Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The new North Four Corners Park in pictures

The new and improved North Four Corners Park has been unofficially opened to the public for about a month now.  Here are some photos of the new park I took during a visit there a couple weeks ago.      

The sign on then new part of the park facing University Boulevard.  Al photos by the author.

This tree was preserved through construction.

Bike racks designed to look like people.

Environmental remediation.  Water from the parking lot flows directly into this bioswale to controll runoff.

View across the field towards University Blvd

Exercise equipment.

Connector to Timberwood Avenue.

New paths from University Boulevard into the park.

New picnic tables.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

North-South of East West?

A couple weeks ago, we looked at how Four Corners streets got their address numbers. Today, we'll look at which streets run north-south versus north south, based on those address numbers.

 Below is a map I made highlighting east-west streets in green, and north-south streets in orange.

North-South streets in orange, East-West in green.  Drawn by the author in Google Earth.

I determined the geographic orientation of the streets by simply looking at their address numbers. Here in Four Corners, streets with numbers in the hundreds and low thousands are east--west, while those in the nine and ten thousands are north-south. As one can see on the map, some streets don't seem to conform with their directions.

These streets in Northwood all run east-west numbering-wise, but not geographically.

The above image shows some streets behind Northwood High School which all run "east", yet they clearly have no specific geographic direction due to their windy character.

Because most of the streets in Four Corners are not straight lines, there are several streets that do not have any clear direction.  Lawnsberry Terrace in Franklin Knolls is labelled north-south, yet it is a rough "U" shape that seems to go mote east-west than not.

Lawnsberry Terrace is a north-south street, though it doesn't have a dominant geographic direction.
There are several other examples of oddities such as this.  It must have been a judgement call when numbers were assigned to homes on such streets after their construction.  With so many streets lacking a clear geographic direction, it appears planners did the best they could in assigning accurate numbers to these roads.

What do you notice from the map?  Does your street's direction make sense?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Scrutinizing our current infrastructure

Over the past several weeks, I have been to numerous public meetings relating to planned changes in or around Four Corners.  At all of these meetings and forums, there is a common theme: people demanding thorough study and analysis before any changes are even considered.

After attending one of these meetings, I thought to myself: "What if we applied the level of scrutiny that we do to new projects to the arterial roads we currently have?"

University Boulevard Easy in front of St. B's.  Photo by the author.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why do many street names in Four Corners contain "East"?

East Franklin Avenue.  East Wayne Avenue.  East Indian Spring Drive.  University Boulevard East.

Have you ever wondered why many roads around Four Corners have the prefix of "East", or why University Boulevard is divided into University Blvd. East and University Blvd. West?  The answer has to do with our proximity to Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County's planning history.

Why does University Blvd have the "East" and "West" suffixes?  Photo by the author.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Finding a home for a tiny house

About a month ago, I was contacted by local artist and Woodmoor native/resident Brian Coyne, who had some questions for me about the county's laws regarding tiny houses.  I directed him to the Montgomery County Code for clarification on the legal side of things, but I was curious about the idea of a tiny house.  I had heard of tiny homes before, but I had never seen one in person and I wasn't sure how they worked.   Brian explained to me why he opted to buy a tiny home, and gave me some background on the process.

"Why am I confining myself to a tiny house? This is an experiment in minimalism. In 2007 I bought a 2 bedroom condo in North Bethesda for $299,000. Within a couple of years the value dropped to $215,000. My loan was a 10/30 loan where for ten years I pay interest only and then for 30 years I pay interest and principal. My condo fees were $440 / month and my mortgage was $1,600 plus property taxes. In order to afford all this I had to stay in my job whether I wanted to or not. Year after year I was working a job that had no room for advancement, but it barely paid the bills. What I really wanted to do was to go back to school to get my masters in fine arts. With a masters I could teach high school or college art."

"I realized that I would be better off short-selling the condo and buying a tiny house. One can save up for a tiny house or, even cheaper, build it yourself. You can buy plans from a company called Tumbleweed. I found a company that builds tiny houses and campers: Andrew bennet is the owner. Cool guy. He's making mine and it will be ready in June."

