Saturday, December 27, 2014

1,000 feet to cross the street

Lanark Way is the main street of South Four Corners.  It's the only way to enter the neighborhood from Route 29 by car, foot, or bike (without crossing private property), and the it intersects with almost every other street in the neighborhood before ending at Renfrew Road..  On the northbound side of Colesville Road, adjacent to the Blair High School parking lot, there is a bus stop called "Colesville Road and Lanark Way" to serve transit riders from South Four Corners.  The stop can be requested by customers on the Z2, Z6, or Z8 Metrobus routes and the 21 and 22 Ride On routes, all of which originate at the Silver Spring Metro Station.

The northbound bus stop at Colesville Road and Lanark Way.  Photo by the author.

The problem with this bus stop is, despite it's name and location, the fact that it is over 1,000 feet from Lanark Way.  How?  That is the distance that South Four Corners bus riders must walk to legally cross Colesville Road before they even enter their neighborhood.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

1957 aerial images of Four Corners

I purchased these 1957 aerial images of the Four Corners area a while ago.  I paired them up with current-day images from Google Earth to show what has changed since then.  The contrast between 'then' and 'now' is very stark in some places, especially in areas disrupted by the Beltway.  Viewers will also notice much wider roads like University Boulevard and Colesville Road are today than they were now.  In 1957, only four travel lanes passed through the intersection.  Today, the intersection hosts nineteen lanes and approximately 100,000 vehicles per day.  

For those wondering where I got these, they are from a website called  While I had to pay for these images (which I only paid for because it wasn't expensive), there are several good free sources to obtain historic aerial and satellite photos.  One of the best ones is the United States Geological Survey EarthExplorer, an online interface that allows users to select from dozens or even hundreds of images of any given place (I obtained the 1963 images featured in a blog post earlier this year from EarthExplorer).  When looking for aerial images of a given year, always make sure no free option is availible before you buy some.  Many websites charge for the exact same images that can be found for free on the USGS site.

Enjoy the photos!   

The intersection in 1957, a year or two before University Boulevard was split into a one-way pair and Colesville Road was widened to six lanes.  Note the country club property at bottom and Saint Bernadette's School (no permanent church yet) at right.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Woodmoor Christmas Tree

It's been a while since I've posted, as I've been busy with schoolwork and finals.  Blogging can be a lot of fun, but it also entails a significant amount of work (or at least it does to write well-researched quality posts).  I'm back home on winter break now, so I'll be posting every few days as I did in the summer.

I returned to Woodmoor during one of my favorite times of the year in Woodmoor: the Christmas season.  While I'm not a fan of December weather, I enjoy this time of year because of the pride our community displays during the holidays.  I can't think of any neighborhood in the D.C. area that decorates as much as we do, much less one with a decorating contest.  A true hallmark of the Christmas season in Woodmoor is the lighting of Woodmoor Christmas Tree.

The tree lighting is perhaps the most well known tradition in Woodmoor, and it has been a neighborhood tradition for over 60 years. Recently, however, there has been some debate about the future of the tree.

The Woodmoor-Pinecrest Citizens Association has began a "save the tree fund" to pay for future lighting and maintenance of the tree, which stands in the middle of the traffic circle at Woodmoor Drive and Lexington Drive.  A post on the Woodmoor Listserv about this fund generated some discussion about the tree and its history, present, and future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Well intentioned bus shelter is an example of poor implementation

Montgomery County installed this new bus shelter at the intersection of University Boulevard (westbound) and Sutherland Road a few weeks ago.  It was placed adjacent to the parking lot for the Fresh Greek Grill and Red Maple restaurants, and it is located at a heavily used bus stop served by routes 9, 19, C2, and C4.  This bus stop is very popular, as it is the best way to transfer from the southbound Z bus routes to the westbound C routes.  There is little doubt that a shelter here is useful for transit riders.

The problem is that installation of the shelter was poorly implemented.    

The new bus shelter at University Boulevard and Sutherland Drive.  Photo by the author.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Four Corners Business Men's Association

While perusing the extensive photo archives of the Woodmoor.4 Corners Facebook page, I found the below picture from the 1950's.  It depicts the dedication of some new benches in front of the Woodmoor Shopping Center, on land which is now part of the expanded front parking lot.  Most intriguing to me, besides the obvious historic nature of the photograph, was the organization which sponsored the new benches: the Four Corners Business Men's Association.

New benches being installed in front of the shopping center.  The Esso station in the background was demolished in 2000.  Photo from Jenine Olson-Heron

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A quarter of University Boulevard users are transit riders

University Boulevard is a major east-west connection between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.  In Four Corners, University Boulevard (MD Route 193) carries less traffic than Route 29, meaning it is not talked about as much when it comes to transit issues like BRT.  In most articles I've read about transit issues affecting east county, University Boulevard receives only a passing mention, if it gets mentioned at all.  The conversation usually revolves around Route 29.

Here is an interesting fact to consider:  University Boulevard has the highest ratio of transit riders to overall road users in Montgomery County.  Over a quarter of road users on University Boulevard are bus riders.

In 2012, University Boulevard through Four Corners averaged around 36,000 vehicles a day, the vast majority of which were single-occupant vehicles.

That same year, Metrobus routes C2 and C4 had a combined ridership of nearly 12,000 riders a day, with nearly all riders travelling between Wheaton and Langley Park (the segment in which the C2 and C4 operate concurrently due to high ridership).

C2, C4 route map.  Image from WMATA.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

We're back... and thank you!

As regular readers may have noticed, this blog has been on a break for the past month.  Perhaps some of you thought that this blog had gone dead or dormant, like many other local blogs have.  As a blog reader myself, I'm always a little sad when I come across a great blog which has not been updated in a long time.  On the other hand, it's refreshing when I find a great blog which is regularly updated (at least once or twice a week).  If said blog is consistently updated with thought-provoking and well-researched posts, that's all the better.  So has Around the Corners joined the ranks of those dead blogs? 

