Board split on plans for library pedestrian bridge
Committee to discuss options again before County Council votes
Befitting of the divisive nature of the project, the Montgomery County Planning Board split its vote last week on an amendment to allow a pedestrian bridge over Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring that would link a parking garage with a proposed library.
The roughly $750,000 bridge is the last detail of the design for the library site at Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the County Council's Health and Human Services committee want a bridge, but county planners recommended against it. The HHS committee will again discuss the pedestrian bridge before consideration by the full County Council.
Citizens groups have been mostly split on the idea of a bridge – the Silver Spring Friends of the Library prefer one, while the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board does not.
Nine community meetings were held last fall to determine the design for the site, which will place a six-story, 64,000-square-foot library, including a level of office space and an art center, along Wayne Avenue and Fenton Street. A 10-story, 146-unit apartment complex is planned on Bonifant Street.
Proponents of the bridge, which would connect the fourth level of the library with the third level of the Wayne Avenue garage, say it would allow disabled, elderly and young library users to avoid crossing the Wayne/Fenton intersection from either the Wayne Avenue garage or downtown Silver Spring.
Under the county's proposal, there would be dedicated library parking spots and disabled parking spaces near the bridge entrance. The library will contain a disability resource center.
"One of the concerns we heard the most is the lack of parking at the library site," said Becky Reeve, of the Silver Spring Friends of the Library, in her testimony before the board on Thursday. "As the best option for parking is the Wayne Avenue garage, it's imperative to have safe, easy access to the garage."
Just hours before the hearing, Planning Board Director Rollin Stanley rode in a car with a driver and shot a video of traffic patterns in the Wayne Avenue garage, where he and the driver struggled to find a parking space and were nearly hit by drivers.
Stanley said the bridge would be a waste of money and suggested using the money that would fund a bridge to improve the intersection of Wayne and Fenton. He said it isn't any safer or faster for elderly library visitors to use the garage than the Wayne/Fenton intersection. And he added a bridge would take away from street activity downtown.
"That's the distance you are saving for a minimum of $750,000," Stanley told the board.
Planners suggested several parking spaces for the disabled be located on the residential portion of the library site, which won't be developed until after the library. Drop-off areas and limited above ground parking spaces would be located at the library building, with additional parking on Bonifant Street, adjacent to the library site.
That scenario could eliminate part of the art center planned for the first floor of the building and could lead to Purple Line riders parking at library spaces, county officials said. The library is a proposed site for the Purple Line.
The Silver Spring Central Business District's Urban Renewal Plan from 1999 prohibits a pedestrian bridge over Wayne, which would divert street-level pedestrian traffic from storefronts. The County Council has the final say on whether to amend the plan to allow a bridge over Wayne.
Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson sided with planners, questioning the cost-effectiveness of the pedestrian bridge over the long-term and suggesting on-site disabled parking. Board member Joseph Alfandre said the bridge would give people incentive to drive to the library instead of walking or using nearby public transportation.
"If you have a parking spot reserved for you in this county, you drive to it," Alfandre said, calling the pedestrian bridge debate a "classic Montgomery County conundrum."
Board member Amy Presley was absent.
The pedestrian bridge would have no effect on street activity because downtown Silver Spring is already a destination shopping area, said board vice chairman John Robinson, who suggested adding dedicated library parking on the first floor of the garage.
"I'm not sure I can look at the county executive and say, You shouldn't spend an extra $700,000 when you have support from the community,'" Robinson said.
Board member Jean Cryor even began to question why the library is planned for the Wayne/Fenton intersection in the first place.
"Why would anyone think it would be a good idea to put a library on a street where you can't park?" said Cryor, who voted in favor of an amendment.