screwed up because these discussions could have happened 2 years ago when there was time to spare and now they need to rapidly respond and do damage control. I think the yard could be an asset to the community, but the current design isn’t that.

    My concern with light rail & noise is that it varies widely. I’ve lived near the very noisy MUNI system in San Francisco. It’s older technology with less noise damping built in, but all trains get noisier with age.

    I’m also fairly neutral on north vs south alignments. At this point, I suspect they are trying to figure out how to put more of the yard west of Lyttonsville place & the alignment will rest on whether they take more land from WSSC or RideOn. Personally, I’d like them to take more from RideOne because that would leave the WSSC land for better development in the future, but I suspect RideOn is going to be more stubborn.

    One question I’ve been trying to get answered regards CSX and the Talbot bridge. A commenter on another blog mentioned they want double-height containers on this line. That would require removing the bridge or making it radically higher. That would be a disaster for trail access. The Purple Line team hadn’t heard about this. I don’t want to place to much weight on a pseudonymous commenter. I posted a question on the CSX website a few days ago, but haven’t heard back. Have you heard anything about this or know anyone to ask?

  7. admin says:

    I haven’t heard about a CSX plan to raise the height requirements on bridges. If that comes to be, than I think we all will have a hard choice forced on us that has little to do with the Purple Line. Raising the height of the bridge probably will necesitate changing its location to near Lanier Drive, and there will be a big fight to just close it. But the proposed CCT bridge would also be impacted (and also most of the other bridges up and down the line?)

    Wayne P

  8. Dan says:

    I figured I’d post an update here. I wrote CSX and asked about double-heigh cars over the Talbot Bridge. I just got a response in the email. It’s either a form response or a strange/concerning reply. Here’s the letter body:
    “You recently contact CSX to request information concerning future plans in your area.
    We hope you will understand, but because of security concerns, we cannot disclose the requested information. All public information is available on our website at http://www.csx.com
    We apologize for not being able to provide the information you requested, and thank you for contacting CSX.”

    If they are considering double-height cars here, they better not be keeping it a security secret from the Purple Line & CCT planners.

  9. admin says:

    Dan:

    Do we know how many other bridges would have to be rebuilt up and down the length of the CSX corridor to accommodate double-height cars? If true, this would be about much more than the Talbot Ave. bridge, and could not be kept secret for long.

  10. Dan says:

    My original source of concern was comment on your cross-post at GGW from cyrus. I just commented there too to see if cyrus will respond, but it’s held up in moderation. Cyrus’ comment is at:
    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/12133/changes-mean-more-purple-line-and-trail-grade-separation/#comment-116374
    He wrote, “The Metropolitan Branch is the only direct rail line from the Port of Baltimore west. The OML through Patapsco State Park is encumbered with tunnels that cannot be altered. Only two bridges in Montgomery County are affected becuase of insufficient height are the Talbot Bridge and the Humpack Bridge in Washington Grove. Both must eventually be raised or taken down. Either way neither will be able to carry auto traffic regardless of the “politics” of the local neighborhoods. Any new bridge crossing will have to meet standard CSX clearances which will require massive bridge structures, including a massive viaduct towering over Silver Spring, which has not yet been placed in any rendering but will soon.”

    I have no clue who he is or where he got is information, but he seems to have more details than the MTA purple line planners.