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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Imagine Rockville Pike

In high school, I spent a lot of time at Silver Diner at the intersection of Rockville Pike and Montrose Road. That diner had a '50's feel to it, and though it's surrounded by hundreds of acres of parking, you feel like you're in a small town when you order a strawberry malt and a slice of pie with your high school buddies on a Friday night.

Now, that intersection is getting ridiculous expressway built beneath it. Certainly this will not help the few suicidal pedestrians that choose to walk about the Pike. Instead, it will likely promote more Ford Explorers with a sole driver idling in a left turn lane burning $4.59 a gallon waiting to turn into a giant parking lot so they can do their part for the economy.

Why is Rockville Pike just a conglomeration of strip malls and parking lots with no street life? Why isn't it more like, say, Wilson Boulevard in Arlington? Greater Greater Washington has a nice piece talking about why Arlington works and Rockville Pike does not. He argues, among other things, that the stations on the Red Line are spaced too far apart. I agree. But I think there's more to it than that, and it can perhaps be fixed without infill stations all over Rockville.

Arlington has a grid road system (albeit an irregular one) which siphons traffic along parallel thoroughfares. Rockville Pike is choked off in a couple of places, notably by the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, the Beltway/270 Spur interchange, Georgetown Prep and Holy Cross High Schools, and, most needlessly in my opinion, Woodmont Country Club. Every bit of traffic between Bethesda and Rockville is funneled down Rockville Pike. Pedestrians be damned. All the TOD around Grosvenor, White Flint, and Twinbrook stations won't turn the Red Line into the Orange Line.

So what would it look like if Rockville Pike had a bit of a grid to it? Perhaps a few centralized parking garages, a bunch of pedestrian improvements, and of course my imaginary strip of Metro rail running between Silver Spring and Twinbrook with a stop at Nicholson Lane? Maybe throw a couple decks over the trains, connect the street grid, and make Rockville a city instead of an unsightly mash of strip malls.

Once again, I remind everyone that I am not an engineer. I'm sure this would be prohibitively expensive, and MoCo NIMBYs are the worst, and would probably have some problems with this. I'm sure parts of it are impossible to engineer. But I think it's important to envision Rockville Pike as part of a network, and not the single point of traffic failure.

I imagined Rockville Pike:

(Lower)The purple indicates decks over the train tracks. The Orange indicates Metro facilities. The big change is extending Jefferson Street up through part of the Woodmont Country Club. I'm sure they can relocate those two (of their 36) holes. I opted not to place any other proposed building lots down, partly because this is a huge area, partly because parts of it are under development, and partly because I'm tired. Suffice to say many of those parking lots would cease to exist.

Would this street alignment make Rockville look more like Arlington? Perhaps. It would certainly promote walkability and reduce the number of car trips (especially if you have ever driven across a massive parking lot to get to another store in the same strip mall!) and likely decrease traffic through the area. But no, instead we're getting the Montrose Parkway and a mid-20th century wasteland between the downtowns of Rockville and Bethesda.

1 comment:

Rusty Gill said...

From a fellow geographer by education, long time Rockville resident (16 years) now removed I agree the lack of connective streets is the issue. Woodmont CC and the CSX/Metro plus I-270 to some degree serve as barriers limiting lateral east west travel. Everyone must ride the Pike and if you say go out at the wrong time you might not get back any time soon. There once were other routes and bridges most for the downtown town center but are long gone. The lack of a bridge at Randolph Rd over RxR if still there is also problematic. Hard to compare Rockville to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in NoVa as is different and yes has more parallel and interconnecting roads. Great subject right up my alley. -Rusty