No.  This is Around the Corners.  We don't go dormant for more than a couple weeks without a decent explanation.   

So why the break?  For one, your friendly community blogger is a 19 year old college student.  This blog is basically a one man operation.  Everything written on here so far, with the exception of one post, has been written by me: Sean Emerson.  At the end of August, I returned to Washington College for my junior year, which means my free time was somewhat diminished from what I had during the summer (although I did work two jobs over the summer).  However, blogging from college is not the main reason for the hiatus, since I did that all last spring with relative success. 

The primary reason was a technical one.  I had originally planned to take a two week break from posting when I returned to school to get back in the college routine, but just as I planned to start blogging again, the hard drive of my laptop crashed.  

This was a major problem, since most of the stuff I use to blog (my Four Corners photo archives and my customized version of Google Earth) were on the laptop.  Thankfully, everything is backed up on a portable storage device, because I had long planned for technical difficulties such as these.  However, this was still a major inconvenience since the only computers I had access to were my friend's or those here at the college library, meaning I had to use my limited computer time for getting schoolwork done.  I felt like it was circa 2002 when I was in second grade and my parents only allowed me one hour of "computer time" a night (I was an outdoor kid, so I really didn't mind limited computer time).

Anyway, my computer will be back in service soon, so you can expect me to be posting regularly again within the next week or so. 

The break gave me a chance to reflect on the blog and how much it has grown in the past 10 months.  I basically started this blog as a fun experiment, and I didn't expect it to get much traffic or attention.  To my surprise, this blog has developed a regular following, and it has connected me with all sorts of great people.  I am always humbled when people say "I love your blog!" or "Great job on that post!" since it reminds that people actually read this stuff and appreciate what I do.  Positive feedback like that motivates me to keep writing, even when I'm feeling really lazy and I don't want to take the time to research a post. 

It is because of those regular readers and Four Corners community members who have supported me throughout this process that I have written this post, since I figured you all were owed an explanation for this hiatus.  I would also like this opportunity to thank you, the readers, for your support.  Running this blog is not the easiest thing ever, and sometimes I wonder why I still do it.  But then I get an email or Facebook message from someone who says that the post I wrote brought back a great memory for them, or that it taught them something new about Four Corners, or that they are just happy to see someone blogging about this community. 

That makes it all worth it.       

New posts are just around the corner...       


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Community forum focuses on Ending Homelessness

A week ago, I had the opportunity to attend a community meeting focusing on resolving issues between the homeless population of Silver Spring and the broader common-unity.  The meeting, which was held in the Silver Spring Civic Center, was convened to stimulate discussion and to increase understanding between the homeless, local business owners, police, and interested citizens.  The event was hosted by Hope Restored Inc., a local non-profit which is focused on reducing recidivism and hopelessness by providing options and information to individuals and families experiencing difficult circumstances.

I was invited to attend the meeting by community leader Jeffrey Thames, the founder and Executive Director of Hope Restored.  I attended with Four Corners resident and contributor Joe Fox, who is an engaged citizen interested in making Silver Spring the best place in can be.  Joe and I attended as both interested citizens and as representatives from local blogs.  

Below is the official synopsis of the event from Hope Restored, which Jeffrey Thames has graciously allowed me to publish here.  I will include the full summary, and add a few of my own thoughts at the end.  



On August 19, 2014, Hope Restored, Inc., convened a meeting to address the issues of individuals experiencing homelessness in downtown Silver Spring.  The meeting was held at the Silver Spring Civic Center Great Hall.  There was over 85 people in attendance with 62 individuals officially signing in.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The mystery of Indian Spring's gravel streets

Here's a topic I've been meaning to write about for a while: the gravel streets in the Indian Spring neighborhood.

I have been curious about these streets ever since I was a little kid, when I would go to the adjacent "fire engine park" regularly (side note: every park should have one of those jungle gym fire engines).  The two streets are signed as Long Branch Parkway and Biltmore Drive, and the gravel sections are one block south of East Franklin Avenue next to the headwaters of Long Branch Creek and the synonymous park.  The streets are next to each other, and they almost connect at their respective dead ends.  Seven homes directly front these gravel roads.

I know the answers to many things Four Corners, but this one stumps me.  I do not know a reason why these two sections of street are unpaved.  However, I have several theories as to why these roads are the way they are.

My first guess was that perhaps these two blocks are just alleys, and therefore do not require a paved surface.  However, these two blocks have several homes facing these gravel streets, something alleys do not usually have.  These streets also have normal names and street signs, which is something else that alleys often lack.  Even if these are alleys, one would think that the surface should be paved since there are multiple homes fronting each road.

The 9300 block of Biltmore Drive.  Photo by the author. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Four Corners' role in the Cold War

A couple of days ago, I saw a comment thread on the Woodmoor/4 Corners Facebook group in which a few people recounted memories of a military installation in Four Corners, which was said to be in the vicinity of Northwood High School and Caddington Avenue.  One person said that they thought it might have been home to an anti-aircraft battery or missile site of some kind, perhaps part of the Nike missile program.  Another said that installation seemed to have been decommissioned by 1956 or 1957, and that the land was turned over to a developer who built the homes that currently stand in the area.

During the Cold War, the military erected missile sites around all major U.S. cities as part of Project Nike.  Similar to the Civil War forts a century earlier, these missile sites formed a ring around the nation's capital to protect is from enemies.  While the Civil War forts were built to defend against the Confederate Army, the missile sites were built to intercept long-range Soviet bombers laden with nuclear weapons.  The missile sites were located in what was then the countryside, since the goal was to shoot down any planes before they reached densely populated areas.   The locations of these missile sites are well documented, and information about them can be found easily online.

Nike Hercules (front) and Ajax (back) missiles.  Did we have these in Four Corners?  Photo from Robert Sullivan on Flickr.

