Bridge debate delays finalization of library plan
County Council to launch public process to amend Urban Renewal Plan
If a 10-year-old revitalization plan drafted for Silver Spring is amended to permit a pedestrian bridge above Wayne Avenue, the Montgomery County Council is likely to approve the proposed span connecting the Wayne parking garage to the Silver Spring Library.
The council will now launch a public amendment process to the 1999 Silver Spring Urban Renewal Plan, which prohibits pedestrian bridges above certain streets in downtown Silver Spring. A pedestrian bridge is included in the council-approved design for the library to ensure safe access for children, seniors and the disabled.
If the plan is amended and the bridge approved, it would be against recommendations from some residents and the county's Planning Department.
The bridge would connect the fourth level of the Wayne Avenue garage to the third level of the library, planned for the corner of Wayne and Fenton Street, with handicap parking near the bridge entrance.
In a Thursday meeting of the council's Health and Human Services Committee, county officials held a lengthy debate on whether sufficient disabled parking and access to the library could be provided without the bridge, which could cost the county an estimated $684,000.
Officials arguing in favor of the bridge said it would satisfy vulnerable populations at a heavily-trafficked intersection. Of the 1.1 million annual visitors expected for the library, more than half will be children, seniors or disabled, according to county statistics.
The Purple Line is expected to be built through the site, which would move the crosswalk at Wayne and Fenton closer to the Wayne garage. Planning officials said those changes would allow the necessary access to the library at no cost.
Additionally, a pedestrian bridge would take people off the streets and be a detriment to nearby businesses, they said.
"Some people will use the garage, some people will walk. … Whether the Purple Line is there or not you need to get people across," said John Carter, Park and Planning's chief of urban design and special projects.
The crosswalk at Wayne and Fenton could also have a median and a cross signal favorable to pedestrians, Carter said.
Some county officials, including councilmembers in attendance, said those intersection improvements should be implemented anyway, in addition to the pedestrian bridge.
"We have set this up as mutually exclusive options but they are not," said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center. "… We can't wait for the Purple Line to come in to make improvements because who knows how long that will be."
Carter said the handicap parking lost by not adding a pedestrian bridge could be provided in the underground parking garage that will serve a 10-story apartment building also built on the site.
To meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, eight spaces would be needed and more would likely be required because the new library will be the site of county's Disability Resource Center. Stith said if there were no pedestrian bridge, each additional underground parking space costs $60,000, making the spaces to meet ADA requirements nearly as costly as the pedestrian bridge itself.
The public can testify during the amendment process to the urban renewal plan, a public hearing for which should be held in at least one month.
In a Feb. 5 community meeting to discuss the pedestrian bridge, residents were mostly split on whether to include one for the library. The Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board took an informal poll in its monthly meeting last week and the majority of members opposed a bridge.