Between a rock and a hard line of speeding cars, Takoma Park favors traffic restrictions
In absence of city traffic process, Takoma Park at the mercy of county planners
With the likely implementation of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation's traffic restrictions for the Sligo Park Hills neighborhood, the Takoma Park City Council will be forced to approve its own restrictions on Ritchie Avenue in an attempt to disperse traffic further.
Due to complaints from residents about dangerous cut-through traffic in Sligo Park Hills, the county's transportation department launched a traffic study about five years ago, eventually proposing a slew of traffic restrictions in that neighborhood designed to re-route traffic back onto larger arterial roads. Worried that the restrictions would instead encourage commuters to use nearby Ritchie Avenue in Takoma Park, the Ritchie Avenue Citizen's Association asked the county to include its street in the study, as well, according to county traffic engineer Khursheed Bilgrami.
"The intent of my study for Sligo Park Hills is to try to convince people to try to stay on the main streets to avoid cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets," Bilgrami said when reached for comment Tuesday, adding that, without city restrictions on Ritchie, commuters could very well use that route.
"Other than Ritchie, [commuters] will not use other neighborhood streets, because the streets that are on the south side of the Sligo Park Hills neighborhood are too narrow," he added. "People might use them once, but probably not again. They may as well stay on Philadelphia Avenue."
Now, with the Sligo Park Hills restrictions nearing installationin about 90 days, pending approval from a majority of households in that neighborhoodcity council members, including Colleen Clay (Ward 2), fear that Bilgrami may be mistaken and that restrictions on Ritchie will only divert cut-through traffic to adjacent neighborhoods instead of arterial roads like Philadelphia Avenue and Piney Branch Road.
"The end result is it's just going to move the traffic one street over, which is onto Larch [Avenue]," she argued during the city's council meeting Monday night. "I don't want to see us turn around and do to the Ward 2 constituents what the county has done to the Ward 4 constituents [on Ritchie]."
Councilman Terry Seamens (Ward 4), who himself lives on Ritchie, argued in favor of the restrictions. He maintained that, in order to avoid unfairly burdening his constituents with redirected traffic from Sligo Park Hills, the restrictions would need to be put in place.
"It is the professionals' opinion that the traffic on Ritchie Avenue is going to increase significantly with the implementation of the Sligo Park Hills restrictions," he said. "It is clear that ... there are some kinds of restrictions that are going to be necessary."
Ultimately, the council ended its discussion with a 5-to-1 majority in favor of implementing restrictions on Ritchie, as well as allowing the county to put up two signs in the Sligo Park Hills neighborhood that were technically in the city's designated right-of-way.
"Given the county's decision on Sligo Park Hills, if we didn't do that we'd be essentially saying okay take all that traffic and send it through Mississippi Avenue and Ritchie Avenue," said Mayor Bruce Williams when reached for comment Tuesday morning.
Williams added that, while a majority of the council expressed disdain for the county's actions in implementing restrictions in Sligo Park HillsCouncilman Dan Robinson (Ward 3) suggested suing the county while Josh Wright (Ward 1) favored asking the county to repeal the Sligo Park Hills restrictionsthe fact remains that the city needs to adopt its own process to address neighborhood traffic concerns.
"When dealing with what we're dealing with, the county has their standards; they followed their procedures," he said. "We don't have standards and we're left with this; ... the city needs a citywide process for dealing with traffic."
The Ritchie Avenue restrictions were approved with the stipulation that, once the city is able to install permanent physical traffic-calming measures, such as speed humps, the signs would be taken down. The city will vote to finalize its decision on the plan next week.
In addition to the traffic discussion, the city council also passed a resolution banning the city from purchasing polystyrene plates and utensils. The council made the move in support of the Piney Branch Elementary School's Young Activist Club's efforts to get the county school system to do the same in its facilities.
The council hinted that a more comprehensive ban could be discussed that would prevent private city businesses from using the utensils, as well, but for the moment, the resolution will only affect the city government, which will spend an estimated $200 to $400 more on compostable utensils from now on.
All traffic restrictions approved by the city of Takoma Park will only be enforced Monday through Friday:
-A sign prohibiting right turns onto Ritchie Avenue from Maple Avenue from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
-A sign prohibiting left turns from Maple onto Ritchie from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
-A sign prohibiting right turns from Geneva Avenues onto Hilltop Road from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
-A sign at Ritchie and Piney Branch Avenue warning drivers "No Thru Traffic" to Sligo Creek Parkway from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
The council also approved two signs to be installed on city right-of-way as part of the county's traffic restriction plan for the Sligo Park Hills neighborhood, also for Monday through Friday only:
-A sign reading "Do Not Enter 4 p.m. to 7 p.m." at Hilltop and Mississippi Avenue.
-A sign reading "Do Not Enter 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m." at Hilltop and Geneva.