When I first heard that there may have been a missile site or another type of anti-aircraft battery in Four Corners, I was skeptical.  As stated, the missile sites that comprised Project Nike are well documented, and in some places there are historic markers denoting their locations (the Lorton site has one such marker).  Also, most Nike missile sites were much farther from the city than Four Corners.  The closest documented missile site to Washington D.C. was in Upper Marlboro, about 16 miles from the Capitol building (Four Corners is only 9 miles from the Capitol).

I was fairly certain there was no missile site here, but multiple people had said that there was some kind of anti aircraft battery in Four Corners, so I knew there had to be something there.  To investigate, I decided to take a closer look at a 1957 aerial photo of the area which I own, and I found something very interesting.

1957 view of the Northwood neighborhood depicting a small military base.  University Boulevard is the road running from bottom center to top left.  Northwood High School is at the very top of the image (a portion of the track is visible at top right).       

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vacant land next to the Beltway could be better used

Back in 2007, the Maryland State Highway Administration reconfigured the interchange of University Boulevard and the Capital Beltway.  The project eliminated a dangerous "weave" zone on the Beltway by eliminating the ramp from westbound I-495 to eastbound MD 193.  Traffic was shifted to the ramp that had previously only been for westbound MD 193 traffic, and a traffic signal was added to facilitate left turns onto eastbound University Boulevard.  When the project was completed, the old cloverleaf ramp was closed and torn up, leaving several acres of empty land covered with grass and scattered trees.

View of the area from University Boulevard looking towards the Beltway.  Photo by the author.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

1958 D.C. Transit bus routes serving Four Corners

A while ago, I bought a 1958 D.C. Transit map at the National Capital Trolley Museum.  I initially thought the map would only depict routes in the District, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it also showed suburban routes, along with descriptions of where each bus route went.

Four Corners has had bus service since the 1940's, years before the formation of WMATA (Metro) and a long time before Montgomery County created Ride On.  The service was originally run by D.C. Transit (formerly the Capital Transit Company), the private frim which ran the buses and streetcars in DC and the Maryland suburbs from 1933 to 1973 (Metro was formed in 1967 but D.C. Transit was not eliminated until 1973).  

Below is an inset map depicting routes in the Silver Spring area as of March, 1958.

Bus routes in Four Corners and surrounding areas in 1958.  Routes in white text with red background were regular routes with service throughout the day.  Routes with red text on a white background were express routes/rush-hour only routes.   Image from map printed by the National Capital Trolley Museum.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bikeways proposed for Four Corners

Montgomery Planning has published this interactive map of proposed and existing bikeways across the county.  This map appears to have been published within the last couple days, and it depicts bikeways that are proposed under the Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan, as well as those proposed under local plans.  Some of the bikeways proposed on this map are included in our 1996 Four Corners Master Plan, while others appear to have been added which were not in the 1996 plan.

Bikeways proposed in and around Four Corners.  Red dashed lines indicate proposed shared-roadway bicycle facilities, green dashed lines represent proposed shared-use paths along roadways.  The solid green line around Blair is a proposed on campus ring path.   Click here for full map.   

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

After a crash, a dangerous crosswalk could become safer

Where Colesville Road (Route 29) passes between Indian Spring and North Hills of Sligo, it's a six-lane divided highway, but residents need to be able to cross the street on foot to access homes and businesses.  The crosswalk at the intersection of Colesville Road and Indain Spring Drive is the most efficient way to do so, but it is not safe.  Unfortunately, Four Corners resident Joe Fox found out first hand how dangerous this crosswalk really is.

The crosswalk. All photos by the author.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Local highway signs are a bit of living history

Ever crossed the Beltway using University Boulevard?  If you have, you've probably seen some of the oldest road signs in the D.C. area that are still in use. 

The large green signs on University Boulevard which advise drivers of the Beltway entrance ramps have been in use since 1964, making them 50 years old!  Most other road infrastructure is replaced well before reaching that age (driving surface, guardrails and barriers, bridge decks, etc) but these signs have somehow not been replaced yet.

It is not simply their age which makes them interesting.  These signs are of a certain style that is leftover from a bygone era of highway design. 

This sign on eastbound University Boulevard is 50 years old.  Sign photos courtesy of C. Patrick Zilliacus.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, Part 4: The pros and cons of staging

The county council convened today to discuss the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, specifically addressing the issue of staging.  The council is currently leaning more towards dropping staging requirements from the Master Plan for various reasons.  Here are some of the pros and cons of staging, which may help explain why the council is leaning away from something that sounds like

The White Oak Shopping Center.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Super moon pictures

I meant to post these a couple days ago, but I got distracted by the recent storm and another story I'm working on.  Anyway, I got several pictures of the "super moon" last Saturday from a few different places in Four Corners.  A super moon is a meteorological effect which causes the moon to appear very large and bright in the sky.  I'm not an astronomer (though I did take one semester of Astronomy at DeMatha), so I do not know too much about this occurrence, but I do it looks really cool.

I also got some neat pictures of the area at night, which I have also included, even if the moon is not in view.  Since the moon was in the southeast sky, I was limited by what angles I could take pictures from, but I got some good ones.  The next super moon will be some time in August, so there will be another opportunity for neat pictures then.  

The moon over University Boulevard at Whitestone Road.

Looking west on the Beltway from University.  No moon visible since this is looking in the opposite direction.

Monday, July 14, 2014

White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, Part 3: Traffic concerns

The biggest concern Four Corners residents have about the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan is traffic.  Local civic groups in Four Corners have more or less condemned the plan because they do not want any inconvenience to come to local residents who get around by car.  There are surely other reasons for their opposition to the plan, but traffic is clearly the biggest one.

Many people think that any additional development in White Oak will result in an exorbitant amount of traffic congestion.  No one likes traffic, and Route 29 is perceived to have terrible traffic, so when development is proposed anywhere near the road, some local residents immediately raise objections.  These concerns arise because there is a common belief that more development = more traffic. 

