In response to a citizen’s inquiry, Rockville’s Chief of Long Range Planning, David Levy, explained in great detail what’s going on with the proposed width of Rockville Pike. It’s a good summary of the choices before us:
Thank you for your email and request, which was forwarded to me by the City’s Clerk’s office. I am one of the City staffers working on the Rockville Pike Plan.
We appreciate that there is a great deal of confusion in the community regarding this topic. I will do my best to explain here. If you have the appetite for a much more detailed discussion of the topic, or of more comparison documents (there are many!!!), I can point you to places on the City’s Web site where you can find information or I can send them to you directly.
In short, there are three distinct “cross-sections” (which are plans for the road area) that are important to understand.
1) Current (1989) Plan: There is an existing plan for the Rockville Plan corridor, which was adopted in 1989 and still stands. It establishes a “cross-section” distance of 270 feet between the buildings on opposite sides of the Pike. It includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, and other components.
2) Planning Commission June 2014 Draft: Rockville’s Planning Commission, through many work sessions, developed a proposed revised cross-section, which is the version that the Mayor and Council are considering now. It has a proposed cross-section distance of 252 feet , which includes the road, sidewalks, service drives, buffer areas, dedicated bike lanes and dedicated lanes for bus transit.
3) Narrower Cross-Section: Some public testimony has proposed narrowing the Pike even further than the current Planning Commission draft. Two particular notions have been presented – a) removing dedicated lanes for bus transit, or b) removing the “service drives” (or access roads). A proposal from B.F. Saul, for example, has proposed adopting one of the two cross-sections from Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan, which has approved a cross-section distance of 182 feet , without service drives.
I will do my best to explain clearly some key differences among the three of them.
Current (1989) Rockville Pike Plan
The current (1989) plan width along the Rockville Pike corridor is 270 feet, from building face to building face. What that means is that new buildings are required to have a large portion of the building front at 135 feet from the center of the road. The new buildings that are under construction right now are meeting that requirement.
Within those 135 feet are the main travel lanes of the Pike, a service road, landscaping, and parking.
As you may have heard, the service roads are a big part of the discussion with the Mayor and Council, and community. The current (1989) plan re-affirmed the City policy, dating from the 1960s, that service roads be a part of the cross-section. Just to be clear, the service roads are the drive aisles and informal roads that run parallel to much of the Pike now and that allow for movement between sites without having to return to the main roadway. They are in front of Best Buy, Jos Banks, and many other places.
The service roads are not completed and are not quite “real” roads. Plus, there are gaps; they are not designed as consistently as would be preferred; and they do not all line up in the same location. Furthermore, in their current design, they do not make walking or biking on the Pike comfortable. However, these service roads do serve a function now by allowing local, inter-site movement and they do reduce the number of curb cuts that would otherwise be required if every property needed its own access point from the Pike. As a result, they help keep the right lane of the Pike flowing a bit better than if they were not there.
In their current (1989) form, their primary purpose is to separate traffic that is passing through from local traffic, to make the system function better for automobile travel. The new draft plan attempts to make them good for pedestrians and cyclists, as well.
Planning Commission June 2014 Draft Plan
The Planning Commission June 2014 draft plan proposes that the overall width be narrowed from the existing policy of 270 feet to 252 feet. Please understand, because there is much misunderstanding out there on this point – the Planning Commission draft is proposing to narrow the entire cross-section, not widen it, compared to the current (1989) plan and where buildings are currently being built.
The narrowing is permitted mostly by changing the approach to parking, with greater emphasis on reducing (but not eliminating) the amount of parking that would be in the front of buildings.
The other main changes that the Planning Commission draft proposes as compared to the 1989 plan are 1) to include two new lanes for bus rapid transit in the center of the Pike, and 2) to make design adjustments to the service lanes. The Mayor and Council has heard testimony in favor of and opposed to both of these.
The proposed new bus transit lanes widen the overall cross-section by approximately 35 feet, compared to not having them; though they are accommodated in the 252 feet.
The main proposed design changes to the service roads are 1) to make them one-way, in the same direction as the traffic to which it is adjacent; 2) add two-directional bike lanes (on both sides of the Pike); and 3) require 20-foot-wide sidewalks at the front of buildings, which would include the walking area and the area for trees, signs, outdoor seating, etc. Below is a diagram of the service road portion of the cross-section, as shown in the Planning Commission’s current draft. The main portion of the proposed new cross-section for the Pike is on the left of the picture.
As mentioned above, there are two lines of testimony indicating how the cross-section could be narrowed. One of them proposes to eliminate the dedicated transit lanes. To date, the Mayor and Council have indicated their desire to retain that feature and preserve lanes for transit.
The other line, which is the active community discussion to which you referred in your email, proposes a cross-section of 182 feet, from building face to building face. This proposal has been actively promoted by the B. F. Saul Company, in the context of their current concept for a development project near the Twinbrook Metro Station; and quite a few community members have testified to the Mayor and Council in favor of this approach, while others have testified in opposition.
The concept proposes that the City adopt one of the two cross-sections presented in Montgomery County’s White Flint Sector Plan. That proposal includes sidewalks and bike lanes, and on-street parking on the main portion of the Pike, as illustrated below. It also includes dedicated transit lanes in the middle of the Pike. As such, the center portion of this cross-section, which includes three travel lanes on both sides and dedicated transit lanes, is the same as the Planning Commission’s draft.
The main difference from the Planning Commission draft, and the existing (1989) plan, is that this approach would eliminate the local service roads. By eliminating the service roads, the need for the buffer between main lanes and service roads (shown above in the prior section) is also eliminated.
The Mayor and Council have not yet made a decision as a body regarding whether to retain the service roads, though they did indicate their preference that there not be parallel parking on the main roadway.
This is fairly complex stuff and difficult to synthesize briefly in writing. I would be more than happy to meet with you or discuss by phone, if that would help.
David B. Levy
Chief of Long Range Planning and Redevelopment
Dept. of Community Planning and Development Services
City of Rockville
111 Maryland Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850-2364