Comments to Planning Board on Rockville Pike Crossing Study
Submitted by Richard Hoye, July 27, 2010
I am submitting the comments, below, on behalf of the Action Committee for Transit regarding the MD 355/Rockville Pike Crossing Study.
The MD 355/Rockville Pike Crossing Study has several serious flaws that contribute to a design and selection process prioritizing movement of automobile traffic over the needs and opportunities to provide safer and greater use of our mass transit investments at Medical Center Metro Station.
In the Purpose and Needs Summary of July 7, 2010 the "Goals and Objectives" states:
- Improve pedestrian mobility between NNMC, NIH, and Medical Center Metrorail Station facilities through improved crossing of MD 355
"Crossing" is only possible solution to Accessing the Medical Center Station and adjoining sites. By limiting the analysis to "crossing" solutions the study biases the preferred alternative to designs that do not value more direct and faster access to the passenger platform of the Medical Center Metro Station-such as a bank of high speed elevators rising up on the east side of Rockville Pike directly to the public side of the Navy entrance. This Metro station has one of the highest non-auto mode access in the Metrorail system. ACT notes that the intersection in question is Not part of the master Plan of Bikeways routes and that the present mode split between Rail and bus passengers accessing the Navy Campus is 80% rail and 20% bus. Thus, a solution that relied on elevators on the Navy side for Metrorail would result in a reduction in pedestrians using the current crosswalk at the Traffic light controlled intersection. By insisting on "crossing" as a criteria in the study process an elevator and surface crosswalk improvement design-as detailed in the WMATA Medical Center Access Study-cannot be compared against other solutions as it does not have an expensive subsurface pedestrian tunnel under Rockville Pike.
Further, the design solutions are not evaluated based on transit passenger access times. A 1/4 mile walking radius circle is laid over top the study area and assumes that all trips by different design solutions are equal. In fact, the WMATA Medical Center Access Study shows that a bank of high speed, spacious elevators on the Navy side of Rockville Pike would save passengers to/from the Navy side (including residents of East Bethesda) nearly 4 minutes of travel time.
- Improve pedestrian safety within the project area by minimizing conflicts with vehicular traffic
The goal here biases a solution favoring traffic segregation that can lead to less pedestrian safety while clearly favoring the movement of cars over safety. Nowhere does the study rank traffic flow versus various design options. Simply put, the study seeks to get pedestrians out of the way of cars even if non-rush hour traffic speeds become higher at the intersections immediately to the north and south of Medical Center, compromising safety at key pedestrian crossings-some of which are identified in the Master Plan of Bikeways.
- Improve traffic operations to and from NNMC and NIH/Medical Center Metrorail Station at the MD 355/South Wood Road/South Drive intersection
This objective is clearly driving the study. Why cannot improved safety and access within the study area for pedestrians-at a major transit hub-be studied without emphasizing traffic flow? This item is actually repeating the second objective, above.
Sub objectives include:
- Improve efficiency with which emergency and transit vehicles move between the NIH and NNMC campuses.
The estimate given by the Montgomery County Fire Department for emergency vehicle crossings at the subject intersection given in the comments to the Navy EIS is about two trips per week. This is no justification for anti-pedestrian overpasses or other grade separation designs of the intersection. Further, Montgomery County continues to use inefficient and slow transit bus routes into and out of Metrorail bus bays at transit centers through the County when many bus routes can be modified to provide safe passenger access along the streets leading past transit centers instead of across these streets and into the station proper.
Please note, I am a retired career fire fighter (25 years) from the Montgomery County Fire Department and have volunteered at the Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad since 1980. I was one of the Medic-10 crew that rescued that last remaining trapped victim of the 1982 underground Metrorail crash in DC that killed several passengers (at the same time as the Air Florida Flight 90 crash into the 14th street bridge).
I must emphasize the inadequate attention to safety issues. A key finding of the WMATA report found that the Medical Center Station is grossly deficient in it's ability to allow rail passengers to escape the platform in the event of a fire or terrorist act. Although the current study mentions the desire to provide for improved access of emergency vehicles between NIH and Navy Medical Center in preparation for a possible future act of terrorism in the Washington region, the study is silent on the unsafe conditions at this concentrated threat location. Both the Navy and NIH campuses have undergone massive and expensive investments in security upgrades. How can our governmental bodies-including the Planning Board-allow the public's money to be spent on an infrastructure project that does not address both access and this key safety issue?