Route 29 during the morning rush hour.  The congested traffic farthest from the viewer is heading south towards the Beltway and Silver Spring, the empty lanes closest to the viewer are heading north towards White Oak.  This photo showcases the imbalance of traffic on Route 29 during rush hour due to a lack of private sector employers in eastern Montgomery County.  Photo by the author.

I began to wonder about this correlation between development and traffic after I heard "traffic concerns" being used to justify opposition to just about anything new in or around my neighborhood.  I also began to wonder about different kinds of development, since the types vary, yet I had never heard anyone distinguish between "good" and "bad" forms of development.  Is there a way that the county can accommodate new residents (and grow the tax base, which benefits those who already live here) without making traffic horrible?     

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fire at Kenny's Peruvian Chicken

Story by Four Corners resident Joe Fox 

Most Four Corners residents know that it's rarely a good thing to wake up to the news helicopter hanging out over the neighborhood for an extended period of time.  This time, it was a building fire in Four Corners.  Around 5:30 this morning, the Montgomery Fire and Rescue Service was alerted to a fire on the NW corner of Colesville and University, occupied by the Red Maple Restaurant, Authentic Peruvian Charcoal Chicken, 4 Corners Sports Pub, Free State Press, and various other small businesses, with smoke rising through the roof.  Firefighters entered the buildings through the roof.

The fire was initially reported on the news as occurring at Red Maple, but on-scene reports corrected it to be at the Peruvian Chicken Restaurant.  I stopped by the scene just before 8 AM, and the area was calm, one lane was still blocked on both University and Colesville Roads (did we mention the traffic jam this caused on Colesville?)

The Peruvian Chicken Restaurant sustained the vast majority of the damage here, and despite earlier reports, Red Maple looks to have gotten off easier than first expected.  Notice this picture, the white facade divides the two restaurants:

Monday, July 7, 2014

White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, Part 2: Why White Oak?

As introduced in last weeks post, the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan calls for dramatic changes to the community to our northeast.  Anytime change is proposed, there is uncertainty, which leads to many questions.  Many in Four Corners have raised concerns about the White Oak Plan, fearing negative impacts in the form of traffic and congestion.  This has lead some to ask why these changes are being proposed at all, stating that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

The White Oak Shopping Center.  Photo by the author.  

The problem is that White Oak is "broken" in many ways.  The area suffers from many socio-economic ills such as poverty, under achieving schools, and unemployment.  

This is not to say that White Oak is some awful place.  The broader White Oak area includes many affluent and historic neighborhoods, such as Quaint Acres and the stately Burnt Mills Hills, which were both established in the 1930's.  Hillandale, the community to the south of White Oak centered around the intersection of Powder Mill Road and New Hampshire Avenue, is also a very nice area consisting of estate style homes.  There are numerous other subdivisions all around White Oak that are comparable to the neighborhoods in Four Corners.

The White Oak Science Gateway Plan does not alter any of these established neighborhoods.  The plan instead focuses on White Oak's commercial and industrial areas which surround the FDA's growing headquarters, officially known as the Federal Research Center at White Oak (FRC).

Sign at the east entrance to the FRC on the recently built FDA Boulevard, a little-used 4 lane road that travels through Percontee's extensive concrete recycling plant.

Most people in eastern Montgomery County are familiar with the residential and commercial areas of White Oak, be it the shopping center or the large apartment complexes along Lockwood Drive and Stewart Lane.  These are the more visible areas of White Oak since they are close to Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue, the two major roads in the area.  However, the industrial areas north of Paint Branch (roughly bounded by Route 29, Cherry Hill Road, and the FRC) are much less visible to the general public.  This is also the area with the most potential for redevelopment. 

The area of White Oak north and west of Paint Branch is mostly home to industrial and  other commercial uses, with a pocket of residential development along Route 29 next to the park.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 4th

Four Corners does the 4th of July right.  Our community does a great job of celebrating the 4th, through parades, BBQs and overall community spirit.  The Woodmoor parade is one of the biggest local events of the year, drawing thousands of residents together for a fun morning stroll.  The parade has changed a bit over the years, but it remains one of the best events in the neighborhood.  

Woodmoor residents walking along Woodmoor Drive past Pine Crest Elementary School.

I like holidays such as this because that draw out what makes our community great.  The only other areas in eastern Montgomery County that have parades are Takoma Park and Burtonsville.  In Woodmoor, a few residents placed American flags along the roads in and out of the neighborhood (Williamsburg, Saint Lawrence, etc).  While this may be seen as a small gesture, it highlights how much people care about the neighborhood, and its one of those things that sets us apart from other communities.  Events like this remind me of how fortunate we are to live in such a great place.

After the parade, people gathered around the flag pole at Piecrest to sing the Star Spangled Banner.

The firefighters from station 16 bring their apparatus to the parade every year for community outreach.  The fire trucks are always a hit among the many kids who attend the parade (and several of the adults too). 

One of the dozens of flags placed around the neighborhood to display patriotism.

Monday, June 30, 2014

White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan: what it means for Four Corners Part 1: Intro

This is Part 1 of a series on the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan and its impacts on Four Corners.  This is an intro providing an overview of the plan and its proposed changes to eastern Montgomery County. 
If you live in Four Corners, you've probably heard about the changes proposed for White Oak.  The Montgomery Planning department has drafted a comprehensive Master Plan for the White Oak area, dubbed the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan.  Over the next month, the Montgomery County Council will be holding several worksessions to dissect each element of the plan in preparation for a full vote on the Master Plan sometime later this summer.

The plan for White Oak is a bold one.  It imagines transforming White Oak from area with light industry, blighted commercial areas, and empty space into a new mixed use community with thousands of new jobs and new amenities, capitalizing on the presence of the Food & Drug Administrations consolidated headquarters.  I've read through the whole plan, and its hard not to get excited about all the new possibilities.

