C&O Canal Towpath resurfacing project could improve more sections in Montgomery County

The National Park Service is currently a few years in to a multi-phase project to resurface parts of the C&O Canal path. Some of the repairs have already been in Montgomery County and more might be (there's a TBD element at play).  The repaving evolved out of a 2016 engineering study done with the assistance of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) that identified 80 miles of the towpath urgently in need of rehabilitation. Much of that was far from DC. Some of the problems identified include poor drainage, tree roots and a green strip of grass down the middle which inhibits drainage and full use of the path. 

Assessment

In the past six years, over 200 towpath injuries were reported, 71 percent of which involved towpath defects such as root exposure

In 2018, Maryland dedicated $3.45 million of TAP funding for the C&O Canal National Historical Park—including $1 million for “Towpath Rehabilitation."

According to NPS, the phases are 

  1. Phase One: Edwards Ferry (Mile 30) to Whites Ferry (Mile 35) and Brunswick (Mile 54) to Ferry Hill (Mile 72.5) COMPLETE
  2. Phase Two: Whites Ferry (Mile 35) to Brunswick (Mile 54) CURRENT
  3. Phase Three: Spring Gap (Mile 173) to Cumberland (Mile 184.5)
  4. Phase Four: TBD
  5. Phase Five: TBD

Meaning the first two phases were partly within northern Montgomery County. (This doesn't include this piece of towpath repair).

Edwards-Ferry-resurfaced-600x450

Resurface towpath near Edward's Ferry 

According to the Canal Trust, Phase Three will include Mile 16.8 (Swains Lock) to Mile 30.8 (Edwards Ferry); Mile 35.5 (Whites Ferry) to Mile 39.3 (Lock 26). They note that the order might not always be followed, but it means these sections closer to DC are also included in the long-term plan. It doesn't appear that any sections closer than Swains Lock are on the agenda, but this should still benefit DC area cyclists. 

It's time for a new Crystal Drive

Crystal City is going to be undergoing some radical changes and very soon.* Not only will HQ2 be coming to the area, but there are several large projects in the works including the redevelopment of 1900 Crystal Drive, 101 12th Street South and 223 23rd Street South. All these new buildings, and their new office space, are not only an opportunity to build the protected bike lane called for in the Bicycle Element of Arlington County's Transportation Plan but they almost require it. Improving bike lanes, sidewalks and transit are the only way to deal with all the additional trips. 

The two towers at 23rd Street promise to be bike commuter friendly. They'll include 1,850 square feet of bike storage with room for 276 bikes in one tower and a 1,000-square-foot bicycling parking area with room for 88 bike parking spaces in the other. "Building tenants, including cyclists, can expect to have access to 176 lockers and 12 showers." The Joyce street property, meanwhile, will sit at the southern end of the Long Bridge Park esplanade, offering direct access to the MVT and DC by bike once the new bicycle Bridge (which I'm calling the Lockwood Bridge until someone tells me otherwise) is built. 

But that makes this the time to upgrade Crystal Drive. It currently has discontinuous, narrow and unprotected bike lanes along it, interrupted at times by sharrows. The MTP calls for an upgrade

Upgrade the existing bicycle lanes on Potomac Ave and Crystal Drive through the Potomac Yard and Crystal City areas. Where feasible provide further separation or protection of bicyclists from motor vehicle traffic. Provide for a lower stress route to link the Four Mile Run Trail to Crystal City, Pentagon City and Long Bridge Park.

South of Potomac it calls for a parallel sidepath to the Four Mile Run Trail.

Let's get started on that NOW, so that it's ready when we need it. Construction is likely to result in cuts and pavement damage, so why not follow that by repairing and redesigning the key North-south route through Crystal City?

Crystal

*Or at least that was the plan last week. 

Update: There's some effort underway to do just this:

At the Transportation Commission meeting Thursday night, the Commission recommended that developer JBG Smith be required to turn the existing bicycle lanes into protected lanes while adding new protected bike lanes to 18th Street S.

