Council votes against walkway
Pedestrian bridge will not be used to make easy access to new library
The County Council will not amend a 10-year-old urban plan for Silver Spring, essentially eliminating the possibility of building a pedestrian bridge that would connect the Wayne Avenue parking garage to the new Silver Spring library.
In an 8-1 vote Tuesday, the council voted against County Executive Isiah Leggett's amendment to the 1999 Silver Spring Urban Renewal Plan, which prohibits bridges over Wayne Avenue because it would be detrimental to nearby street-level retail.
The $750,000 pedestrian bridge had been proposed, and supported by Leggett (D) and the county's Commission of People with Disabilities, to allow the disabled and elderly to access the library without having to cross the busy intersection of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue. The six-story library building, which will include an art center and county office space, will be located at Fenton and Wayne.
Residents had been mostly split on the pedestrian bridge, with Silver Spring Friends of the Library in favor of it and the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board against it.
But the opinion of council members and staff from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission – that handicap-accessible parking could be achieved without necessitating a bridge – eventually won out.
"It can't be this is the one place in Montgomery County where, in order to achieve fair access, we need a bridge," Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said at a joint worksession of the council's Health and Human Services Committee and Planning Housing and Economic Development Committee on July 21.
Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park cast the dissenting vote in favor of reopening the plan.
"If we don't provide access that the disabled commission wants us to provide, then the usage of the library will be smaller than we want it to be," Leventhal said at Tuesday's vote.
Cindy Buddington, chairwoman of the disabled commission, said in a telephone interview Monday that the council did listen to the pleas of the disabled for a bridge, but "I just really don't think they will be able to find a solution."
The library will include a disability resource center.
In place of the bridge, planners will devise alternative locations for five or six handicap-accessible parking spaces serving the library.
Planning staff suggested a three-phase system that would first put the parking spaces off Bonifant Street at the now-vacant site of a future residential building that is part of the library project. When construction on that building begins, those spaces will be moved to a lane of Bonifant Street that will be occupied by the Purple Line, which will have a stop at the library. When the underground parking garage that will serve the residential building is completed, the handicap-accessible spaces will be moved there indefinitely.
Planners said the cost will be between $400,000 and $500,000 and the parking spaces would be about 170 feet from the library, on par with the estimated distance using the pedestrian bridge.
The council did not yet approve that proposal, however, and library planners will continue to look at handicap parking alternatives, said Councilman Michael J. Knapp.
"There weren't concrete proposals put forward on the table that say, This is the answer,'" Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said. "… We gave the direction to the executive branch and planning staff to go out and work together and find a cost-effective solution to this problem."
The pedestrian bridge conflict again put the county's disabled community at the forefront of a planning issue. In April, a resolution was passed to eliminate the use of brick pavers on public right-of-ways, except in urban districts charged with maintaining them, because the brick pavers make county sidewalks too difficult to traverse for the disabled.
It was an example of county officials listening to the disabled, but only as a corrective measure, Buddington said.
"They need to get the disabled community involved in the early planning of situations, whether it's a building, streetscape or Metro station," she said. "That way we could hash out some of these issues earlier."