Planned activity centers in and around White Oak.  Image from the Montgomery Planning Department.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

And the winner is... the voter

Its that time of year again... well, sort of.  The Democratic primary was held yesterday (in case you missed all those lawn signs and stacks of campaign literature being delivered to your door every day).  This year was the first time the primary was held in June, which is a deviation from years past, when it was held in September.  The primary was moved up to accommodate those in the military serving overseas and other Americans abroad.  I think its odd that this required moving the primary up 3 whole months, since this is 2014 and not 1814, and we have this thing called an absentee ballot which can be transported around the world in an airplane in a single day, but I digress.

The June primary meant that voter turnout was especially low this year.  Many people go on vacation in the summer, and with schools out of session, many people are not in the swing of things when it comes to politics and local issues.  These conditions meant that those who did vote tended to be people who are already involved in local politics and informed on local issues.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means a fairly small group of people will ultimately determine who represents entire districts, counties, and the entire state.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Crossing the highway: a lesson in road design (video)

Colesville Road and University Boulevard define our community.  Aside from being the origin of our name, they also take us to where we want to go.  These two roads connect us to the rest of the region, and they get us to the places we visit for work, entertainment, and retail.  Even a visit to a business not on your "corner" of the intersection requires a short trip on one of these roads.  They are an undeniable asset to our community.

Unfortunately, that broader regional connectivity comes at a price of local division.  Had Colesville Road and University Boulevard been built with only Four Corners residents in mind, the intersection would be a quaint four way stop between two country lanes.  But the roads aren't just for us, they are for people all across the area, and they have been widened over the years to accommodate those who pass through.

This is the price of living in such a convenient place.

These widened roads have been designed for speed and maximum capacity.  The movement of motor vehicles is paramount, and any other use of the road must take a distant backseat to this functionality.  Motorists receive subtle and not-so-subtle signals that their speed and convenience is of the utmost importance.  Curves are made as gentle as possible to allow for drivers to navigate them with speed.  Grades have been smoothed out for the same reason (the shopping center with Red Maple and Kenny's Chicken wasn't always below the road surface as it is now).  11 and 12 foot wide travel lanes allow people to feel comfortable travelling at speeds of 40 or 50 miles-per-hour past homes and businesses.  Traffic lights are also timed for maximum speed and through capacity, even though it may not seem like it sometimes.  All of these road design factors send a clear message to drivers that their quick movement and convenience are priority one.

A victim of design.  The storefronts of this shopping center used to be at the same level as Colesville Road, before the highway was raised to a more gradual slope to facilitate faster vehicle movement.  These shops have seen much higher business turnover than other commercial properties around the intersection since the change. 

 When a local resident on foot or on a bike gets in the way of a motorist on one of these arterial roads, drivers not only feel immediately inconvenienced, but also, in an odd way; offended.

The entire environment of the road sends drivers a message of speed, and then these slow moving objects get in the way, causing even the kindest of drivers to feel frustration and anger within a few seconds.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Enjoying Northwest Branch Park

The Northwest Branch Stream Valley is a great place to enjoy the outdoors, especially in the warmer months when large trees offer shade from stifling heat.  The park is a great place for a hike or jog.  I'm sure most Four Corners residents have visited the park at least once, since it is easy to get to from Route 29 at the Burnt Mills dam.  The recent flood and its subsequent damage drew attention to this area.  The parking lots behind the two WSSC buildings provide a great access point to the Rachel Carson Greenway and the other trails that run through the park, and there are signs and visitor information for hikers at this location.

While the area around the dam is a nice spot, its a bit "touristy" meaning it's where most people go to access the trails.  On nice weekends, the trails on the east side of the creek which connect to these parking lots are often crowded with everyone from experienced hikers to families with small kids.  It's great that all these people are out enjoying one of Montgomery County's natural gems, but when the trails are crowded, it takes away from the rustic feel of the park.  The Burnt Mills dam area is the most popular spot to enter the park, but it is only one of several places where the trails of Northwest Branch can be easily accessed.  There are access points in all of the neighborhoods lining the park which lead to much less crowded trails, even on prime weekends when the parking lot by the dam is full.  

Trees on the Woodmoor side of the creek near the Williamsburg Drive entrance.
Here are three of those alternate access points.  I will include relevant details such as trail connections and difficulty.  The trails I detail here are feeder trails into the main two trails, so the difficulty ranking only applies to the access trail and not the mainline trails which parallel the creek.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Birds Eye Views of Four Corners

Hello all.  I was on vacation in Ireland this past week, which is why the blog and the Facebook page sat idle for several days.  The trip was great, and I met several of my extended family who still live in Ireland.  While I had a lot of fun, its nice to be back home again.  I flew back last Sunday on an Aer Lingus flight from Shannon to Boston, where I connected to a jetBlue flight to DC (landing at Reagan National Airport).  The flight path took me directly over Four Corners.   

As my flight left Boston for DCA (that's National's airport code) I checked the weather in DC to see what the wind was like.  The skies were calm, so I figured the plane would approach DC from the north (the standard River Visual approach), flying over Montgomery County and along the Potomac River to the airport.  I sat on the left side of the plane to be in position to get pictures of Four Corners and DC from the window, since the right side would face upper Montgomery County and Northern Virginia.  The flight roughly paralleled I-95 all the way from Boston to DC, and as the plane was over Laurel, it began to turn west to get in position for final approach.  My assumption proved to be correct, and I had a great views of downcounty from my window.  Here are some pictures I took of Four Corners and surrounding areas in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.                   

Looking south and west down Colesville Road through Four Corners.  The intersection is at the center, with the most notable building being Blair High School.  The Beltway can be seen running across the middle of the image.  All photos by the author.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sidewalks are Thoroughfares Too

I've been doing a lot of walking and bike riding around Four Corners in the past two weeks since my summer break started.  I've walked down all of the sidewalks along the major roads, and I noticed some common themes.  First of all, most of the sidewalks are way too narrow and close to the road, which is nothing new, but that's a topic for another post.  The thing that annoys me is the way that the existing sidewalks are treated.

