Saturday, December 19, 2015

A small change you can hardly notice

Sometimes you don't notice the little things, small, subtle changes that can pass you by without you even realizing it.   Here is one of those things.  Before Capital One Bank bought Chevy Chase bank, the name above the door said "Chevy Chase Bank",  For a long time after, even when Capital One changed the name of the branches, the sign remained.  At some point, without me noticing, they changed the sign above the door to read "Chevy Chase Trust"  Anyone know when this happened?

I dug through my old pictures and came across this one from 2008 which has the old name on it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

December Rock Spring planning meeting

 Last night there was another Rock Spring planning meeting at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

The start of the meeting was a quick recap of what was covered at prior Rock Spring planning meetings, possible future development in the area, and a review of the recomendations of the Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel (ULI TAP) which looked at the high office vacancy rate in the Rock Spring and White Flint 2/Executive Boulevard areas.  After that there was a presentation on planning ideas for Rock Spring, Breakout sessions where people at the meeting could talk with planners, and finally, report outs from each of the breakout sessions.

Possible Future plans

 Since the last planning meeting, the planning board met with several property owners to discuss their plans for possible future development.  These plans include:
  • Montgomery Mall: Possible expansion of anchor tenant and expansion of a parking garage.
  • Wildwood Medical site: Recieved special exception in 2012 for a 5 story residential building and has applied to amend that approval to increase the height of the building.
  • Wildwood shopping Center: Proposing an addition at the end of the shopping center building.

ULI TAP presentation

The planning department requested the Urban Land Institutes (ULI) assistance to look at the office vacancy in Rock Spring and White Flint 2/Executive Boulevard.  They only focused within the boundaries of Rock Spring, they weren't looking holistically at the area and were looking for ways to decrease the office vacancy rate by changes to the areas
  • Identity
  • Connectivity
  • Amenity
  • Land Use

The full presentation that resulted from the ULI TAP workshop is available on the planning website.  The parts related to Rock Spring are on pages 54-69 of the powerpoint (which is actually a PDF)

Rock Spring Plan

Mike Bello (the planning departments lead urban designer) then gave a presentation on the status of the rock spring plan and ideas they are considering.

Major community issues

  •  Lack of Access to White Flint or Grosvenor Metro stations
  •  Safety concerns crossign Old Georgetown Rd
  •  Too much congestion at intersections
  •  More schools
  •  Larger library
  •  Safety issues crossing Democracy and Fernwood
  •  More open space and recreation
  •  Better trails and walking paths
  •  Improve access to the mall
  •  Lack of walkability

 Creating a Spine

Mike brought forward the idea of "creating a spine" of rock spring running from the mall, across the bridge, down Fernwood road, then down Rock Spring drive, along the proposed BRT route.

Streetscapes and streetscape comparisons

Mike went over the current profile of the various major roads in the Rock Spring area, then showed how some similarly sized roads in other parts of the county were laid out.  The above picture compares Rock Spring Drive to Redland Boulevard.  Both are roads with two lanes in each direction.


 One thing I have learned is that planners are obsessed with adding the word "shed" after everything.  Watershed and Viewshed I had heard before, but Walkshed was new to me.  It includes all the area that are within a ten minute walk of a place.  The goal is to increase the number of places that you can reasonably walk to (increase the walkshed) by improving pedestrain connectivity options.  (I suppose this means there is the term "bikeshed" and it doesn't mean a place you store bikes.)

Breakout groups

After the presention, there were breakout sessions so those in attendance could talk tot he planning department on areas of interest.  The meeting closed with each of the four groups reporting out what they talked about.

Next Meeting

The next Rock Spring Master Plan Meeting will be 7pm  January 28, 2016 at Walter Johnson High School.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Is it Spring already?

The warm weather recently has been pleasant, if uncharacteristic for this time of year.  It has succeeded in confusing not just people, but trees too.  I was driving on Little Falls Parkway on Sunday, and right at the corner of it and Dorset Avenue were about half a dozen cherry trees blossoming!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

New York City day trip

Last weekend I took a day trip to New York City to see the sights.  I saw the WTC memorial site, the Statue of Liberty, and Times Square.  You can take the bus from Bethesda in the morning, spend 6 or 7 hours in NYC, then get back to Bethesda, all in the same day.  Both Vamoose Bus and Tripper Bus make these runs.