Brian's house being constructed.  Photo courtesy of Brian Coyne.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Four Corners at 2:30 AM

Back in March, I went for a walk around Four Corners at 2:30 AM.  I just finished watching the new season of House of Cards, but I didn't feel like going to sleep yet.  I decided to walk up to the intersection just to see what it looked like at such an unusual time of day.  This was a Wednesday morning, and since it wasn't a weekend night, I figured there wouldn't be much traffic out, and there wasn't.

When I got up to University, it was eerie how empty it was.  I walked down the travel lanes of the road simply because there were no cars and I could.  One I got to the shopping center and the intersection, it felt like a ghost town.  Aside from the occasional passing truck or car, the only other people I saw were a guy smoking a cigarette outside of 7/11, and two people unloading a box truck in front of the shopping center (and they left a couple minutes after I arrived).  I stood in the middle of the intersection between the 7/11 and the shopping center for about 2 minutes straight before a car approached, just because it's something that you can normally never do without obstructing traffic or getting hit.

It was a pretty cool experience, since I was seeing a place that I know so well in a totally different light.  Below are some unedited pictures of the intersection and surrounding area at that time of night.    

Looking west on University Blvd from Williamsburg Drive.  All photos by the author.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why I don't use Ride On route 19

This past week, I started a summer internship in DC.  My commute involves taking a bus to the Silver Spring Metro from my home in Woodmoor and then taking the train downtown to the office.  On Wednesday, I decided to try the Ride On 19.  I normally ride the Z lines on Colesville Road whenever I need to get to Silver Spring, since they have much lower headways and are more direct than the 19.  However, the walk to the nearest 19 stop on University is about .45 miles closer to my house than the nearest Z stop over on Colesville, so I figured I'd try the 19 this morning.

I arrived at the stop at Williamsburg and University next to the fire station at 8:29, six minutes before the scheduled arrival time of 8:35.  I've heard from friends who are regular Ride On patrons that routes 8 and 19 often run early, so I arrived a few minutes beforehand in anticipation of this.  I sat down at the stop and checked the Transit app on my phone to see if the bus was close by.  The app originally said the 19 would arrive in 5 minutes, and the icon on the map showed the bus at Dennis and University.  It appeared that the bus would show up on time.    

Around 8:40, I began to get suspicious.  It had been 10 minutes, and the app kept refreshing the time to say that the bus was 2 or 3 minutes away, and the bus icon on the map hadn't moved from University and Dennis.  My only guess as to the cause was that the bus was delayed in traffic approaching the intersection.  At 8:45, a C4 scheduled to arrive after the 19 passed by the stop, meaning the 19 couldn't have been stuck in traffic west of Four Corners, or it would have arrived before the C4.  Around this time, the bus icon on the map mysteriously disappeared and the "minutes until arrival" showed null, as if the bus had already passed... but it hadn't.  

The 19 seen on University Boulevard last summer.  Photo by the author.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Local Business: The Studio Grooming Salon

This past Tuesday I visited The Studio Grooming Salon, a new business here in Four Corners.  Opened in January of this year, The Studio is a grooming salon that caters to all kinds of dogs, focusing on those needing specialty service due to anxiety or illness.  I spoke with the owner of The Studio, Sarah Watkins, about how she grew her business from an at-home grooming operation to an independent dog salon with two locations (one here in Four Corners, and one in Middleburg, VA).

The Studio Grooming Salon is located at 10124 Colesville Road, across from the Woodmoor Shopping Center.  Photo by the author

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The "Wishmaker's House"

While doing some historical research a few weeks ago, I found this neat old ad for a home here in Four Corners.  On September 27th 1940, this advertisement for the "Wishmaker's House" appeared in The Washington Post.  The advertised home is located in Indian Spring Village, a new subdivision along Old Bladensburg Road in Four Corners, and the listed address is "1 Williambsurg Drive".  If the subdvsion name and address seem odd to some folks, that is because the name "Indian Spring Village has all but fallen out of use and the address "1 Willimabsurg Drive" no longer exists, but this home certainly does.    

