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.