“First the Commission recommended that the County Board require JBG Smith to build protected bike lanes on 18th Street either as part of their upcoming 1900 Crystal Drive development or as part of the already-approved Central District Retail development,” Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said in a press release. “Furthermore the Commission recommended that the County Board direct staff to study an appropriate cross-section for Crystal Drive that would safeguard those on bikes and scooters and, if schedules permit, incorporate the results of that study into the public space designs for 1900 Crystal Drive and any other unbuilt development approved along the Crystal Drive corridor.”

The last recommendation from the Transportation Commission was that the County and JBG develop a temporary southbound protected bike lane on Crystal Drive if the public process isn’t completed in time to be incorporated into the 1900 Crystal Drive plans.

Alexandria's Vision Zero plan, 2 years in

Back in 2017, at the request of safe streets advocates, Alexandria adopted a vision zero action plan with a goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2028. 

In 2018 they added new Leading Pedestrian Interval lights at some intersections and restricted No Right Turn on Red at others (or maybe both at some). Then over the summer, they reduced the speed limit on Route 1 between Slaters Lane and Four Mile Run from 35 mph to 25 mph. But if they're still working on new projects in 2019 and 2020, they aren't advertising them. 

They put out a year one report for 2018, and it doesn't show much progress, which is expected since so many initiatives were still in work for at least part of the year; but it does create a baseline. 

2018AlexCrash

There were several dozen initiatives that they started or completed in 2018 (and a few they had not) and more for 2019. Some of the statewide initiatives - like a hands-free driving law - were out of their power, but might have found more receptive ears in the new state legislature.

The year one report also identified goals for 2019

• Establish crosswalk policy of when each type of crosswalk is called for, implement the policy with paving
• Upgrade 20 more crosswalks with high visibility crossings, where warranted
• Develop a concept design for at least one high crash location
• Install 10 no right on red restrictions near pedestrian crash locations or intersections with high pedestrian volumes and LPIs to correspond
• Upgrade 25 curb ramps to improve accessibility
• Install or upgrade 3 safe crossings for uncontrolled crossings or crossing locations, especially in neighborhoods of color and/or low-income areas.
• Implement or complete recommendations for safe routes to school improvements at 6 schools
• Examine and improve pedestrian signal timings at 10 intersections near senior facilities, parks, playgrounds, or daycare centers. Install 15 low-cost safety improvements, including road marking, signs, signal modifications, at intersections near affordable and/or public housing locations
• Implement one neighborhood slow zone, prioritizing areas with children, seniors, communities of color, and low-income areas.
• Install speed control measures in 5 locations that meet traffic calming criteria
• Close 8 sidewalk gaps in the City, especially near schools and parks
• Install left-turn traffic calming at one priority intersection as appropriate

It would be a shame if this effort peters out so quickly. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Some see this as a foolish effort, especially in light of the contentious Seminary Road Complete Streets Project.  

The city has adopted this Vision Zero program as part of the attempt by city officials to remove automobiles from Alexandria’s streets.

One writer warns. 

The city’s last resort is to remove cars from the streets by making the congestion even worse so residents must find other modes of transportation, such as bikes, scooters or Dash buses. Or we can walk.

I'm not sure that removing cars from the street is how congestion works. 

Another writer adds that

the fundamental purpose of our roads: the efficient movement of people and goods to their intended destinations....our safety goals must be balanced against the imperative of an efficient flow of traffic. 

Safety is job #2 (or worse). I've said it before, but as long as people place convenience over safety, our roads won't be safe. 

Alexandria has a lot of work to do to set their Vision Zero goal. I hope they haven't lost steam. 

Connecticut Avenue Deckover will create 1 block of shared street - but not for a few years

Last summer DDOT completed the 30% designs for the Connecticut Avenue (CTA) deckover and streetscape project. That project will redesign CTA from Dupont Circle to California Street and build a plaza over top of the open hole above CTA right at Dupont Circle. While there are some safety improvements to CTA that will probably benefit everyone, and they call for new bike racks along the Avenue; the biggest part here for cyclists is the block immediately adjacent to the new plaza - which will become a curbless "shared" street. 

Curbless

SharedCTA

There's also talk of a "A location for a bike fix-it station". It'd be a whole lot better without parking, though it will eliminate 17 spaces. 

Design won't be completed until 2021, work would start late in the year, and it would take 2-3 years to complete. 