Sidewalks are too frequently viewed as an afterthought.  As I've walked along Colesville Road and University Boulevard, I've seen all sorts of things blocking or obstructing the sidewalks.  Examples include: trashcans, utility poles, parked cars, road signs, and overgrown vegetation.  When I see a particularly egregious obstruction, I take a photo of it.  Here are three of the worst offenders. 

Stay focused when using this sidewalk so you don't walk into this Ford Focus. 

This Ford Focus was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Oceanic gas station on University Boulevard at Sutherland Road.  The car doesn't have any rear plates on it, which means it was likely undergoing repairs at "Joe's Auto Repair" which is the name of the gas station's garage.  This car was probably placed here by one of the mechanics who works at the shop.  As you can see in the photo, there is a utility pole and some shrubs to the right of the vehicle, preventing someone from walking by it on the safer side.  This means that anyone walking past it must pass it on the left, in that narrow space between the vehicle and the right lane of University Boulevard.  After taking this photo, I did just that, walking between the car and the road as a tractor trailer passed by in the right lane.  I was close enough to reach out and touch the trailer of the passing truck.

Parking a car on the sidewalk like this is unacceptable.  The mechanic probably put it here because there was not enough room on the station's property to fit all the cars they are repairing.  If that that is the case, then they should not have agreed to repair more vehicles than they could accommodate on their property.  If this vehicle had been causally parked in the travel lanes of University Boulevard, it would have been ticketed, towed, and impounded within half an hour.  But it was on the sidewalk, and it remained in this spot for several days without consequence.                  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Woodmoor Esso

Before most of the subdivisions around Four Corners were built, the intersection of U.S. Route 29 (Colesville Road) and today's MD Route 193 (then Bladensburg Road) was just a rural crossroads.  Intersections such as these, if devoid of other commercial activity, are usually home to one thing: gas stations.  Four Corners was no different.  Gas stations were some of the first commercial establishments to open at the intersection.  The oldest station, dating to the 1930's, was located right in front of the Woodmoor Shopping Center.  It was originally called the Woodmoor Esso.

The Four Corners intersection in 1952.  The Esso can be seen at center in front of the shopping center.  This was a decade before the roads were widened.  Notice the gas stations on the southeast (next to the church) and northwest (next to the other shopping center) corners of the intersection.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

About the Lane Closure

The right lane of Route 29 closed between Crestmoor Drive and Northwest Branch because of damage from April 30th's flood.  Photo by the author.  

Traffic in Four Corners has been particularly bad these last two weeks due to the right lane closure on Route 29 North at Burnt Mills.  At rush hour, 29 has backed up so badly that it has gridlocked the intersection at Four Corners, affecting traffic on University Boulevard.  The State Highway Administration hopes to have repairs completed within a week.  The job was supposed to be done sooner, but the original contractor failed to show up.  This long term lane closure provide an interesting case study, especially with the proposed bus rapid transit line on Route 29 from Silver Spring to Burtonsville.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Candidates Forum Roundup

Last night, the civic associations of Woodmoor, South Four Corners, and Northwood-Four Corners hosted a candidates forum for those running for the Montgomery County Council District 5 seat.  The event was held in the auditorium of Pine Crest Elementary School in Woodmoor.  All five candidates were present for the lively forum: Terrill North, Evan Glass, Tom Hucker, Chris Barclay, and Jeffery Thames.  The event was well attended; I was at the forum, and I estimate that there were between 75-100 people in there.  The line of questions at the forum can be roughly broken down into the following categories: governance, transportation, and development.              

The candidates on stage in the Pine Crest multi-purpose room.  Photo by the author.

I attended the event with my father (a 24 year Woodmoor homeowner), and we arrived around 6:50, 10 minutes before the scheduled start.  The front of Pine Crest looked much like it does on election day: dozens of campaign signs everywhere, cars in the lot with political bumper stickers, and people handing out literature at the door.  Inside, some of the candidates were already mingling with attendees as members of the homeowners associations finished setting up.  I spoke briefly with candidates Chris Barclay and Evan Glass before the event got started.  As the late arriving crowd continued to trickle in, the forum got underway at 7:10.  

The format was as follows.  The forum was moderated by Carol Barth of the Northwood-Four Corners Civic Association (NFCCA).  The candidates were asked two types of questions.  One type was called the lighting round: Each candidate was given four signs that said "Yes", "No", "Maybe", and "Don't Know", and they all had to hold up their answers together when the question was asked.  The second type of question was timed:  Candidates were given a question, and they each had between 1 and 2 minutes to answer it, depending on the question (time limit was chosen by moderator).

Almost all of the questions were pre-selected by the civic associations.  The audience members only had a chance to ask questions if they had written them on a card and passed it up to the moderator via other civic association members.  There was no town hall style "open forum" where attendees could raise their hands and ask questions directly to the candidates.  However, there was ample time before and after for attendees to ask the candidates questions individually during the mingling sessions.

Here's how each candidate responded to the various questions in general terms.  These are not meant to be quotes, instead, they are the theme of the candidates message as they answered each question.  I'll try to be as neutral as possible in my descriptions based on my notes, and I will try to focus on things each candidate said that differed from the others (they agreed on many things like community engagement, accountability, etc. so it would be repetitive to state things like that over and over).      

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Route 29 Has Flooded Out

The bridge carrying Route 29 over Northwest Branch is covered in water.  The torrential rain we have had over the past two days has caused Northwest Branch to breach its banks and flow over the bridge in Burnt Mills by the old WSSC buildings.  This has not happened since June of 2006 (I'm almost certain).  As most people know, Route 29 is a major commuter route in eastern Montgomery County.  When it gets closed in both directions, traffic in the whole area feels the ripples effects.  Traffic can be expected to be horrible in Four Corners (worse than it usually is) until it reopens.

