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.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Coming up this week: March 2nd 2014

Here's some random information that might not warrant a full blog post, but is still pertinent to Four Corners residents.  I might make this a weekly thing if I can think of enough stuff or if I get enough suggestions from readers.  

Gathering Clouds:  5-8 inches of snow is predicted to fall on the Greater Four Corners Metropolitan Area overnight and into tomorrow.  The storm is also predicted to bring freeing rain and sleet, the amount of which depends on the temperatures.  I hope the storm consists of snow alone, since freeing rain is rough on power lines, and Pepco isn't exactly expedient when it comes to repairs.  Also, if you live near a fire hydrant, shovel it out.  My house caught on fire during the President's Day snowstorm in 2003, and a cleared fire hydrant saved valuable time and prevented the destruction of my family's home.  Simple things like shoveling out a hydrant or sidewalk (if you have one) can make our community safer for everyone.   

The shopping center after the snow a few weeks ago.  

This will be the next (and hopefully last) of several snowfalls that have occurred this winter.  Spring can't come soon enough

Lane shifts: The State Highway Administration will resume construction on the University Boulevard bridge this week.  Construction started last summer, and has been on hold for several months while power poles were relocated.  The next and largest phase of construction involves replacing the deck of the 56 year old bridge.  This is the same type of project that occurred on the Colesville Road bridge 10 years ago, for those who remember that.

The bridge in January with the right lane closed and medians paved over.  

University Boulevard will be reduced to 2 lanes each direction during this phase of construction.  Be alert for the changing traffic patterns, pay attention to the signs, and watch your speed as you drive through.  This reconfiguration will cause traffic delays, but the amount of delays is unknown.  This type of project occurred on New Hampshire Avenue at Sligo Creek last summer, and the delays were minor.  Hopefully this protect will be similar.

Longtime Resident Moving On:  Estelle Wittholz; a 60 year Woodmoor resident, will be moving to an assisted living facility in Rockville in a few days.  Mrs. Wittholz first moved to the neighborhood with her husband Charles in 1954, buying a house on Lexington Drive.  In 1974, she and her husband, along with children Chuck and Lisa, moved into her current home at 100 Williamsburg Drive.  Mrs. Wittholz's home is the first house in off University Boulevard on Willaimsburg Drive, and it is the first home people see as they enter the neighborhood.  The house was always well kept up and has impressive gardens, providing a great first impression for visitors to our community.

The Whitholtz house in the summer of 2012.

Mrs. Whitholtz has been a friend of my family for 20 years, and my family frequently visits with her (she calls my sister and I her "grandchildren").  She has contributed to the community in many ways over years, such as paying for the benches on Woodmoor Drive behind Saint Bernadette's.  Her presence will be missed, and I wish her the best in the future.