As for bike lanes:

bike lanes will not be installed as a part of this project. DDOT is looking at the feasibility of protected bike lanes along the whole Connecticut Avenue corridor through the Connecticut Avenue Reversible Lane Study. The current project does not preclude future accommodations of bike lanes once a feasibility determination has been made.

Speaking of that study....DDOT has known since 2003 that the reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue in the Woodley Park area are dangerous, but only recently did they commit to studying them, with the possibility - however remote - that it would result in new bike infrastructure. That study is going slow and, despite the headline, I can't even confirm that it has started yet. 

In a 2003 transportation study of Connecticut Avenue, DDOT's consultants determined that "the reversible lane operation is a safety issue" and that "The high number of accidents on Connecticut Avenue can be attributed in part to the reversible lane operation, high volume of traffic and the relatively high speed at which vehicles travel on this roadway" which means the road is ripe for a redesign and road diet. But it also suggested fixing them with better signs and operations, not removing them

In 2018, local residents effectively advocated for DDOT to study the reversible lanes with an eye on removal. 

Now, the District Department of Transportation is studying the feasibility of removing the reversing lanes, as part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024.

At the time they said we were about 15 months away from study results, which would be around the end of March. I don't expect that to happen, since in June they were saying the 9 month study wouldn't start until Fall 2019, and I can't determine if even that has started yet.

In the meantime, they've also announced short-term safety improvements at R and S Streets at CTA, which I suspect are complete(?)

Washington, the drop-frame and the Ladies Cycle Club

Sunday is International Women's Day!

As Washington cyclists we should celebrate our unique place in the world of women's cycling as it was here that the "women's bicycle" was invented and down Pennsylvania Avenue that women first publicly rode a true bicycle. To be clear, the inventor of the drop-frame is somewhat in dispute, but many ascribe it to one of two Washingtonians.

Screenshot 2020-02-26 at 1.10.22 AM

A photo of what is believed to be the first women's safety bicycle, invented in Washington, DC

Before the invention of the safety bicycle there was the ordinary bicycle, the bike with one large wheel in the front - aka a "penny farthing" of "high wheel", but it was exclusively used by men (some claim it was athleticism and balance, others clothing concerns and still others social stigma, that kept women off - but clearly women CAN ride them so the balance thing sounds like bunk). Women rode 3 or 4 wheeled cycles or rode on some form of tandem with a man, But the invention of the safety bicycle changed all of that. 

When the safety bicycle was invented in 1885, Washingtonian Herbert Sumner "Bert" Owen immediately saw value in it and had a pair imported to DC that year. They were among the first in America. A local bike builder by the name of William Elliot Smith was inspired. Smith and his family had emigrated from England in 1882 and it was there that he'd learned to build bikes. Smith and his brother, driven by their desire to share cycling with their five sisters, had been working on women's bikes since 1884 and had patented a few tandems based on the ordinary. He and his wife were well-known for riding around town together on one. But in the safety he saw a bike that women could ride on their own. When his wife tried to ride one, the crossbar got in the way of her skirt. So he came up with an idea for a drop frame bike that would serve ladies and with his partner Edward Baltzey they formed a company in DC to build them. It took them a year to perfect the design, but by January 1888 they had their first one. 

On February 4th, 1888 they staged a ride down Pennsylvania Avenue - the first public ride of women on bicycles. Smith rode a tandem with a drop bar front with Miss Genevieve Wise and Smith's wife Francis and Miss Ella Tageler rode standard ladies safety bikes. It became a national story. "A Spectacle" one paper reported. "I saw a woman go by on a bicycle! On a bicycle I repeat...There was a flutter of lace and a flash of skirt...I blushed and turned my face resolved to gaze on the sight no more....They were dressed in all respects in the ordinary street costume of a lady. One wore a jaunty hat and the other a bonnet." (sigh...helmet shaming already). Smith promoted the fact that the bicycles weighed about half as much as a tricycle and predicted they would be popular with women. He was right. And he said that Washington was the perfect place for them as it had smoother streets than other cities and was already home to 14,000 male cyclists. "So woman is completing her conquest of the world" one story went, "She rows. She smokes. She preaches. She shoots. And now she has lassoed the iron grasshopper." [The Iron Grasshopper sounds like a fancy cocktail, BTW]

Meanwhile Owen was working on his own ladies bike. Owen was a local bicycle enthusiast - perhaps the most enthusiast of them all - and a bicycle importer and manufacturer. He was one of the founders of the Capitol Bicycle Club in 1879, the first club in the District and only the second in the United States . He was known as the first man to bike down the Capitol steps and was called the "Father of bicycling in the District." He had made a tradition of hosting a long-distance ride on his birthday in early May, a tradition that continued even after he moved to New London to run his bicycle factory. The ride started during the days of the high wheel, which made the race particularly exciting and large crowds would turn out to watch the race end in a mile loop around the Capitol building. 