Make sure you plan what you want to see and how you are going to get there before you go, you will probably want to take the subway once or twice to quickly get you from one spot to another.

WTC memorial North pool

The morning sun illuminates one wall of water at the North Pool of the WTC memorial

WTC memorial South pool

Survivor Tree: This tree was originally planted in the WTC complex.  After the attack it was temporarily moved, then planted here once the memorial site was constructed.

WTC 1 from Battery Park
 There are a few ways to see the Statue of Liberty.  The park service contracts a ferry operator to take people to the island where you can walk around (it also goes to Ellis Island), and several other private ferry operators run tours that circle the island (but don't stop at it).  If you don't mind just seeing the statue from the water, the private ferry tours are much faster.  To actually get on the island you have to go through airport-style security with a long line, then the ferry itself has one of the slowest boarding processes imaginable.  The boat holds about 800 people and there is a single entrance to the boat that you are going through that only one to two people across fit through.  Between coming and going to the islands, expect to spend well over an hour waiting in lines.
The main building on Ellis Island

The statue of liberty

The statue of liberty

Manhattan Island

Times Square area

Times Square

Monday, November 23, 2015

Concept Plan for the WMAL field development

Toll Brothers has submitted their concept plan for the WMAL property showing the roads and other amenities.

Plan Variant 1, without 5 acre public use set-aside

The plan calls for 328 dwelling units, a mix of 40% townhouses, duplexes, and 60% single family detached houses.  There will be 4.39 houses per acre and each house will have parking for 2 cars.  The plan follows a "loosely curvilinear grid" pattern of interconnected streets and pedestrian green spaces.

The property will connect to Greentree road in two places and also to Greyswood road.  It will be possible to drive from Greentree to Greyswood, but it won't be a straight shot, you have to take a turn and loop a bit.  The plan is for the roads to remain private roads and not turned over to the county.  One thing this allows for is for houses to be as close as 10 feet from the road instead of the 25 feet required for county roads.  Preliminary traffic studies indicate that three intersections will require improvements.

Walking trails proposed for the property

The majority of the trees on both the north and south side of the property will be preserved.  There will also be a network of trails that go through the trees as well as through the other greenspaces in the property.  The trails will connect with both Renita Lane and Derbyshire Lane.  Overall, a little less than 30% of the site will be available for recreation and open space.

Other amenity include a dog park that will be open to the public and a new noise barrier along I-495, they note that one may be required along the I-270 spur as well.  The part of the field by Derbyshire Court that gets muddy in the spring is marked as a "Stream Valley Buffer".

Plan variant 2 showing a 5 acre public use set-aside
 They actually submitted two variations on the plan, Plan 1, which has the full 328 units, and plan 2 which includes a 5 acre Public Use Reservation that covers the area around the WMAL transmitter building.  That plan only has 308 units and a single road connecting to Greentree.  This 5 acre reservation would be held for three years to allow for the county to purchase it at market value.  If the county doesn't, the area will be built with 20 houses (so it will match plan 1.)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rock Spring master plan update

I went to the Rock Spring Master Plan community update meeting last night to find out how the planning was progressing.  They split the meeting into three parts.  First there was a summary of prior meetings, then there were two staff presentations, one on an economic overview of the Rock Spring area and one on Placemaking, finally there were presentations by three developers in the master plan area.  After the structured part of the meeting there was an opportunity to talk one-on-one with the planners.

