Metro pedestrian tunnel proposed under Georgia
July 20, 2005
Erin Uy
Staff Writer

When Sheldon Fishman crosses Georgia Avenue every morning toward the Forest Glen Metro station, he takes a risk walking across the eight lanes of rush-hour traffic.

What Fishman would like to do is stroll right underneath all of it, he said, pointing out a study Metro planners conducted for such a project. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority recently released the study in response to Metro riders' concerns about safety when walking to the Forest Glen station, which is on Metro's Red Line.

Now, Metro riders and area residents want the county and state to work with WMATA and push the project at Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road along. Georgia is a state highway and Forest Glen is maintained by the county.

"Because it does two things: It improves pedestrian safety and it improves the traffic flow on Georgia Avenue," Fishman said. "... It's been a [community] concern for a long time."

The Metro station is located on the southwest corner of the intersection and the Kiss & Ride lot sits northwest of that, north of Forest Glen Road. The tunnel would begin at the intersection's northeast quadrant, run southwest, hitting Georgia and through Forest Glen. Then, it would meet an existing Metro access tunnel that leads both to the station and the Kiss & Ride.

WMATA considered a bridge, but that would not provide direct access to the station and the Kiss & Ride, said John Magarelli, a senior civil engineer with WMATA. Also, existing air shafts near the roadway would make constructing a bridge more difficult, he added.

The Forest Glen station is about 200 feet underground and is surrounded by residential developments like Forest Glen apartments and Forest Estates. Holy Cross Hospital is also nearby. Jaywalking is a problem, especially among pedestrians on the east of the intersection that must cross both roads to reach the Metro station, according to the study.

Traffic at the intersection is significant, said Magarelli, noting figures from the State Highway Administration. According to a 2003 study, about 64,400 vehicles pass through the intersection between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The Maryland Department of Transportation already has some plans to improve safety conditions at the intersection, including installing pedestrian signals that count down to let pedestrians know how much time is left to safely cross. Also, it plans to alter the time that vehicles have to turn, giving pedestrians more time to cross, according to the WMATA study.

When pedestrians do cross Georgia Avenue, they put their life on the line, said Walter Booth, a Forest Glen resident. He said he knows several people who have been hit by vehicles at the intersection, although according to the WMATA study, there was only one pedestrian-related, non-fatal accident reported at the intersection between 2001 and 2003. That study relied on data furnished by SHA.

During that same period, 60 police-reported intersection-related accidents occurred among vehicles, the study said.

Booth, a member of the Mid-County Regional Advisory Board, said that other measures like lighted crosswalks, police enforcement or timed signal lights would not be very effective on the busy stretch of road.

"Everything boils down to money. Obviously a tunnel would be expensive, but a tunnel that came from that side ... would alleviate the danger and alleviate the possibility of people getting hurt, providing people use it," Booth said.

The SHA does share concerns about pedestrian safety on Georgia Avenue, said spokesman Chuck Gischlar.

While the project would primarily belong to the county, SHA would work with the appropriate agencies to provide support, he said.

The estimated cost is nearly $11 million, according to the WMATA study, which does not include the purchase of right of way, insurance and other elements.

But public transportation, if done right, is a worthwhile investment, said Michael Hall, a spokesman for Holy Cross Hospital, located less than a mile from the Forest Glen station. The hospital encourages both staff and patients to use public transportation by offering staff subsidies and providing a shuttle between the two sites, he said.

The tunnel would provide a safer route for pedestrians and support the hospital's mission to promote the use of public transportation, he said.

"We are very supportive of the project and are ready to hear more about and the opportunities that exist, and hopefully weigh in on it," Hall said.

If the community wants the tunnel, it needs to build support so that county officials would grant funding for further, said Natalie Cantor, the director of the Mid-County Regional Services Center, which is operated by Montgomery County Government.

"It's not even a gleam in the county's eye yet, which is not to say that it can't be," Cantor said.