Owen drew up some designs and in 1887 he built about 25 drop-frame bikes in his shop located at 1400 New York Avenue NW, where the Bond Building currently stands. They were the first such bikes according to Owen and some historians*. He taught some women to ride them, only in private, before Smith's bikes were finished, but Owen didn't pull the trigger. He was worried about public sentiment so he wanted to make sure that his ladies were expert cyclists before they hit the streets and that they looked presentable. "Every detail of posture and costume was carefully supervised" he said. That winter he went to the Starley Brothers factory in England where they made the Psycho bike and shared his designs which eventually became the ladies Psycho, of which he ordered some as well as some tandem bikes with a drop frame in the front. Worried that women wouldn't feel comfortable riding alone, he thought lovers and brothers would use the tandem bikes to ride their sweethearts and sisters around, and maybe that would help to overcome the objections that he feared. As a result of Owen's designs, the Starley Brothers presented their ladies bikes to the world on January 28th, just one week before the Smith ride, but there was no public ride. 

Smith's bike - later called the Dart - was an immediate hit in DC and both he and Owen began selling their bikes to the women of Washington. By April the first women's bicycle club in the world, the Ladies Cycle Club of Washington, DC was formed. It started with 13 members but quickly grew to 50. It's leader was Harriet H. Mills. Mills was a woman of high social standing and by recruiting other women of society to ride, she made it socially acceptable for others to follow suit. New women cyclists were formed as fast as Smith and Owen could provide them bicycles. Though Owen's bikes were being made in England, English women did not take to them with the vigor the women of Washington did, and papers there predicted that women on bikes would be but a "passing craze."

It wasn't.

The bicycle has been credited with paving "the way for Women's Rights" and suffragists would later declare that "woman is riding to suffrage on the bicycle." Whether Owen or Smith (or someone else) was the real first inventor, the first public ride (just down the street, not to suffrage yet) was on Pennsylvania Avenue. And so DC has a small and odd, but real, place in not just women's cycling but in the history of women's rights and equality.

Screenshot 2020-02-23 at 7.01.39 PM

Both Owen and Smith were granted patents for their bikes in 1888, but Smith is more often considered the true inventor of the ladies bicycle, in part because his design was better. Unfortunately for Smith, he was a better designer than manufacturer and wasn't able to build bikes fast enough to make any money. In 1890 he went bankrupt and was bought out by Owen. Owen kept him on as the manager of Smith's old factory at 809 Water Street until his death in 1894. 

When Owen and his brother bought out Smith, he got control of all of Smith's patents. In fact Owen had briefly lent his first bike, pictured above, to the Smithsonian, but later needed it back for a patent lawsuit over one of Smith's patents. That patent dealing with the bottom bracket became critical to the automobile industry and made Owen a fortune. Owen moved to Connecticut, bough a big house and then lost his fortune during the aviation boom and bust. He died in 1931 in his stately home in Stonington, CT, nearly penniless.

Harriet Mills, a respected and beloved music teacher and singer, died in 1912. Her first husband had been a prominent lawyer and her second the executive clerk on the Senate. She was buried in New Hampshire. 

* They probably weren't the first. Others had already developed drop-frame bikes for older men, but not for women; or they had made drawings and gotten patents but never built anything. Dan Albone, inventor of the light farm tractor, actually built a drop-frame bike a year before Owen or Smith, which he intended to be used by women but it's unclear if any woman ever rode it. 

