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September 21, 2012 Mr. Art Holmes, Director Montgomery County Department of Transportation 101 Monroe Street Rockville, MD 20850 Dear Mr. Holmes, Enclosed you will find a letter from Mr. Shane Farthing, Executive Director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, regarding the Wisconsin Avenue - Capital Crescent Trail crossing in Bethesda. You will recall that it was with deep regret that our Council endorsed a plan for the Capital Crescent Trail to cross Wisconsin Avenue at an at-grade, surface crossing. I personally concluded this was a sound decision because the cost of taking the Trail through the tunnel, estimated at $50.9 million, was simply too costly; and because we learned that the structural integrity of the Air Rights Building under which the tunnel passes may be inadequate to accommodate construction of the Trail, causing great risk to Trail users and to the County. Given that Trail users would now have to cross Wisconsin Avenue at grade, instead of through the tunnel, I encouraged the Department of Transportation to take the surface crossing very seriously: that Trail users deserved nothing short of the "gold standard" design. I am grateful that, consistent with my request, you have convened a group of Trail stakeholders to advise your staff on the design of the crossing. You have a talented, skilled staff and I have no doubt that each member of the stakeholders group aims to create a safe, efficient, and usable trail crossing. However, I do share the concerns voiced by Mr. Farthing in his September 17 letter. I believe that we can and must not only meet – but thoroughly exceed – the minimum standards set forth by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. This trail is one of the most-used in the country, with 23,000 daily uses measured in Bethesda in 2006. This is not a time when simply aspiring to the minimum standard will suffice. We must think creatively, employing the latest in nation-wide best practices, to accommodate the complexities of this heavily-used crossing. If achieving that requires that you bring in someone with a more specialized expertise in urban trail design, I ask that you move quickly to put that person in place so that the stakeholders group may benefit from a broader array of skill sets to design a crossing that is truly the "gold standard." Please let me know if I can be of any assistance in this effort, and thank you for your attention to this critical piece of infrastructure. Sincerely,
Roger Berliner Council President District 1 Enclosure
September 17, 2012 Montgomery County Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment (T&E) Committee 100 Maryland Avenue Rockville, MD 20850 RE: Capital Crescent Trail Surface Crossing of Wisconsin Avenue
Dear Chairman Berliner and the Members of the Committee: I am writing several days after participating in the first meeting of the Capital Crescent Surface Trail Taskforce to once again ask for your leadership and support in ensuring that the CCT crossing of Wisconsin Avenue is designed and built to a standard commensurate with its standing as one of the nation’s most important and well-used transportation and recreation trails. While I appreciate the breadth of expertise and the number of stakeholders and County staff at the meeting, I remain concerned that the most vital expertise was absent: urban trail planning. Currently, the County employs neither a trail planner nor a bike coordinator. So while I do not doubt the good intentions of the members of this stakeholder group to design and build a gold-standard trail, the members of this group—myself included—lack the technical training and expertise to remake such an important trail to serve a multitude of user-types while integrating into an urban context. It is no insult to suggest that major infrastructure projects be left to the professionals with the training to complete them. In the first Taskforce meeting I asked that MCDOT reach out to professional trail designers (1) to ensure that the goals of the Council and the stakeholders could be appropriately translated into a design that meets those goals, and (2) to ensure that the group’s vision of a “gold standard” trail—which Chairman Berliner and others on this Committee have called for—is, in fact, reflective of best practices from recent urban trail projects undertaken nationally and internationally. I am concerned when hearing statements in the taskforce meeting that the County will “aspire” to meet minimum trail standards adopted by AASHTO, or that county staff “don’t want commuters traveling at speed” along the trail route. The AASHTO standards related to design and width set a bare minimum. No “gold standard” trail should aspire to the minimum. A true gold standard trail should look to NACTO standards, exceed AASHTO standards, and be planned with an aspiration to create a prized public space that meets the needs of a variety of users. This is the Capital Crescent Trail, where a million people per year travel—many as part of their daily commute. The option to keep commuting cyclists traveling at higher speeds separate from other users near parks and along the at-grade route was foreclosed when Council chose not to keep the trail in the tunnel. Now, the County must design for the ramifications of that decision. To design without commuters in mind along one of the nation’s top commuter trails is to be blind to the reality of the facility, and will inevitably result in safety conflicts among users.
It is time to face the magnitude of the design challenge before us, and take steps to address it. The $1M allocated in the CIP for this project was set before Council approved the displacement of the trail from the tunnel. Now, the onetime “surface alternative” must be bolstered and designed as a safe, attractive, functional trail for all users, including commuting cyclists. Recognizing this change in the project’s scope, Council must make more resources available for design and construction. The input of stakeholders and user groups on the design of the trail is an excellent start to ensure that no viewpoint is left out. But the input of stakeholders is not a substitute for the professional expertise of experienced trail designers, planners, and engineers capable of solving a very difficult puzzle fitting a heavily-used trail across a heavily-used roadway while maintaining the utility and efficiency of both transportation components. I trust that this Committee knew that its decision regarding the tunnel created a more difficult design challenge for the at-grade crossing and that meeting this challenge that would require more expertise and more funding than previously considered. WABA testified to those points at the time. Now is the time to ensure that the additional resources are brought to the table. I hope that next time the stakeholder team meets we will have the added support of an experienced trail design team with a background in urban best practices, as well as an understanding that the $1M budget looming over the project was set for a fundamentally different project. The loss of the grade-separated primary trail crossing has made the design and construction of this surface trail much more difficult and important. Fortunately, it has also generated a savings of over $40M—a portion of which can and should be used to ensure that this Council and County residents get the “gold standard” trail they have had, and have been promised. Sincerely,
Shane Farthing Executive Director
Keith Laughlin, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Ron Tripp, Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail