Proposed road code changes take different paths
Work group, planners issue conflicting recommendations on road safety improvement
County officials and the park and planning department are on a collision course on the best way to make Montgomery County roads safer.
The source of contention is a number of proposed changes to the county's "road code" for new road construction and modifications.
The changes, announced Sept. 4 by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), were recommended by a 24-member work group that included pedestrians, commuters and bicyclists.
"The new road code standards ensure that our future roadways will be safe for all users," Leggett said in his announcement.
But last week, the Montgomery County Planning Board issued a statement that the changes proposed by the county executive "would reduce safety for pedestrians and bicyclists," and planners had asked the board to consider recommending changes, particularly in narrowing lanes and lowering speed limits to force motorists to drive slower.
While Larry Cole, master planner for the Montgomery County Planning Department, said he agreed with most of the recommendations in the county's plan, it needed other improvements, particularly on speed limits.
But after months of working with planners and making significant compromises at their request, the fact that the planners issued their own set of recommendations angered Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic and a member of the work.
The planners issued their recommendations to the county Planning Board on Thursday.
"We didn't realize all the time that as Park and Planning weighed in, if they didn't get their way, they would run to the [planning] board and get their recommendations passed," Anderson said.
The recommendation from the work group and proposed by Leggett would have resulted in the removal or relocation of some trees between curbs and sidewalks and in roadway medians and the widening of lanes in some areas to allow motorists to drive faster where there is less traffic.
"Park and Planning thinks if every road was 20 mph or 25 mph that'd be great and every road should be tree-lined," Anderson said.
"It's our way or the highway' is an old maxim that apparently planners at the Montgomery County Planning Board take very seriously," said Anderson, who called the decision by the planners to offer separate recommendations "an outrageous and arrogant attempt to circumvent an appropriate study process."
But the planners never said they would refrain from making their own recommendations to the Planning Board, Cole said.
Planners see the tree issue as "complicated," Cole said. Trees provide shade and make the landscape more attractive.
"At low speed, the trees alongside the roads don't pose a hazard," he said.
But too often trees block the views of motorists and pedestrians, Anderson said.
"Look at all the trees with the crosses on them from where a loved one died," Anderson said. The motorists would have survived if they had crashed into guardrails instead, he said.
Leggett's proposal is expected to be submitted to the County Council on Oct. 15, and the Council will have 60 days to review it.
The final recommendations from the Planning Board to the County Council, which will have the final say, will be made later, said board spokeswoman Valerie Berton.
"Public officials don't always agree on everything," Berton said. "They can agree to disagree, but they can come out after disagreement on the same side of issues. Smart, intelligent people don't always agree."