Screenshot 2020-02-26 at 11.43.32 PM

Park Service considers ways to make the GW Parkway safer

Roaddiet

The National Park Service (NPS) and Federal Highway Administration are studying the safety at intersections on the southern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The study is looking at potential ways to improve safety on the Parkway between the City of Alexandria and Mount Vernon. They had a meeting last summer where they presented current conditions and solicited input and another meeting in December where they presented alternatives they're considering. Because the Mt. Vernon Trail runs in the same corridor and in places crosses the road or the roads that connect to it, the project is of interest to cyclists. 

The parkway, they noted is not meant to be a high-speed commuter route and they'd like to slow traffic down (this is the same thing they've said about Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, but the constituency for the status quo is powerful). They heard a lot of ideas and have begun screening them for things they can do and what they think are appropriate. Pedestrian safety and bicycle safety were #1 and #7 on the list of concerns they heard about.

Some of the candidate alternatives that will matter to cyclists are:

  • A road diet (see above)
  • Roundabout usage (see below)
  • Intersection widening for median islands
  • Reduced speed limits
  • Speed tables
  • Marked and enhanced crosswalks (see below)
  • Manual and automatic speed enforcement as well as impaired and distracted driving enforcement
  • Adding Capital Bikeshare stations
  • Better intersection lighting
  • Education campaign
  • Upgrading signs to current standards

The public comment period ended last month, but they'll review the comments they've received and perform some more study and design before issuing a final report. They'll then make some final selections and seek funding. 

Roundabout

Crosswalk

Arboretum Bridge and Trail is still on track for 2022

Arboretum

The Arboretum Bridge comment period has concluded and late last month DDOT issued a report on the comments

The bridge, built across the Anacostia between the Arboretum and Kenilworth Gardens has been part of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail plan for ~20 years and is finally close to becoming a reality. Last May DDOT held a meeting in the midst to complaints from the boating community about the negative impacts they thought the bridge would have on their use of the river. Another meeting is planned for this spring with design to wrap this year and construction in 2021-2022. 

Most people support the bridge and there's not much new in the responses, but there are a few answers. 

What provisions will be made for access to the trail network on the west side of the Arboretum. The trail on the west side of the river is gated at the arboretum, which closes at 5 PM daily. Does this mean that access will be restricted when the arboretum is closed?

Yes, for now. As with many similar projects, the ART is being developed segmentally. For example, the trail terminated at Benning Road for several years while the next segment went through the requisite planning and development phases, and finally construction. On the east side of the river, the bridge will provide direct connection to Phase I of the existing ART, and in the future will also provide a connection to the Phase II realignment of the ART. On the west side of the river, connecting the trail through the Arboretum is another segment in the moveDC plan. Funding is available to develop this segment and it is currently in the planning stage. DDOT has met with NPS, the National Arboretum, Federal City Council, and others to develop this segment which shall connect the trail to Maryland Avenue NE and allow access regardless of the Arboretum’s hours.

The NPS recreational land on the immediate west bank of the Anacostia at the proposed bridge location will be accessible during regular park operating times. The project includes an additional 1,000 feet of paved trail construction on the western bank of the river and will connect with an existing gravel service road that connects the National Arboretum and NPS property. It should be noted that the park and all trails within it are currently closed after dark.

Further, the National Arboretum is a research institution managed by the US Department of Agriculture and is not a park, although it welcomes visitors during open hours much like a park. As such, any decision to extend the operating hours would be taken by the Arboretum.

Another DDOT project currently being examined, the New York Avenue NE Streetscape and Trail Concept, will improve pedestrian facilities, bicycle accommodations, and safety  along New York Avenue NE between Florida Avenue NE and Bladensburg Road NE, connecting with the Metropolitan Branch Trail at NoMa-Gallaudet Metro Station and the Arboretum.

Additionally, the Lincoln Connector Trail project is in the planning stage. This will provide a trail from Bladensburg Road NE, through the Fort Lincoln neighbourhood, and cross the Anacostia River to connect with the ART in the vicinity of the New York Avenue NE/US-50 bridge. Final feasibility study documents are due winter 2019/2020.

They address the concerns of boaters about build-up at the piers, the location choice, clearance and why a single span wasn't selected. They also respond to concerns about the environment and high-bicycle traffic rates in the Mayfair or Paradise neighborhoods. "We expect an increase as bicyclists and pedestrians use the new trail segment; however, the arboretum closes at 5 PM daily, so commuter volume after 5 PM should be what it is currently."