Advertisement for the Wishmaker's House in Indian Spring Village.  Image from "Silver Spring, Maryland: residential development of a Washington suburb, 1920-1955", which is a research thesis dating to the 1990's by Stephanie Ann Sechrist. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bicycle Master Plan update is an opportunity for Four Corners

Tomorrow is national Bike To Work Day, and as part of the festivities, Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson will be attending an event to speak about the county's upcoming Bicycle Master Plan update.  The county last updated its bike plan in 2005 with the Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan.  The official process of updating the bike plan will begin on July 1st of this year, and it will focus on evaluating new facilities such as buffered bike lanes, bike boulevards, and secure bicycle storage facilities.

Montgomery Planning will begin work on the Bicycle Master Plan on July 1st.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cherry Tree & Lexington

The intersection of Cherry Tree Lane and Lexington Drive in Woodmoor is a quiet intersection deep in the neighborhood, but for some reason, part of it is designed like a highway on-ramp.

The sweeping right turn from southbound Cherry Tree to eastbound Lexington.  
Photo by the author.

The portion of the intersection that provides the right turn movement from Lexington to Cherry Tree has its own one-way "ramp" for drivers heading up Lexington towards Woodmoor Drive.  For lack of a better term, I will refer to this piece of roadway as the "ramp" for the purposes of this post.  Short ramps like this are normally used on arterial highways to allow drivers to make turns at high speeds so that they can safely merge fast moving traffic.  But these are both residential streets, and there is no need for an acceleration zone.

So why does this exist?  There may not be a good reason why, but the neighborhood would be better off if this ramp were removed.  Here are three reasons why we should try to get rid of this strange piece of road.

The ramp can be used by traffic going one-way only, just like Beltway access ramps.
Photo by the author.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Summer is Around the Corner(s)

It's almost summertime, which means more blog posts from us here at Around the Corners.

I've been quite busy during the past month with school.  As a junior in college, it is difficult to balance regular blogging with academics and social life.  However, my summer break starts next week, and the summertime is when I have ample opportunity to write quality blog posts with regularity.

The Woodmoor Shopping Center last July.  Photo by the author.

Here is a preview of what we'll be covering this coming summer and beyond:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting #2, and thoughts on obstructionism

This past Tuesday, the second meeting of the Route 29 South Corridor Advisory Committee was held at the Silver Spring Civic Center.  The Corridor Advisory Committee (CAC) was formed in February to allow citizens to have input on the planning process of the Route 29 BRT line, a part of the county's broader Rapid Transit System (RTS).

The meeting agenda involved an explanation of the Project Development Process, an Existing Conditions Review, an intro to the Corridor Planning Study, and concluded with an Interactive Exercise.  However, the meeting only roughly followed this schedule and it did not go into much detail, as the facilitators could not effectively progress through the agenda due to frequent questions from the committee members.  While some of these questions were constructive and advanced the positive dialogue, many were simply obstructionist statements meant to hinder the committee process.

I understand that bus rapid transit is a controversial issue, but the tone with which some of my fellow committee members addressed the facilitators (and others on the committee) was unnecessarily rude.  It was odd to me, as the youngest person in the room, to see people of my parents' generation act as if they are back in grade school by making snide and demeaning remarks, and frequently interrupting the facilitators and other committee members.  I'm sure those who were being rude and disrespectful would claim that they are just being assertive, and that their extreme skepticism and purposeful diversion of the agenda was warranted due to past actions on the county's part.  However, at a certain point, this healthy skepticism and sincere quest for answers becomes overt obstructionism, meant only to derail the public process instead of enhance it.  There was far too much obstructionism at the meeting Tuesday night.

That being said, the county and AECOM (contracted by the county to facilitate these sessions) did themselves no favors by setting a rigid agenda, spending more than an hour "presenting" information that was repeated from past meetings, and selecting members of the committee that are not representative of the community. There were very few minorities, renters, or people under age of ~40 selected to participate (there are only two people on the committee in their 20s, one of which is me). The demographics of the committee do not closely align with the demographics of Silver Spring, Four Corners, and White Oak.

The US 29 RTS Corridor.  Image from MCDOT.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Antifragility in Four Corners part 2: Which is more valuable?

