The Town of Chevy Chase is blocking Montgomery County’s request to route part of an interim bike and walking trail through its streets once the Georgetown Branch Trail closes for Purple Line construction.
Meanwhile, county transportation officials are scrambling to find a safe alternative east-west route for trail users between Bethesda and Silver Spring that doesn’t pass through the town.
Chevy Chase Town Manager Todd Hoffman said Wednesday town leaders and residents are concerned that the town’s narrow streets can’t safely accommodate the number of cyclists and walkers who may use the interim trail. He also said there are concerns about whether those users would conflict with ongoing utility replacement projects in the town.
The current Georgetown Branch Trail (marked in purple by Bethesda Beat). County transportation designers have to find an alternative east-west route to reroute the trail before Purple Line construction begins.
Esther Bowring, a spokeswoman for the county’s transportation department, said Thursday the Georgetown Branch Trail can’t be closed until the interim trail is routed and marked with signs. The signs will guide users on what county officials hope will be a safe alternative to the existing off-road trail.
Tim Cupples, a county transportation designer, noted there’s no comparable “swath of land” that would provide the off-road connectivity that the existing trail does, but the county is hoping to find a temporary solution until the trail is rebuilt next to the upcoming Purple Line.
“You basically have to get between Silver Spring and Bethesda,” Cupples said. “As you go between the Beltway and the District—you have some obstacles that we have to deal with.”
He said those obstacles include the properties of Naval Support Activity Bethesda (also known as Walter Reed), the Chevy Chase Club and Columbia Country Club—and now the Town of Chevy Chase.
He said the county has ruled out using East West Highway as the interim route—given the amount of traffic on the road. Instead, the county may pursue a combination of neighborhood streets in East Bethesda, Jones Bridge Road and the Rock Creek Trail to create the interim trail.
“We’re evaluating different options and trying to determine how we can best get folks east and west,” Cupples said.
Using the town’s streets for a portion of the route may help trail users feel safer than riding and walking on busier roads in the area, he said.
Bowring said the county is negotiating with the town to allay community concerns and see if a deal can be reached. She said she does not believe the county knows how many cyclists and walkers use the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail on a given day.
Because the town is an incorporated municipality, the county can’t force it to allow the county to use its roads. The town notes on its website it maintains about 10 miles of streets.
“We’ll have to bring people together and see if there’s something we can work out,” said County Council member Hans Riemer, who has taken up bicycle safety and infrastructure advocacy as one of his priorities. “People who live in Chevy Chase ride bikes and they use the trail and I think the community benefits from a successful trail.”
The town of about 2,800 residents previously opposed construction of the Purple Line and spent about $500,000 fighting the project, but in the fall of 2015 the town decided to switch its focus to mitigating the effects of the light-rail line on the town.
However, some town residents have continued to try to derail the project by pursuing an ongoing federal lawsuit that has delayed the start of construction on the 16.2 mile light-rail line that would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton.
Even if the county can’t reach an agreement to route part of the interim trail through the town, the town can’t stop walkers and cyclists from using the town’s streets.
“People are going to choose to ride or walk on the path that they find most convenient and safest,” Bowring said. “We encourage people to find the route that works best for them.”