Vision Zero, how Oslo made progress

Oslo and Washington, DC are roughly the same size. In 2019, the former had zero pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and DC had 14. So what did Oslo do that made the difference?

One thing is that they started with a head start. In 1975 Oslo had 41 traffic deaths and DC had 74. But that doesn't entirely account for them getting to 1 and DC to 27 in 35 years. 

Over the last five years, the city has taken dramatic steps to reduce vehicular traffic in its downtown, including replacing nearly all on-street parking with bike lanes and sidewalks. Major streets have been closed to cars, and congestion pricing raised the fee to drive into the city center, with the goal of making most of downtown car-free by 2019.

Oslo has not only reduced the number of places where it is possible to drive, the city has also lowered the speed limit, which significantly contributes to a reduction in deaths

One effort cited by Steen that may have contributed to the drop in child deaths are the new “heart zones” drawn around Oslo’s schools, where officials are making physical changes to streets to protect students walking and biking to school, including closing streets to cars during school hours.

So there's nothing magical about it. Having fewer drivers, going slower while creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians is what it takes. I don't think anyone is surprised by that. Which leads one to ask? If we already know how to get to zero deaths, why haven't we done it?

But there is hope for DC still.

Progress was also uneven for Oslo in the early years after setting its own Vision Zero goal. But it’s Oslo’s car-free zones that have made the difference, Steen told Aftenposten, because overall roadway deaths haven’t reduced across Norway in recent years the way Oslo’s have plummeted.

BTW, Helsinki also had zero pedestrian and cyclist deaths last year. 

The improvement in traffic safety is the sum of several factors. Traffic safety has improved due to betterments to the street environment, increasing traffic control, the development of vehicle safety measures and technology, and the development of rescue services. Reducing speed limits has also been a key factor

Helsinki decided to lower speed limits in 2018, and the new limits took force last year. Currently, the speed limit on streets in residential areas and the city centre is primarily 30 km/h. The speed limit on main streets is 50 km/h in suburban areas and 40 km/h in the inner city.

The City will start installing 70 new traffic control cameras and making alterations aimed at improving the safety of pedestrian crossings in the most dangerous locations this year. 

Bicycle Travel Trends for the Washington Region

In a 2018 report by the Transportation Planning Board, they note that biking has grown considerably as a commute choice, even while it remains a small part of the commute pie. 

In 2000, commuting by bicycle accounted for 0.3% of the total mode share. By 2016, this increased to 0.9%, a 200% increase in mode share and representing the fastest-growing commute mode since 2000. The second-fastest growth in mode share was in transit at 47%. While the use of bike as a primary mode for commuting has increased dramatically since 2000, bike commuting continues to account for less than 1% of total commuting. Nevertheless, bicycling and walking in the Washington region have become increasingly popular predominant travel options for many commuters, especially in the inner jurisdictions. This growth is further supported by an increasing number of non-motorized projects appearing in TPB's long range plan.

In 2005, regional bicycle facilities could be found in many TPB jurisdictions, especially the inner core. In the last decade, several communities have advocated for more bicycle and pedestrian accommodation, complete streets and safe routes to school. As a result, the bike/ped network looks a lot different in 2018. *

TPB's Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan for the National Capital Region catalogs currently funded and unfunded bicycle and pedestrian projects in the region. The current plan database (under development) includes several additional facilities that will further connect communities, Activity Centers and provide alternatives to driving. 

Despite a 14.5% increase in population and a 5.6% increase in employment between 2007 and 2018, and decreases in Metrorail use, weekday VMT has remained comparatively flat with only a 0.4% increase. 

This trend is further illustrated by the fact that VMT per capita increased 8.5% between 2000 and 2007, but decreased by 12.5% from 2007 through 2015.

Several factors contribute to this, including 

  • The rapid growth in non-motorized facilities, including shared bicycle providers and dedicated routes, has prompted considerable growth in bicycle/pedestrian travel.

Budget Issues could create indefinite delay in Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich released his proposed capital budget last week and much to the chagrin of trail advocates, it includes no money for the county's portion of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT). Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) decried the lack of funding for a tunnel on the CCT. Hans Riemer opposed it too.

Transportation officials have released draft designs for the project, which would run underneath Wisconsin Avenue and link the trail with downtown Bethesda.