Welcome to our second post on antifragility.  In this entry, we're going to look at the assessed value of two different businesses to determine how antifragility makes places more valuable and stable.  To do this, we will do a value per acre (VPA) comparison of two properties based on their assessed value and land property area as stated on the Maryland Department of Assessment & Taxation's online database.  These are the same records used to tax these properties at the county and state levels.    

For the first property, I wanted to pick a relatively new shopping center or business somewhere here in eastern Montgomery County that followed a suburban model of development (easy access, ample parking, etc).  For the second, I wanted to choose an older property that was in a suburban area, but which did not follow the same from of development (meaning an older building with difficult car access and little/no parking on site). 

For these reasons, I chose the following two properties: the Target in Fairland, and Kenny's Chicken here in Four Corners.  The Target in Calverton is part of the Orchard Center Shopping Center, which contains multiple other big box stores such as Kohl's and PetSmart.  It has plenty of parking and is easy to access via automobile.  It was also built within the last 20 years, opening in 1998, making it one of the newest suburban retail areas here in east county.  Kenny's is part of a small low end strip mall here in Four Corners, and its building was constructed in 1948.  It has no designated parking, and it is very difficult to access via car.  A road widening project in 1996 further restricted access to the business by eliminating on-street parking out front, and creating an odd multi-level sidewalk for pedestrians.  

Kenny's.  Photo by the author.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Antifragility in Four Corners part 1: What does it mean to be antifragile?

Welcome to our series on antifragility.  Over the next three posts, we will detail how the Four Corners commercial district is antifragile because of it's age and form.  Before this series begins, however, it is important to explain what antifragility is, as the term is relatively unknown.

I learned about antifragility through Strong Towns, a grassroots movement based in Minnesota which focuses on making cities strong and resilient.  Strong Towns emphasizes the importance of the traditional development pattern as a means of keeping communities financially solvent, which ensures long term prosperity through the tenets of antifragility.  The concept of antifragility was formulated by Lebanese scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who has written several books on the topics of randomness, probability, and uncertainty.

In brief, antifragility is defined by that which gains from disorder.  The antifragile is more than simply robust, since that which is robust does not gain from shocks and stressors, it simply recovers from them and stays the same.  The antifragile not only recovers from unforeseen events, but it is made stronger by them.  So while the term may sound negative because it starts with "anti", it is actually a very good thing to be antfragile.

Let us examine what antifragilty means in the context of a community like ours.  Thankfully, Four Corners bears many elements of antifragility.  While we do have some fragile elements, we are in a better position than many other suburbs.  A community is antifragile if it can thrive in the face of unforeseen events such as business closings, disasters, or demographic changes.

This shopping center, while not filled with high end stores and lacking sufficient parking, is still much more valuable than larger auto-oriented shopping centers further out Route 29.  In a later post, we'll explore why this is more valuable.  Image from Google Street View. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Corridor Advisory Committee formed to study BRT on Route 29

As part of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan approved in November 2013, Corridor Advisory Committees have been formed to give local residents, business owners, and stakeholders a voice in the planning and design process of the county's rapid transit system.  The county has established five committees to study three corridors.  The three corridors are Route 355, Veirs Mill Road, and Route 29.  Those three corridors were divided into the following committees: 355 North, 355 South, Veirs Mill Road, 29 North, and 29 South.  The Route 29 South Committee is focused on the stretch of Colesville Road which passes through Four Corners.

The Route 29 corridor.  Image from Montgomery County rapid transit system site.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Colesville Road...or Columbia Pike... or Route 29?

I was looking at Four Corners on Google Maps the other day and I noticed that Colesvile Road was was partially mislabeled as "Columbia Pike" as far south as Sligo Creek.  It got me thinking about the various names we use to describe U.S. Route 29, one of the major highways passing through our community.  Which names are correct, and which ones are used the most often?            

Google isn't sure what to call Route 29 through Four Corners.  Image from Google Maps.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Freeway style signs send the wrong message at the intersection

Between 1996-1998, the Four Corners intersection was widened to increase traffic flow through our community.  Both Colesville Road and University Boulevard had new turn lanes added to eliminate impediments to through traffic caused by turning vehicles.  The reconfiguration was also designed to make it easier for drivers to reach the Beltway with minimal delay by adding an additional through lane in each direction to Colesville Road.

