Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Study to examine Georgia Avenue

Planners seeking ways to address pedestrian, traffic and environmental concerns along portion of 18-mile road

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Georgia Avenue affects your life if you live or work in eastern Montgomery County, and planners are looking at ways to coordinate land use along the corridor with a comprehensive study of the 18-mile road that runs from Washington, D.C., to the Howard County line.

The Georgia Avenue Concept Study is designed to provide a framework for planning in the Wheaton commercial district and Glenmont areas, and will consider other neighborhoods along the highway. The study is targeted for completion in July.

On Thursday, planning staff gave the Montgomery County Planning Board a status report and an opportunity to comment on the project. Community hearings were held in November and February, and another is planned for May.

Team leader Khalid Afzal of the Community-based Planning Division called Georgia Avenue the ‘‘spine of the residential wedge” between Interstate 270 to the west and Interstate 95 to the east that functions as a transportation corridor and resource for residents.

While the road evolves from a dense urban area, with high traffic congestion and a mix of residential and commercial development to communities with burgeoning development and more rural areas as it progresses north, the study primarily targets the area between the Beltway and Norbeck Road, since that is where most of the problems are, Afzal said.

The study focuses on the right of way and the properties located along the roadway, but also considers the traffic zones that lead to Georgia Avenue.

In researching land uses and urban design, studying examples of corridor planning in other jurisdictions and meeting with residents, the study team identified three major areas of concern: pedestrian accessibility, traffic volume and congestion and environmental impacts.

For many of the communities, the roadway acts as a Main Street with a diverse inventory of residential and commercial areas, schools, public transportation such as Metro and bus stops, offices and services.

According to the study, pedestrian accessibility — walking along Georgia Avenue and crossing it — is the ‘‘largest issue that impacts the quality of life of communities along the roadway.”

Wide six-lane roads, a high volume of traffic, distance between marked crosswalks and a short time span for crossing make it difficult for pedestrians. The sidewalks also present problems with not much separation between pedestrians and fast-moving traffic, in addition to poor landscaping, curb cuts, and utility poles and hydrants limiting mobility.

Afzal said some major projects being planned in Wheaton, Olney and the Glenmont area, as well as a pedestrian access study planned for the Montgomery Hills area, could help pedestrian access and safety.

Most vehicle trips traveling north to south from the Norbeck Road area are destined for Washington, D.C., said David Paine, a transportation specialist with the planning department. With about 46,300 average daily trips starting at Norbeck Road, traffic steadily increases as it progresses south, becoming lighter in spots such as Connecticut Avenue, University Boulevard and 16th Street where vehicles branch off, but spiking in areas such as Layhill Road (50,542), Veirs Mill Road (59,252), the Beltway at Forest Glen Road (84,202) and Colesville Road (50,342), where vehicles merge onto Georgia.

Paine said in studying traffic along the corridor, particularly in the commercial districts, a lack of alternate routes funnel traffic to the same place, resulting in intersections that don’t meet traffic congestion standards. He suggested mitigating those problems through design requirements in planned development and redevelopment projects and increasing bus use.

Commissioner Allison Bryant suggested broadening the analysis to consider traffic influences from other areas, such as Route 29. Commissioner Jean Cryor suggested linking with the county capital improvement efforts to address pedestrian safety.

Marion Clark, an environment specialist with county planning, said the Georgia Avenue area accounted for 11 percent of the county’s land but 16 percent of its impervious surfaces, leading to stormwater management problems.

Improvements could be made by cutting carbon dioxide emissions through an energy and environment plan, providing walkways and bike paths, planting trees, increasing water infiltration and encouraging ‘‘green” building design.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson suggested considering land use, access, convenience, walkability and traffic circulation.

‘‘The level of clutter around some of these intersections is really world class,” he said, asking planners to consider designs to make intersections like those in Montgomery Hills less chaotic and confusing so those areas can improve economically.

Suggested improvements

In the Georgia Avenue Concept Study, planners have listed ways to improve the corridor in several areas.

Pedestrian access

Capital improvement projects including a pedestrian tunnel being considered for the Forest Glen area, an equestrian crossing at Rachel Carson Park and reconstruction of Evans Local Park;

County and state sidewalk improvement programs;

Private property developments and redevelopment at BB&T Bank, Wheaton Baptist Church and changes in existing special exceptions;

Potential mid-block pedestrian crossings with signals;

Policy Area Mobility Review mitigation of new development projects in the corridor;

Traffic calming measures in future projects and changes.

Traffic impact

Capital improvement projects such as Norbeck and Glenmont grade separations, expanded bus transportation;

Better alignment of land use and transportation infrastructure including new growth at Metro stations, and improved balance in jobs and housing;

Changes in technology that would facilitate telecommuting and changes in employment patterns such as living closer to work, flex hours, limited or no free parking;

Better transit facilities and operations;

Walkable communities.

Environmental degradation, stormwater management

Major capital improvement projects;

Better controls and regulations;

Better transit facilities and operations to reduce car travel;

Walkable communities.

Source: Georgia Avenue Concept Study