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Councilmembers Want Smaller, Slower ‘Urban Streets’

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 1/8/2014, 3:25pm  ET

Intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard, which will be realigned. North-south Old Georgetown Road juts east to Rockville Pike at this point.County Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer last month introduced a bill that would limit the width of streets and set lower speed limits in urban and redeveloping areas.

Berliner, some residents and the developer building Pike & Rose were not happy with the county Department of Transportation’s initial plans for Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda. The area was envisioned as a pedestrian and bicyclist haven under the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.

But the struggle for a narrower Old Georgetown Road, which also involves the State Highway Administration, has shown it won’t be easy to transform the area of strip malls, parking lots and major thoroughfares into an area inviting to pedestrians.

The bill would limit the width of travel lanes and many turning lanes to 10 feet in urban areas. Each parking lane on an urban road would be limited to eight feet. Target speeds, which are typically the same as the posted speed limit, would be reduced to 25 miles per hour.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation revealed preliminary designs last year of a revamped Old Georgetown Road from Executive Boulevard to Rockville Pike. The entire road network in that area is set to undergo changes as part of a new street grid prescribed in the White Flint Sector Plan.

MCDOT proposed a 40 mph speed limit along six-lane Old Georgetown. That immediately concerned Sector Plan supporters and developer Federal Realty Investment Trust, which is building retail facing the road in its Pike & Rose project.

“We are quite sensitive to the Sector Plan’s vision and want to provide an environment that will be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and encouraging people to get out of their vehicles,” MCDOT Engineering chief Bruce Johnston told stakeholders at a June meeting. “We’re modifying the road code standard, trying to incorporate that vision. …The [State Highway Administration] staff we work with has authority to trump us.”

And the priorities for both the county and state agencies are more focused on moving as many cars through the area as possible.

With the bill, Berliner and Riemer hope to revise those standards. A public hearing on the measure is scheduled for Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Council Office Building in Rockville.