Economic Overview notes

In the Rock spring plan area (which includes Montgomery Mall and Wildwood shopping center) the top employers are (in order) Lockheed, Marriott, NIH, and Nordstrom.  The top three employers account for 62% of non-retail jobs in the plan area, so if any one of them moved away it would be a significant loss of jobs.  The area has 1.8 billion dollars in payroll and accounts for half of the corporate management jobs in Montgomery County.  It also has 3 of the 4 Fortune 500 companies that are in Maryland (Lockheed #64, Marriott #221,  and Host Hotels and Resorts #485).  There is currently 5.5 million square feet of office space

Placemaking notes

Placemaking is one of the currently popular buzzwords.  It means making an area appealing to people so they want to go there.  It encompasses everything from having a destination that draws people to having appealing sidewalks, to buildings at a "human scale" to bike lanes.  The focus on the rock spring area seems to be better walkways such as having sidewalks set back from the road by several feet with trees and greenspace, having buildings closer to the road (many parts of Rock Spring have them set back by up to 150 feet) and having chairs that can be moved (that last one came up several times during the presentation)

My thoughts on the meeting

They are spending a lot of time trying to make the different aspects of the Rock Spring area work together, but don't seem to be addressing how it fits into the larger community.  What can they do to not make area traffic worse, or even better, is there anything they can do to improve area traffic? Montgomery Mall has approval to build another 400,000 square feet of retail, how will people get to and from the mall?  If they add thousands of housing units to the area, how will those people get to the metro station or to downtown Bethesda? How will the bike lanes in Rock Spring connect to the rest of the bicycle network (such as the nearby Bethesda Trolley Trail). 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

White Flint 2 sector plan meeting today

If you are interested in what the county has in store for the land to the west of the white flint area (Called White Flint 2 right now), there is a community meeting scheduled for tonight, from 7 to 9 pm at the Luxmanor Elementary school, 6201 Tilden Lane.

Here is some information from the White Flint 2 sector plan page:

 Residents, business owners, community groups, and other interested stakeholders are invited to examine and discuss various plan elements including: land use and density; connectivity; public facilities; and open spaces. County Planners will facilitate focused discussions about these topics and work with participants to begin to prioritize a variety of issues within the Sector Plan area.

 The White Flint 2 Sector Plan area covers approximately 290 acres in a horseshoe shape on either side of Rockville Pike (MD 355). The plan area includes office buildings along Executive Boulevard, west of Hoya Street; Montrose Crossing Shopping Center and Pike Center along Rockville Pike; light-industrial and commercial properties along Parklawn Drive, south of Randolph Road; office uses along Executive Boulevard; and Randolph Hills Shopping Center and other light-industrial uses along Parklawn Drive.


  • What level of new development can the transportation network support?
  • How should Rockville Pike (MD 355) between the city and County be coordinated and designed?
  • What transportation policies should be introduced or amended?
  • Should the White Flint Special Tax District encompass White Flint Phase 2?
  • How can uses on both sides of the MARC station and CSX tracks be integrated?
  • What is the role of the proposed MARC station and how should nearby properties outside of White Flint Phase I develop?
Also note that this plan area feeds into the Walter Johnson Cluster and portions of it are currently in the Ashburton school district.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Aggressive Owl in Bethesda

I didn't see the owl, but apparently there is an aggressive owl living near the Capital Crescent Trail between River Road and Dorset Avenue that comes out in the mornings and evenings and it doesn't like people.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Schools and Planning

Last night at Walter Johnson High School there was a joint meeting with the Montgomery County planning department and the schools to discuss planning and the schools issues.  They unfortunately didn't come with any solutions to the crowding in our schools, but they did provide useful information about how they do capacity planning for schools and what the current state of the Walter Johnson cluster is.

Bruce Crispell talks about facility planning in the Walter Johnson Cluster
 The first presentation about the schools came from Bruce Crispell, the directory of the Long-range Planning division of MCPS.  He showed slides on the trends in cluster enrollment growth, current plans for adding capacity to existing schools, and cluster enrollment projections for the next five years.

This slide shows the elementary school enrollment from 2007 to 2015.  Overall there has been significant growth with Ashburton Elementary school the largest (918 students) and still growing.  Garret Park is also growing rapidly and is now the second largest elementary school in the  cluster with 807 children enrolled.

Student generation rate by housing type, southwest area of Montgomery county

The school system has calculated how many students will be enrolled in the schools for each type of housing unit.  It ranges from a high of 0.323 for single-family detatched houses in elementary school to a low of 0.017 for high-rises (5 or more floors) in Middle school.

