Pike redesign may depend on rapid buses
Planning Board will wait until next year to decide on road changes in White Flint
The Planning Board on Thursday held off on endorsing either of two proposed redesigns for Rockville Pike in the White Flint Sector Plan, instead deciding to wait and see what the conclusions are in a 2010 countywide study of Bus Rapid Transit.
Two proposals have been made for converting the Pike into a boulevard: one from Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning staff and one from Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, Inc., a national transportation and urban design firm hired to do its own design by the White Flint Partnership, a group of six of the sector's largest property owners and developers.
The board in April rejected the Glatting Jackson design, which calls for Bus Rapid Transit in a dedicated median lane instead of special curb-side lanes recommended by county planners, but backlash from groups such as the White Flint Partnership and Friends of White Flint, a group of residents, businesses and developers, endorsing the alternate proposal brought the design back to the table.
Chief of Transportation Planning Dan Hardy said it is the first time he has seen a group of property owners hire consultants to come up with an alternate proposal — generally such things are done by one or two property owners, if at all — but he said he welcomes the added feedback.
"It helps. What we're always trying to do is say what's the best technical information and what are the stakeholders and these are the stakeholders," Hardy said. "The better people can do in communicating ideas the better it helps everybody understand it."
"In a way that's what we would almost want to see come out of the steering committee process," Hardy said, but emphasized that although the developers involved in the White Flint Partnership were also involved in the Steering Committee, the two are not the same.
Hardy said even though the WFP has greater financial resources to come up with alternate proposals than civic or other groups might, all opinions will still have to be heard at the Planning Board level and later at the County Council.
"There's always an issue of making sure everybody has equal access to information or decision makers," Hardy said. "I don't think that has been compromised in any way."
The major difference between the two Rockville Pike designs, aside from where the bus lane would be located, is the amount of right of way needed to complete them. The staff plan would require a 150-foot right of way on the Pike, whereas the White Flint Partnership proposal needs 162 feet. Staff recommended the board approve the 162-foot right of way and then wait and see which design is better suited to the results of the countywide BRT study. County planners also adjusted the configuration of their proposal east to better accommodate either design.
While planners have said there are no "fatal flaws" with the alternate design, Hardy said median BRT needs to be considered from a "big picture" perspective and is not feasible to implement only along the section of Rockville Pike within the White Flint Sector area.
"(Median BRT) would make sense if we were going to rethink land use and transit for a much longer corridor," spanning from Rockville to Bethesda, Hardy said.
He said the allowance of a 162-foot right of way, which would require more acquisition along both sides of the Pike, makes for a roomier design process even if the alternate plan is not the one that ultimately advances.
"We'd still have an extra six feet of setback on the side of the road. Everybody, I think, is comfortable with that. We all want to do great things with sidewalk design," Hardy said.
Evan Goldman, who represents Federal Realty in the White Flint Partnership, said the fact that the alternative proposal is being considered is a good sign and he thinks it makes sense the Planning Board "would give themselves a little leeway."
"The cool thing is it wasn't like they were saying, no, we don't want to do this," Goldman said. "As long as they're not closed to the idea that's a step in the right direction."
The final draft of the White Flint Sector Plan is scheduled to be given to the Planning Board June 18. The Planning Board has set July 9 as an early goal for final approval of the draft, but is allowing itself until the end of July to send the document to the County Council for final approval.