Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

Designs call for narrower New Hampshire Avenue

City Council considering plans aimed at reducing highway from six to four lanes, improving pedestrian access

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Narrowing New Hampshire Avenue from six to four traffic lanes and building dedicated parking lanes with better sidewalks are the best ways to improve pedestrian access and attract potential developers, according to planners hired by the City of Takoma Park.

"We really need to rethink the entire way that we have looked at this road for the past 30 or more years to transform it into a classic urban street, or what we call a multiway boulevard," Stuart Sirota of TND Plannning Group told the Takoma Park City Council on July 28.

The city hired TND last year for $112,000 to supervise a week of design meetings and develop a "concept plan" for redeveloping the New Hampshire Avenue corridor, a priority for the council.

Last month, Sirota presented his group's recommendations to the council. They focus on condensing the six-lane highway to four lanes in order to build a series of side medians with trees and landscaping that would create dedicated parking lanes and sidewalks bordering stores on either side of New Hampshire Avenue. It also recommends significant street and landscape improvements at focal points along the highway, including intersections with Ethan Allen Avenue and Sligo Creek Parkway. For the Eastern Avenue intersection, at the city's border with Washington, D.C., planners recommended a traffic roundabout.

The council, which will consider a resolution on the recommendations in September, plans to use the designs as a way to market the developing area to builders and try to secure state and county funding to implement some of the more advanced recommendations.

Councilman Doug Barry (Ward 6) said the plans should be marketed to officials as a package with the sector plan for the Takoma/Langley Crossroads, an ongoing collaboration by planners in Takoma Park and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"The economy is lousy," Barry said, "so getting funding for these things, as important as they are, will be a challenge for sure."

Some council members had reservations about the plan, however. Councilman Reuben Snipper (Ward 5) said he was concerned that the designs focused too much on pedestrian and car access, and not enough on dedicated bicycle lanes or high-speed bus lines. Sirota said both were considered during the process. Planners decided that bicyclists could choose between going through pedestrian sidewalks or traffic lanes.

"As someone who rides bikes and buses to work … I disagree thoroughly with your analysis on this," Snipper said.

Sirota said the next step in the process, after the council takes a position, will be to contact government agencies such as the State Highway Administration, which owns New Hampshire Avenue, about the proposals. Some short-term goals such as faŃade improvements also could be implemented, he said.