Pamela Dunn talks about the Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP)
 The Subdivision Staging Policy section of the presentation was presented by Pamela Dunn, the acting chief of the functional planning & Policy division in the planning department. This policy is reviewed every four years (next review period starts in October) and is a critical part of the planning process since it defines what it means to have adequate capacity in the schools, when schools are overcrowded enough that developers have to pay into the school system, and when schools are so overcrowded that there should be a development moratorium.

She talked about how after 2008 they changed how the calculate the student generation rate of new housing to use actual MCPS student addresses matched to structure type information (Single family detached, single family attached, Mid-rise multifamily, and High-rise multifamily).

After the presentation, they had tables set up where people could ask questions about specific parts of the process.  The one related to the public schools was the most crowded, but they also had a table for the Rock Spring development, the White Flint 2 development, and the road and school capacity planning (The Subdivision Staging Policy).  The public schools table was by far the most popular.

This meeting was much more informative than the Rock Spring planning meeting, but, the final result is that they still don't have a plan for handling the students coming from the high density infill development they are proposing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Is BikeShare worth it

The Montgomery County Planning board recently released a pdf presentation on the state of bicycling in Montgomery County.  Part of it talks about BikeShare (starting on page 33).

I've had a few questions about bike share, primarily, how much is it costing taxpayers, is anybody using it, and is it worth it?  This presentation answers some of those questions.

First, some basics.  There are 51 bikeshare stations in Montgomery County, MD in Tacoma Park, Bethesda, Silver Spring, Friendship Heights, Rockville, and Shady Grove.  The first 14 opened in September of 2013.

Bikeshare got its initial funding from a variety of sources, a $1 million state transportation grant, a $250,000 state bond and a $200,000 commitment from the Chevy Chase Land Company, a private developer, and $140,000 in developer payments to Montgomery County (see this article).  Montgomery County spent 3.78 million dollars in 2014 (the first full year of operation) and has budgeted 1.6 million dollars in 2016 for Bikeshare.  A significant portion of the 2014 cost of bikeshare were one time costs associated with buying docking stations.

Most bikeshare stations are located on public property so there are no dollar costs associated with the land the stations are on, but there are opportunity costs.

2014 was the first full year of operation for BikeShare in Montgomery county.  September was the month with the most trips and it had under 6,000 trips for the entire month.  That works out to under 200 trips per day across the whole county bikeshare network in the busiest month. The least busy month was January which saw around 1,000 trips, or about 33 trips a day (less than one per bikeshare station on average).

The bikeshare station at Bethesda Metro.  This is the most used station in the network. More trips originate here than any other station.
The busiest station in the network was the one at Bethesda Metro, with 11.3 trips originating there per day on average.  Friendship heights metro came in a distant second with 6.5 trips a day originating there.

They don't give the total number of trips for 2014, but they do give the 10 most popular trips and the percentage of total trips they were.  If you add up all the trips that make the 10 most popular (10,543) and divide by the percentage of trips those account for (25.8)  You will see that each percentage point is approximately 408 trips, so that means in 2014 there were somewhere around 41,000 trips.  If we take the $1,600,000 budget for 2016 and divide by the 41,000 trips, you find the county spends about $39 per trip. (I used 2016 budget instead of 2014 actuals since there were still significant startup costs in 2014, If I had used 2014 actuals it would have been $2,530,000/41,000 or $61 per trip see this page and change the "spent total in FY 2014" to "the calendar year 2014")
Bikeshare station at Old Georgetown Rd and Southwick St in Bethesda, MD near NIH and Suburban Hospital

So to summarize.  The most popular station sees less than 12 trips a day starting there.  Each trip in the system is subsidized by about $39 in county funds, and we lose the use of the land the stations are on.  Is it worth it? Or are there other transportation initiatives that the county that would make better use of the millions of dollars the county spends on Bikeshare?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Montgomery Row construction

 Montgomery Row is the name of a new townhouse development in the Rock Spring area of Bethesda that promises "New Townhomes with rooftop terraces from the $700s". The development will consist of 168 townhouses.

 Site work is just starting with the site being leveled in preperation for building.
These townhouses will be in the Ashburton ES/North Bethesda MS/Walter Johnson HS school districts.
On Fernwood Road, coming over the I-270 bridge.
Rock Spring Drive

The corner of Fernwood Road and Rockledge Drive

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Seeing the forest for the trees

 I went to see the status of the new townhouses in the Rock Spring area of Bethesda when I ran across this very unusual "Forest Retention Area".  What is unusual about it is not that there is one near construction, but that there is only a single tree in this "forest".