As part of the intersection reconfiguration, the State Highway Administration installed new signs to aid in wayfinding for drivers passing through the area.  These large overhead signs were placed on approach to the intersection and at the turns for the jug handles.  Unfortunately, these signs make Four Corners look more like a truck stop on a rural interstate rather than the unique and historic community that it actually is.    

A sign over the westbound lanes of University Boulevard in the heart of the commercial district.  Photo by the author.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

White Oak and BRT plans discussed at community meeting

The Following is a guest post by local blogger David Hondowicz, who authors Hondo At Large. David lives in Four Corners, and he formerly worked for Councilmember Phil Andrews for 16 years until Andrews' retirement this past fall.  Due to this experience, David is very well versed on the workings of the county government and county council.     

About 50 people attended last night's discussion at Pinecrest Elementary School about the implementation of the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan and related transportation issues.  Major concerns about both the overall development called for in the White Oak plan and what is anticipated as part of the County-Percontee partnership for Site II were clearly evident during the discussion.  Montgomery County Department of General Services (DGS) Deputy Director Greg Ossont noted that the material terms of the property disposition for Site II (which sets the framework for the subsequent General Development Agreement that the Executive Branch negotiates with Percontee) is pending before the County Council.  The Council's public hearing about the property disposition is February 24th, followed by further deliberations before the Council takes action.  It is worth noting that the Council only has a role in the property disposition process because of Expedited Bill 11-12 (authored by current Council President George Leventhal).  Before EB 11-12, which was enacted by a 6-3 vote in May 2012 over County Executive Leggett's veto, the disposition process for County Government property was an exclusive prerogative of the Executive Branch.  Deputy Director Ossont did point out that the entire development under this public-private partnership must go through the same regulatory approval process at the Planning Board as any other private development, subsequent to Council approval of property disposition and the conclusion of the General Development Agreement.  He also speculated that actual construction by Percontee would not occur until late 2018, at the earliest.

The meeting room.  Photo by David Hondowicz.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

1936 Four Corners murder

During the difficult times of the Great Depression, Four Corners and other rural communities across the country saw a rise in gang activity.  While the idea seems odd today, these gang's main activities consisted of attacking travelers on isolated highways (which Colesville Road and Old Bladensburg Road were at the time) for the purpose of robbery.  Because law enforcement coverage was sparse, these gangs often carried out their crimes unobstructed and without capture.

On November 21st, 1936, a local farmer named Elwood Matthews walked through the woods from his farm just north to the general store in Four Corners.  He left the general store around 8 PM, but did not return home to the farm he shared with his brother.  After two days unaccounted for, his brother reported him missing to the Montgomery County Police on November 23rd.  A large search of the wooded areas along Northwest Branch and the creek itself ensued, but no evidence of Matthews was found.  On December 3rd, almost two weeks after his initial disappearance, Elwood Matthews' body was found by some Boy Scouts in Northwest Branch Creek at the fall line, the area of the creek just south of Colesville Pike with large boulders and rapids.

Matthews had been shot two times, strangled with his own suspenders, and thrown into the water.  The perpetrator(s) of the crime were not yet known.  

The same day of this discovery, a gangster named W. Joseph Kirby was arrested in West Virginia for robbery and kidnapping.  While being questioned by police there about his previous criminal activities, he revealed that he and two other men had murdered a man in Montgomery County, Maryland several days earlier.  He named his two accomplices as William Read, 22, of Four Corners, and Lawrence Gingell, 22, of Kensington.

Josephy Kirby, 22, one of the accomplices in the murder of Elwood Mathews who originally revealed what had happened.  Image from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Snow day in photos

It's a new year and the first work week of 2015, and we also got some significant snow here in Four Corners.

Woodmoor Shopping Center in the snow around 9:15.  Photo by the author.

The snow began falling overnight during the early morning hours, and it continued to fall until around 10 AM.  There appeared to be about 3-4 inches by the time it let up, more than enough to cuase serious problems on the roads.  Both University Blvd and Colesville Road were covered in snow and slush, which significantly slowed traffic.

University Boulevard at Saint Lawrence Drive.  Photo by the author.