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.

Since the ramp was removed in 2007, I've wondered if the space could be put to better use.  The space is at least a couple acres large, and it has a slight hill that leads down to the Beltway.  It is the biggest unused pieces of land that I know of around Four Corners (excluding parks).  The former school site along University Boulevard by The Oaks used to be the biggest, but it is being incorporated into the redesign of North Four Corners Local Park.  There are some other smaller empty parcels in Four Corners, but they are either county owned land, or in the case of the property at University Boulevard and Brunette Avenue, a private piece of land awaiting development. 

Let's assume that the SHA would be willing to give away a sizable chunk of this parcel for some sort of public use.  What could it be used for?   

Aerial view of the parcel.  A sound wall and some trees separate it from the Blair campus and the back of Fire Station 16.  Image from Google Earth.

The shape and location of this parcel limit its potential reuses.  The site is oddly shaped (more or less triangular), and it sits on a gradual hill, making it unfavorable for any sort of playing field (soccer, baseball, etc.).  The site is also directly adjacent to the Beltway, with no sound wall or tree line providing visual separation from the road.  Currently, there is not even a fence preventing pedestrian access to the Beltway from University Boulevard (though the trees and high grass provide a type of barrier).  If the parcel were put to a different use, there would obviously be some form of fence or landscaping separating it from the highway, but the proximity to the Beltway still limits potential recreational uses at the site.  The area is also somewhat isolated because it was once part of the interchange.  The homes in Woodmoor and Indian Spring arenot far away, but the parcel is not very walkable from either neighborhood.         

Another view of the parcel.  The only existing structures on the site are these two metal boxes, which are some form of electrical infrastructure owned by Pepco.  Photo by the author.     

Here are some ideas I've had for this piece of land:

Dog park:

There aren't any dog parks in Four Corners, but this area definitely has a bunch of dog owners (I'm biased because I have a Yellow Lab).  A dog park could be addition to the community.  A site like this with lots of grass and scattered trees wouldn't need much work to become a dog park.  However, the issue of close highway proximity is an issue.  While the road would be separated from the park, there would still be plenty of noise, which could spook dogs and deter usage.  But, if it is done correctly with good separation from the road and adequate parking/pedestrian access (such as a pedestrian bridge over the Beltway), it could be a popular spot for dog owners.      

Skate park: 

The nearest skate parks to Four Corners are in Woodside and White Oak, each about 2 miles away.  Skatboarding is an increasingly popular activity/sport, and it is most popular among teenage males.  Given this parcels location between Blair and Eastern (which have many students who like to skate), as well as its relative distance from other designated skateboarding areas, this could be a great place for a new skate park.  A skate park could have a relatively small footprint, leaving much of the parcel untouched.  Also, skateboarders likely wouldn't mind the traffic noise from the Beltway, since they would just be happy to actually have a place to skate without getting chased away.  This is probably my favorite idea for a use of this site.

Park and ride:

This is probably the least "green" use of the parcel, but its logical to use an area bounded by highways for something car related.  The 1996 Four Corners Master Plan recommended against a park and ride in Four Corners, but at that time, this parcel was still used as an off-ramp, and therefore not one of the considered locations.   A park and ride at this spot would be more beneficial to commuters from farther away that it would be for residents, but it could serve a purpose.  A park and ride could be served by express Metrobus routes such as the Z9, Z11, and Z29, which are rush hour only lines that terminate at the Silver Spring Metro, as well as the C2 and C4 local routes.  This could be a viable option for anyone who commutes west on the Beltway to Silver Spring from Prince George's County, since they could park here and take quick bus ride to DTSS or the Metro without dealing with parking in the Silver Spring commercial district.  However, as stated before, this park and ride may not have much benefit to local residents, and it would convert an area currently covered in grass and trees to an expanse of pavement.  

If you have any ideas for this parcel besides the ones stated, please state them in the comments!              



  1. I was told that this land was banked for the fire department, whose station is next door.

  2. i think a skate park would be nice. The white oak skate park is so far back from the road/bus line .