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Rock Spring Master Plan kickoff meeting

Last night the Montgomery County planning department held the kickoff meeting for updating the Rock Spring master plan.  This is the area bounded by Democracy Blvd on the south, I-270 on the north, the I-270 spur on the west and Old Georgetown Road on the east. (It also includes the Montgomery Mall area and Wildwood shopping center.)  The meeting was held at Walter Johnson High school.

The first part of the meeting was a powerpoint presentation by Don Zeigler (at the podium in the above picture) giving the current state of the rock spring area that summarized what companies and jobs were there, where the people who work there live, the makeup of the neighboring area, the challenges the area faces, then going into some potential land uses.

The main challenges the planning department sees with the current land use is:
  • Lack of identity
  • Lack of pedestrian and bike amenities
  • Connectivity; I-270 as a barrier
  • High office vacancy rate (18.7%) with county trends suggesting the vacancy rate will increase.
  • Single-use, auto-oriented office parks are losing their appeal.

The purpose of the new plan will be:
  • To reinvent the typical suburban office park
  • Improve connectivity
  • Identify places for public use spaces
  • Introduce residentail into predominately non-residential development
  • Plan sustainable environmental measures.
  • Build a community!
The powerpoint should be posted on the Montgomery Planning Rock Spring website in the next few days.

The next segment of the meeting was a question and answer session.  This session was dominated by residents concerned about school overcrowding that would be made worse by additional residential development in the Walter Johnson cluster.  Glen Kreger (Area 2 Chief) said that Education is so important that there will be a special meeting just for that on September 17th.  However, it apparently wasn't important enough to bring anyone with them that could answer any questions about the schools.

The third portion of the night was dedicated to small group breakouts where tables of 10 to 12 people got together to discuss what they like about the Rock Spring area, What they don't like about the area, and what they would like to see in that area.

Following the breakouts, each group reported to the whole room what they talked about.  Every group put schools as the number one issue, other major themes were traffic/transit, retail and grocery stores, as well as recreation opportunities and the environment.

Upcoming meetings related to this project are the Joint White Flint II and Rock Spring Master Plans School Meeting at WJ on September 17th, the Bicycle Master Plan Meeting at WJ  on October 6th, and the Rock Spring Master Plan Scope of Work on October 8th at the Montgomery County Planning Board.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Re-paving Bethesda Avenue

I was out walking through Bethesda this morning and saw that they are repaving Bethesda Avenue and the intersection with Norfolk Avenue.  You could turn left (east) onto Bethesda Avenue from Norfolk, but you couldn't turn right.  You also couldn't turn onto Bethesda Ave from Wisconsin Avenue.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Adams Canyon Falls, Kaysville, Utah

Adam's Canyon is about half an hour north of Salt Lake City, it is an out-and-back hike to a waterfall.  The trail is steep the whole way, the first part is up a sandy hill with switchbacks and no shade.  There are also some places near the beginning where the trail splits and it is hard to tell which way goes to the falls.  When in doubt take the trail to the right that is going up the hill.

As you start up the hill you can look over the valley at the suburbs and trees, with the salt falt and edge of the Great Salt Lake in the distance.

The area transitions to light scrub, giving occasionall shade, then later, a bit larger trees, but it never gets to what I would call a forest.  At the end of the trail is a 40 foot high waterfall.

Since the trail is so steep, it takes longer than you would expect given that it is less than 2 miles to the falls.  I started thinking I was almost there when there was still about a quarter of the hike left.

I went in late July, and the falls is pretty far up the canyon, so I wasn't expecting much water in the stream.  This year, Utah had a dry winter, but a wet spring, so my experience may not be typical.  However,  I was surprised by the amount of water flowing over the falls.

The hike was popular and I saw a lot of people on the way up.  At the falls people took a break and played in teh water.

After the long, hot hike up (it was 103 degrees the day I went) the falling water created a welcome cooling breeze.

The start of the trail is at a gravel parking lot off in the corner.