Riemer called the tunnel a “huge project” related to the success of the Purple Line. Advocates say it would provide a direct route to the Bethesda station for pedestrians and cyclists, who would otherwise be forced to cross a busy arterial road.

As I understand it, this does not mean there will no tunnel, nor does it mean there will no spending on the tunnel. It's a proposed budget and even if Council agrees to it, they aren't saying they will never build it, but any delay means the tunnel won't be available when the new tunnel opens. Nonetheless, this is an unwelcome turn of events. 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) has included no money in his capital budget proposal for the county’s long-promised plan to build a tunnel to carry cyclists and runners on the Capital Crescent Trail beneath busy Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda.

County officials say the project’s construction costs have ballooned, making it too expensive to include in a tight budget.

When the CCT first opened, the trail ended where it does now in Bethesda because the Air Rights Tunnel was off limits. It took a couple of years and some active advocacy to open in 1998. It had always been the plan to run both the Purple Line and the new CCT through the existing tunnel, but in 2011 the county performed an engineering review that showed that it would be too costly and they made plans to drop the trail tunnel. Because the tunnel would have to be drastically modified to make room for both the tunnel and the trail, adding the trail through the tunnel would cost about $50 million. 

It was determined that knocking down the Apex building above the tunnel and building a new building and tunnel would be a better solution and so, after lengthy negotiations, that's what they did.  The new Apex Building will include a tunnel and station for the Purple Line and another tunnel and bike room for the trail. 

image from washcycle.typepad.com

In order to avoid the problems with the tunnel beneath the Air Rights Building, the trail tunnel was to be redirected, as can be seen above, underneath Wisconsin Avenue and the buildings that stand along Elm Street to the east of Wisconsin. That's the part the county is supposed to build and is that Elrich is not budgeting money for. 

A little over 2 years ago, the estimated cost of the County-portion of the tunnel was $15 million to $30 million and that was still the number they were pointing to a few months later when they came out with three preliminary design options.

image from washcycle.typepad.com

But they now report that the cost has continued to rise.

County spokesman Neil Greenberger said funding for the tunnel was not included in the capital improvement plan Elrich announced this week.

“The scope of the project changed as it was further studied,” said Greenberger. “It needed to be a longer tunnel than originally believed, and that boosted the cost significantly.”

Greenberger said funding for the project “could be added in the future, and we will continue to study alternative ways to build it at a more reasonable cost.”

Without funding, progress on the tunnel would be delayed, disappointing bicycle advocates who say the feature has been promised for years.

Now, ironically, they're back at the $50 million price tag that started this whole Apex building drama.

But county officials say early design work put the projected construction cost at more than $50 million — far more than the $25 million initially anticipated — in part because the tunnel would have to be longer than expected because of the constraints of surrounding streets.

“We were not prepared for all these costs when the project was discussed,” said county spokesman Neil Greenberger. “There’s no money in this [capital budget], but we’re aware of it and aware of its importance to the community. We can do it later.”

Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said he will try to put the money in the budget but would need to find other projects to cut.

Requiring trail users to cross Wisconsin at a light, Riemer said, “is sort of like putting a stoplight on the Beltway. We just don’t want to create that kind of disruption if we can avoid it.”

I don't know how to look at that as anything other than a complete screw-up. They misjudged the length of the tunnel by 100%, and they went down a path that involved delaying the project and knocking down a building to wind up right where they were before - needing $50 million to keep the trail beneath Wisconsin Avenue (admittedly, the Apex Building rebuild had other advantages). How did they make such egregious miscalculations?

But I'm also a bit skeptical. Did they really misjudge the length of the tunnel they'd need? In this drawing from 2013 it looks pretty much the same (although it is cut off). 

Oddly enough, if they'd just gone with the "no-trail" option from the beginning, at least there would be pedestrian path for the CCT.

image from ggwash.org

If you want to learn more, MCDOT is having a meeting on the trail tonight at 7pm at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School all purpose room/cafeteria. Maybe they'll explain how this happened. 

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation will present the Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel project and obtain feedback. For those who cannot attend but want to watch the meeting, there will be a live webcast at this address: https://montgomerycounty.adobeconnect.com/capitalcrescenttrail

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