The Planning Board took up the Bethesda Tunnel issue at its Nov. 17 meeting and decided that all options should be considered to keep the trail in the tunnel. As reported in the Washington Post and WashCycle, the Planning Board asked that placing the Purple Line Bethesda Station on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue or taking down a building over the tunnel be evaluated.
The Planning Board heard the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail argue that single-track in the tunnel should also be considered, see the CCCT single-track position. MTA argued that single-track in the tunnel would make the Purple Line slow and too unreliable. the Planning Board accepted the MTA opinion and did not recommend the single-track for further evaluation. In my view, that was a mistake.
It may turn out that the MTA opinion that single-track will interfere with Purple Line operations too much is true. But MTA failed to present anything to substantiate that opinion at the hearing. MTA Project Manager Mike Madden attempted to point to an earlier single-track study as proof that single-track in the tunnel would not support the needed headways. That study was for a much longer section along the line between
tunnels, stations, and one of Madden’s own engineers consulting engineer Harriet Levine admitted that study was not relevant for this case. MTA argued that they would have to make the north platform much larger if the south platform was removed, but did not explain why this is so. Under the current plan, all passengers getting off a train on the north track would exit to the north platform to go to the elevators and stairs on that side. No one would have any reason to exit a train to the south side, so the north side platform must be wide enough to handle all traffic regardless of whether a south side platform is present. And, in any case, there is room to expand the north side platform while still preserving a trail if the south side platform and track are removed. The MTA said they could not give up the ability to keep another train at Bethesda on the south track, but they did not explain why the tail track presented in the CCCT statement would not serve to do this. In short, the MTA staff were pulling ideas off the top of their heads.
If the Planning Board can ask the MTA to evaluate tearing down large buildings or moving the transit station hundreds of feet away from the connection to Metro, then the Planning Board can also ask MTA to substantiate their assertions that single-track will not work. If single-track can work, it would be by far the easiest and cheapest to build.
The Planning Board did send a very clear message that it will make the alternate trail surface route a priority, especially if the trail is removed from the tunnel. Representatives from JBG Associates gave testimony that a shared use trail along the north side of Bethesda Avenue would conflict with their plans, and therefore the trail should be bike lanes on Bethesda Avenue instead. JBG had earlier planned to build an office and retail building at the northeast corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues, see the CCCT news report. But JBG now intends to come to the Planning Board soon with a request to instead build a large hotel there, with a hotel driveway entrance. The JBG representatives felt that a busy shared use trail would not be consistent with their proposed driveway.
Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier agreed that a busy trail on the north side of Bethesda Avenue and a hotel driveway entrance would conflict, but she pointed out the trail has been in the Master Plans since the 1994 Bethesda Sector Plan.
Source, 1994 Bethesda Sector Plan
The Planning Board Chair told the JBG representatives they should reconsider their plans and not bring a plan to the Board that is not compatible with the Master Plan. The signal was clear – if a hotel and the trail cannot both work here, a hotel will not be approved. If the Planning Board and County Council can show this priority consistently along the surface route, then it can become even better than the trail Dan Reed envisions at On street CCT may be better for bikes and peds