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.    



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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:



Sidewalks 

Sidewalks are one of the most basic things every street should have, but sidewalks are often of poor quality or completely absent.  Simply having sidewalks on a road is not good enough.  For street to be complete, it must have the best sidewalks possible.  A good sidewalk is separated from the roadway by several feet, and it must be at least 5 feet wide.  The sidewalks along Forest Glen Road are pretty good, and the ones between Dallas Avenue and Reddick Drive (section shown in the image above) are ideal.

An example of a bad sidewalk along Colesville Road by the Beltway.  A person walking on this sidewalk is less than 5 feet away from vehicles going 50 MPH.  The sidewalk is littered with debris, and there is a utility pole in the middle of it, making impassible for anyone in a wheelchair.  

Good sidewalks must be free from obstructions like telephone poles, signs, or debris.  Having a buffer zone between the road and the sidewalk provides a place for signs and poles.  The buffer zone also prevents road debris from accumulating on sidewalks.  In the spring, sidewalks immediately adjacent to roads are commonly covered in gravel and sand from winter snowfalls.  This can make the sidewalks dangerous and unpleasant, especially for people in wheelchairs and those pushing strollers.  Having a smooth sidewalk that is separated from the road and free from obstructions makes walking much more appealing.


An example of good sidewalk along University Boulevard in Wheaton.  The buffer zone makes the sidewalk more pleasant by separating it from traffic and providing a place for utility poles and signs.  
             
Sharrows

Sharrow is a portmanteau for shared lane markings called shared use arrows.  Sharrows are painted on pavement to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists (who are legally allowed to ride in the middle of the lane).  Sharrows are usually a substitute for bike lanes, and they are one of simplest forms of bike infrastructure.  Sharrows are not as good as bike lanes, as they do not provide cyclists with their own space on the road.   However, they are better than nothing, and Forest Glen Road does have some short segments of bike lanes near Holy Cross Hospital.

Sharrow at the intersection of Forest Glen Road and Reddick Drive.    
Forest Glen Road get's a decent amount of bicycle traffic because it connects neighborhoods with the Sligo Creek Trail and the Forest Glen Metro Station.  The sharrows remind drivers to watch out for cyclists, and they let cyclists know that they are welcome on the road.  Many cyclists prefer ride on sidewalks because it is "safer" than the road, but this practice endangers pedestrians.  Bikes go way faster than pedestrians, and if a cyclists hits someone on foot (especially a senior citizen or child), that pedestrian could be injured or even killed.  It's much safer to ride in the street, especially one with a fairly low speed limit like Forest Glen Road (30 MPH).  Sharrows let cyclists know that the street is their space too.    

Crosswalks 

Crosswalks should be frequent, well placed, and well signed.  Frequent crosswalks give people on foot plenty of opportunities to (legally) cross the street.  I'm not a fan of the idea of "jaywalking" since I think people should be allowed to cross a street wherever and whenever they want (to an extant).  But someone made a law stating that pedestrians have to cross streets and roads in marked crosswalks, and if they don't, they are totally at fault for whatever happens to them.

A good crosswalk on Flower Avenue in Long Branch.   
Forest Glen Road has a few crosswalks.  It could have more, but the ones it does have are well positioned and have good sight-lines. Good sight-lines are important so that drivers can see pedestrians and stop as quickly as possible.  A pedestrian should never have to wait more than 5 seconds to cross a street (5 seconds being the amount of time it takes to safely stop a car travelling at a reasonable speed).  A pedestrian standing at the side of the road is the same thing as a red light or stop sign, and motorists should react accordingly.  Well placed signage can ensure this and prevent pedestrians from being inconvenienced.  Montgomery County has done a pretty good job of ensuring pedestrian safety on it's streets (way better than the SHA).  There are several county maintained roads around Four Corners that have seen pedestrian improvements in recent years (Lockwood Drive, Brunette Avenue, Flower Avenue) and I hope the county keeps doing this.  

Sheltered bus stops

Sheltered bus stops are an easy way of encouraging bus ridership, because they give people a pleasant place to wait for the bus.  Forest Glen Road has two bus routes serving it the 19 and 8.  The 8 bus runs more frequently than the 19 and it spends more time on Forest Glen Road, serving the Senior Citizens Center and Holy Cross Hospital.  Because many of the riders on this route are older people, having easily accessible bus stops with covered waiting areas and seats makes their journey much easier.  Bus shelters provide shade from the sun and cover from the rain, and they are simple thing that makes a big difference to transit riders.  

Sheltered bus stop in front of senior citizens center.  Image from Google Street View
     
Low speed limit 

A low speed limit is essential if a street is to appeal to a variety of users.  Forest Glen Road has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour.  This is an appropriate speed considering the width of the road and the land uses along it (primarily residential and recreational).  If the speed limit was higher, the road would feel more hostile to those on foot or on bikes.  Roads like University Boulevard and Colesville Road are hostile to pedestrians because of their crappy sidewalks and the high speeds of traffic along these routes.  It is not uncommon for motorists to go 50 or 55 miles per hour on Colesville or University, which makes it downright dangerous to walk or cycle along those roads.  Thankfully, Forest Glen Road has a lower speed limit, making it much more pleasant to walk or bike along.

This is a reasonable speed limit.  Photo from Google Street View

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All of these factors alone would not make the street complete, but because they are all present, it makes Forest Glen Road an inclusive space.  The county did a great job with forest Glen Road, and I hope more roads in Four Corners can be made into complete streets, since it is fairly inexpensive to do so.

Ideally, Colesville Road and University Boulevard would also have buffered sidewalks, bike lanes, convenient crosswalks, and lower speed limits.  However, those roads are under SHA control, not country control.  While the county is concerned both about residents and traffic movement, the SHA is basically only concerned about moving as many vehicles as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.  Pedestrian safety and cycling facilities are an afterthought.  Hopefully the SHA will adopt some of the county's practices so that University Boulevard and Colesville Road can be as accommodating as possible to all road users, just like Forest Glen Road.       




 
           

3 comments:

  1. One does have to consider the fact that Forest Glen is a major cut-through for people trying to get between Georgia and Colesville. And probably 50% or more of the cut-through traffic goes a good deal faster than the posted 30mph speed limit, because they're trying to get from point A to with little regard for neighborhood safety. Speeding and running through crosswalks are actually a problem throughout South Four Corners (I live off Lanark), but Forest Glen certainly sees these problems as a cut-through road.

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    1. I don't think "cut-through" is an appropriate term for traffic travelling between Georgia and Colesville on Forest Glen Road, because the road was built to facilitate that movement as far back as the 1880's, at least 60 years before the neighborhoods along it were built. I agree that speeding is problem, but the problem of speeding is not about the type of traffic or its origins, it is about the lack of enforcement by the Montgomery County Police. Has the SFCCA met with the police about this?

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  2. Sorry to be late to the party on this one... One caveat, and I actually called the county on this, but it was too late - there is a wide bike lane going in the downhill direction (from Georgia towards Sligo), and virtually no lane (it's a foot or so wide, then merges into the curb, with tons of detritus against the curb) going up the steepest hill (near the hospital) and beyond. Bike lanes are least needed when bikes can approximate the speed of vehicle traffic - that is - going downhill. They are most needed when the disparity is greatest - that is - going uphill, or when casual riders may be tired just after the hill, but cars are frequently speeding up to make the light at Georgia. The whole setup would be perfect if they would shift the lines 2-3 feet to the south, giving more protection to the bike lane on the side headed towards Georgia.

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