The flooded bridge this afternoon (4/30/14).  Photo courtesy of Ken Hawkins.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Northern Parkway

Have you ever crossed under the Beltway while using the Sligo Creek Trail?  If you have, you will know that there is a nice grassy area north of the Beltway between Forest Glen Road, Holy Cross Hospital, and the creek.  If you have lived in Four Corners a long time, you will remember that the bridge carrying the Beltway over the Sligo Creek Trial used to be ridiculously large for the size of the trail it crossed.  If you've lived in the area for a really long time, you will remember when the Beltway had exit numbers that were sequential instead of mileage based.  Georgia Avenue used to be Exit 23, and Colesville Road used to be Exit 21.  So what was exit 22?  

The large bridge that carried the Beltway over the trail (before being replaced in 2001) was not built to carry the Beltway over a path; rather, it was built to carry the Beltway over a six lane limited-access highway.  That grassy area next to the hospital is not there by accident; it was supposed to be the site of an extensive freeway interchange.  The omission of Exit 22 was not a mistake; it was supposed to be the future exit number for the Northern Parkway.            

This was the proposed interchange of the Northern Parkway and the Capital Beltway.  Holy Cross Hospital is center left (note the smokestack).  Sligo Creek Golf Course is at right.  The Beltway is the highway running from left to right, and the Northern Parkway is the one running from bottom-left to top-right.  The Boys and Girls Club (building with rounded roof) is also visible along Forest Glen Road.  Image from Douglas Willinger's blog "A Trip Within The Beltway".     

The Northern Parkway would have traveled from the North Central Freeway (planned I-70S/I-270) in the vicinity of Woodside through Silver Spring, Kemp Mill, Wheaton, and Glenmont to its terminus at the Outer Beltway (today's ICC) in Northwest Branch Park near the Trolley Museum.  The road would have been built to full interstate standards, and it may have carried an interstate designation, but it did not get far enough through the planning stages to receive a number (it probably would have been numbered I-370, more on the reasoning for that later on).  The part of the highway that would have affected Four Corners is its route along Sligo Creek from Woodside to Kemp Mill.  As seen in the photo above, the road would have had an interchange with the Beltway next to Holy Cross Hospital.  For many years, there was a green sign at this location denoting a "Future Exit".  This interchange would have been uncomfortably close to the current Georgia Avenue interchange, and the Northern Parkway interchange probably would have required extensive reconstruction had this road actually been built.  See map below for the routing of the parkway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

District 5 Candidates Forum on May 7th

Here's an event most Four Corners residents should try to attend.  All 5 candidates running for the Montgomery County Council District 5 seat will be in attendance to answer residents questions.  This race is wide open, and this is a great opportunity to learn more about the candidates and what they stand for.  Here are a few details from the WPCA listserv:

 The WPCA, Northwood Four Corners Civic Association, and South Four Corners Citizens' Association are  jointly sponsoring the County Council District 5 Candidates Forum on Wednesday, May 7th from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM at Pinecrest Elementary School, 201 Woodmoor Drive.  The forum will present an opportunity for Four Corners area residents and business owners to discuss major topics affecting our communities' future and quality of life. All 5 Candidates will be participating.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Extend the Long Branch Trail to Four Corners

The Long Branch Trail is a paved shared use path that connects to the Anacostia Tributary Trail System.  It currently runs from the confluence of Sligo Creek and Long Branch Creek in Takoma Park to it's terminus at Piney Branch Road in Long Branch; the community of homes and apartments that takes its name from the eponymous creek.  The creek continues north for another mile to its headwaters just south of Franklin Avenue in Indian Spring.  The creek is lined with a thin riparian buffer (woods and undergrowth separating it from adjacent development) for most of its route.  North of Piney Branch Road, the creek does not have any recognized trail running alongside it, though there are some dirt trails that parallel the creek all the way to its origin in Upper Long Branch Park.

Long Branch Creek along Wilmer Street in Indian Spring, just south of its headwaters.  Photo by the author.

I think the current Long Branch Trail should be extended to Franklin Avenue as a paved path, then continued on-street through Indian Spring to a potential pedestrian bridge over the Beltway at Indian Spring Terrace Park, and then through the campus of Blair High School to the intersection of Colesville Road and University Boulevard.  Click on the interactive map below to get a visual reference of the potential extension.

View Long Branch Trail in a larger map

Monday, April 14, 2014

BRT won't destroy the Woodmoor Shopping Center

Hello all.  I've been taking a brief hiatus from blogging for the past two weeks to get some other stuff done, and I had planned to make a return post about this lovely Spring weather.  But then I read some comments on local listerv that claimed that the Woodmoor Shopping Center would be completely and totally destroyed in order to accommodate BRT on University Boulevard and Colesville Road.  I hoped that this was an isolated misconception, but to my surprise, it seems a great many people believe this untruth.  I do not like scare tactics, and I also don't like people who extort the ignorance of others by using such scare tactics, so I decided had to clear this up.

The not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon Woodmoor Shopping Center.  Photo by the author.

I am not sure how this myth started, but it certainly alarms people who are unfamiliar with the BRT plans.  I assume its origins are in another myth I have heard about BRT: the thought that BRT will require 150 feet of additional right-of-way on local roads.  For some reference on that number, the width of the Beltway from shoulder to shoulder through Four Corners is less than 150 feet.  BRT buses are between 8 and 9 feet wide, so the 150 number seems a bit extreme.        

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Capital Beltway Northwest Branch Bridge

125 feet above Northwest Branch stands one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in the Washington D.C. region.  It carries over 225,000 vehicles a day, and it forms a crucial connection between the east and west sides of the the National Capital Region.  It links people to their homes, jobs, and social lives, and it is a critical component of regional commerce.  It was completed in 1964, and it formed the final link in the Capital Beltway, completing the 64 mile circumferential highway.  It is taller than most buildings in the area, and it is by far the tallest bridge on the Capital Beltway.  Because of its unassuming appearance from the roadway, few of the quarter million people who travel across it on a daily basis realize its scale and importance, and some do not even realize they are crossing over a bridge.

