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.

1. It encourages speeding  

Cherry Tree Lane is used by many children walking to Pinecrest, since the street dead-ends at the rear entrance to the school, and it connects to a paved trail leading to the back of Woodmoor at the other end (the one between Lorain and Whitmoor Terrace). If there's one street in the neighborhood where we don't want people going fast, it's this one.  Unfortunately, the geometries of this road allow a car to comfortably take a right turn at 50 MPH (no joke, the turn is that gradual), only to be met by a stop sign at the end of the ramp.  It is not an appropriate configuration for a residential neighborhood.  

2.  It is an unnecessary impervious surface    

This stretch of Cherry Tree Lane sits atop an enclosed stream, which meets daylight just past the intersection of Lorain where the woods begin (the stream then flows into the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River).  The intersection of Cherry Tree and Lexington sits atop the headwaters of this creek.  A stream's headwaters are not a good place for impervious surfaces, and while we can't do much about the existing roads (other than convert them to gravel or some kind of previous pavement), we can get rid of this unneeded ramp.  The ramp is comprised of about 2,100 square feet of pavement (18' wide x ~120' long), which could be torn up and returned to grass without an impact on traffic.

3.  It is a waste of communal space

This intersection contains a decent amount of public space, but much of it is taken up by the ramp.  There aren't too many places in the neighborhood where we have much communal space outside of park land.  The Woodmoor traffic circle and the benches along Woodmoor Drive behind St. B's are the only other examples of non-roadway/non-parkland community space that I can think of in the neighborhood.  This piece of land, if the ramp were removed, could become a small gathering place for nearby residents.  The small triangle of land between the ramp and the other roadways currently has a nice garden and plantings.  If the ramp were removed, the garden could expanded with benches added.    

So would could this intersection look like if this ramp were removed?  Using Google Earth, I created a design to depict what this change could look like. Below is the before and after comparison. 

The intersection as it looks today.  Image from Google Earth

How the space could look if the ramp were removed.  Shown are driveway extensions to meet then new curb, new grass (green) and new garden or seating space (brown).  All existing on-street parking retained.  Base image from Google Earth, designs by the author.  

As seen above, removing the ramp would give the neighborhood many options for new uses of the space.  Perhaps it could be an expanded garden space to compliment the other gardens around the neighborhood.  Or maybe some new trees could be planted in the area to create a shaded seating space.  The nice thing is that none of these changes would be too expensive, and there are no downsides.  The only minor inconvenience that this would cause new residents are those who need their driveways extended to meet the new curbs, but the county can build and has built driveways for residents in the past, when new curbs were added to the neighborhood in the mid-2000's.  Overall, such a project would have marginal negative impacts and many beneficial returns for Woodmoorians     
Any new feature added to this space would be much more beneficial to the community than this ramp.  


  1. Sean, In your zeal to rework the roadway to make it more "efficient," you've lost sight of the historic cultural landscape. I don't know the specific history of this part of Woodmoor's development but I suspect the planted feature in the roadway was an intentional aesthetic addition. They are common in 20th century residential subdivisions. Some have continued to be maintained by community garden clubs.

    1. David, thanks for the comment. It sounds like you may have misinterpreted this post, so I'll clarify a couple of things.

      The goal here is to expand the community garden and associated green space by eliminating an unnecessary piece of pavement. I'm not reworking the roadway to make it MORE efficient, I'm actually making it LESS efficient by removing the ramp which helps drivers go faster (efficiency is not what we want on residential streets).

      I am well aware of such aesthetic (and I would say artistic) additions to the streetscape like this garden, which is why I want to see it improved and expanded, not eliminated. For a similar example of artistic neighborhood design, check out the ellipses in Riverdale Park. They provide nice green space for memorials and gardens. I'd like to see this intersection's garden expanded so that we can perhaps add a memorial and some benches so people can sit and enjoy it. The piece of pavement currently inhibits the community's enjoyment of the space.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Community discussed this intersection with MC DOT engineer tonight, thanks to a car-bicycle accident at the beginning of the school year. General consensus was to go further, removing the “on-ramp” and installing a traffic calming circle, and a few other crosswalks and calming features around the neighborhood.