Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Compelling reasons

The following quote is found in yesterday's Washington Post article about the bus stop at Route 29 & Crestmoor:
"SHA agrees this bus stop is in a less than desirable location. There is continuous sidewalk on the other side of U.S. 29 leading all the way down to the intersection at Southwood Drive [sic], therefore there is no compelling reason anyone should be crossing U.S. 29 in an attempt to use this mid-block bus stop."
-David Buck, State Highway Administration spokesman 

Here's a question for the reader to ponder:  In the late 1950's, why was Route 29 expanded from a 2 lane road to a 6 lane highway?  

The simplest answer is "convenience".  The old road was becoming overwhelmed by rising traffic volume, which was causing motorists to be delayed in their travels.  Since the state recognized that this delay was inconvenient to said motorists, they widened the road to move them along quicker.  It's a simple concept.

Back to the sorry bus stop.  Is there really no compelling reason for someone to use it, as the SHA spokesman asserts?

Looking across Route 29 towards Woodmoor from the bus stop.  Despite the lack of a crosswalk and signal, people still use this stop.  Photo by the author.

A quick Google Earth measurement reveals that the walk from Crestmoor Drive & Route 29 up to Southwood Avenue & Route 29 is ~1,000 feet (with a 30 foot rise in elevation between the two points).  Assuming the average human walking speed is 4.5 feet per second, it takes 3 minutes and 45 seconds to walk 1,000 feet.  I recorded the boring video below of my walk from Crestmoor to the SHA's preferred bus stop south at Southwood Avenue to illustrate the added distance.

It took me about 3:45 to walk from Crestmoor to Southwood, with a pause to cross Route 29 at Southwood.  It's a loud, windy, uphill walk along a narrow sidewalk directly adjacent to fast-moving traffic.

Let's go back to roads for a moment.  When a signalized intersection causes a motorist 80 seconds of delay or more (1 minute and 20 seconds), traffic engineers call that "Level of Service F" or "LOS F".  When traffic engineers realize that an intersection is at LOS F, they start looking at ways to improve or remove the troubled intersection.  A recent local example is the grade-separation of the Georgia Avenue & Randolph Road intersection, where the state is spending $77,324,000.00 so drivers won't have to deal with 80+ seconds of delay. 

So at one state facility, we're spending $77 million to save citizens a couple minutes of travel time, but at another state facility a few miles away, the SHA can't find a compelling reason why citizens wouldn't want to waste 3 minutes and 45 seconds of their time to walk 1,000 unnecessary feet?    

According to the SHA, subjecting people to a delay three times worse than LOS F isn't a compelling reason to improve a crossing.  Instead of making it safer with a traffic light and crosswalk, the SHA wants the county "to remove the bus stop/sign at this mid-block crossing and direct people to use the bus stops located on both sides of U.S. 29 just to the south at Southwood Drive." 

So rather than solve the problem, the SHA would prefer if it were to just go away.

The SHA operates most of the multi-lane arterial roads in Montgomery County.  Photo by the author.

People use this bus stop, despite the dangers of accessing it, because it's convenient.  For anyone who lives in the back of Woodmoor, this is the closest place to catch the bus to Silver Spring.  It shouldn't be taken away just because the SHA doesn't feel motivated to do anything about it.  If convenience is a compelling enough reason to carry out a $77 million interchange project, it should be reason enough to spend a few thousand dollars on a traffic signal and pedestrian improvements at this intersection.  

In closing, I have three minor complaints about the spokesman's statement.  These errors, while small and inconsequential on their own, represent how out-of-touch the SHA can be.  This is nothing personal against him, since he's just a spokesman.  Rather, this is a critique of the information he was given to share with the public:
  • It's Southwood Avenue, not Southwood Drive.  Had the SHA folks quickly checked Google Maps, they would have seen the proper name.  If one is going to comment on a road that their agency operates, it's smart to know the correct names of the cross-streets, especially when it has a traffic signal.  Getting this type of detail wrong hurts the SHA's credibility.    
  • He says "down to the intersection" when in fact, the intersection is uphill from Crestmoor.  It is to the geographic south, so I'll give him a break on this one, but I would've preferred he say "up to the intersection" so that an uphill journey is implied.
  • This is not a "mid-block bus stop".  While the intersection of Crestmoor and Route 29 is unsignalized, it's still an intersection, and intersections divide blocks (although this stretch of road doesn't have "blocks" in the city sense of the word).  A mid-block bus stop would be one that is not near any kind of cross-street.     

While we wait for the SHA to take responsibility for the safety of their road, feel free to go to Streetsblog and vote for the bus stop to reach the final round of the competition.     


  1. I dint know about this background of route 29 road.Thanks for mentioning the compelling reasons of this route.It will help the concerned people to ponder over it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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