It is the Northwest Branch Bridge.    

The bridge seen from the Northwest Branch gorge, looking north from the Oakview side of the creek.  The blue shape on top of the bridge is a large box truck that was driving over as I took this photo.  The truck provides a nice sense of scale.    

Thursday, March 27, 2014

240 year old Black Gum tree falls

A ~240 year old Black Gum tree that graced the skies of Four Corners for centuries fell a couple weeks ago.  The tree was located off Forest Glen Road in Argyle Park, which takes its name for the former country club on the same site.  The tree was brought down by the winds of March 12th, a victim of the terrible weather we have had this winter.

The tree a couple years ago.  Image from Montgomery County Forestry Board
This tree witnessed an impressive amount of history during its lifetime.  At 240 years old, it dates to just before the American Revolution.  Here are some noteworthy events that occurred around the tree during its lifespan:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The most complete street in Four Corners

A complete street is a street on which all road users are welcome.  This means the street is comfortable for people in cars, on bikes, on foot, or in a bus.  Unfortunately, most streets and roads in Montgomery County are not complete.  They may be good for cars, but all other modes of travel have a difficult time on them.  Incomplete streets lack safe crosswalks, bike infrastructure, good sidewalks, adequate lighting, and transit facilities (such as sheltered bus stops and bus lanes).  Incomplete streets are generally bad for communities, since they discourage most ways of getting around, other than by car.  This results in unnecessary traffic congestion, unhealthier people, and less community interaction.  Thankfully, Four Corners has at least one complete street.    

View Larger Map

Forest Glen Road is the most inclusive street in Four Corners, based on several criteria.

Forest Glen Road is basically a local road connecting neighborhoods between Forest Glen and Four Corners.  It is a popular bike route because it provides direct access to the Sligo Creek Trail, as well as the Forest Glen Metro Station.  The road is also home to several recreational facilities, such as Argyle Park, the Senior Citizen Center, Sligo Creek Park, and the former Boys and Girls Club, so it gets a good amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic that other roads around Four Corners don't get.  I chose the Street View image above because it shows several things that make Forest Glen Road a nice experience for all users.

The following factors make Forest Glen Road the most complete street in Four Corners:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Facebook Page

I just created a Facebook page for the blog.  I have heard some people say they have difficulty finding the blog on search engines (I made the blog visible to search engines, but even I can't find it when I search for it, which really annoys me).  I hope this page makes it easier for people to find the blog and stay in touch with it.  I will probably update the page once a day for now, sharing posts, pictures, or other news.  I will add a plug in to the blog  when I figure out how to do so, but for now here is the URL:

Monday, March 17, 2014


Happy Saint Patrick's Day!  And to celebrate, Four Corners is cleaning from yet another snowfall.

This winter had been a rough one for the D.C. area.  While we have not gotten the same volume of snow as 2010/2011, the number and frequency of snowstorms this season has been greater than any other in recent memory.  This mean tons (literally) of salt, sand, and brine have been distributed onto local roads almost a dozen times this winter.  After reading about how Montgomery County spent $25 million on snow removal and road treatment this winter (greatly surpassing the $9.1 million set aside in the budget), I asked the following question: was all of that really necessary?

The streets are full of salt and sand from the multiple snowstorms this winter.  The sand that is not washed into local streams will be swept up in April.  Photo by the author.    

I've always found snow removal to be puzzling.  Governments and businesses spend millions on it, and it is so unpredictable (in an area like ours) that it is almost impossible to accurately budget for.  The odd part is that a ton of money gets spent on something that will disappear within a couple days anyways.  I'm not saying we should have no snow removal whatsoever, but I've wondered if it is worth the amount of money it costs, and if it is a prudent use of limited funds.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Where is "Silver Spring"?

"Hi, where are you from?"

"Silver Spring"

"Me too!  Which part are you from?"

"Near Olney."

Silver Spring sign on Georgia Avenue... in actual Silver Spring.

That excerpt above is from a conversation I had with someone last year at college.  It highlights an issue that has always annoyed me: The vagueness of "Silver Spring".

Silver Spring is not an incorporated city.  It raises no taxes.  It has no police department.  It has no municipal services.  It is just a Census Designated Place (CDP).  While Silver Spring may be one of the most urbanized areas in the DC region, it shares it's name with numerous suburban and rural communities in eastern Montgomery County.  In most people's minds, a farm in Colesville and a 17 story high rise on Ripley Street are both in "Silver Spring".  In my opinion, this level of misidentification is a travesty.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

University Boulevard crash zone

The stretch of University Boulevard East between Williamsburg Drive and Saint Lawrence Drive has seen dozens of crashes over the years.  All of these crashes have similar circumstances: the road bends to the left, and a driver keeps going straight.  Two of the three houses along this block have high property fences in their front yards.  The fences help keep out the noise and trash from the road.  Unfortunately, these fences get damaged or destroyed every time there is a crash.  Usually it is just the fences that get damaged, but a crash last week was a bit more serious.

Tire marks in the front yard of 100 University Boulevard East.  Photo by the author.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Steepest hill in Four Corners

To follow up on my post last week about the elevations of Four Corners.  As that article said, Four Corners is a pretty hilly place.

The hills contribute to the character of our neighborhoods.  Finding a jogging route or a bike route without hills is basically impossible.  However, the hills make for some cool perspectives and interesting home situations that you won't find in many other places in the region.  Not many neighborhoods around us have so many hills, or such large hills.  But why are there so many large hills in Four Corners, and how tall/steep are they?  

So what is the biggest hill in Four Corners?  This title could be debated, as there are many short steep hills that could claim it, as well as long gradual ones that are impressive even though they are less steep.  After looking at various hills around Four Corners and doing some rough geometric calculations, I have determined the steepest and most impressive hill in the area to be the following:  Brookmoor Drive between Williamsburg Drive and Penwood Road.

Looking up Brookmoor from Williamsburg.  Image from Google Stretview.