Little Falls Parkway Credit: Melissa Chotiner, Montgomery Parks

A study conducted on Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda suggests that permanently reducing the number of travel lanes will help reduce cut-through traffic, increase road safety and decrease crashes in the area, according to officials from Montgomery Parks who shared the data Wednesday at a virtual public meeting.  

A local citizen’s association disagrees and has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Planning Board alleging they failed to get the proper approval to reduce the parkway’s size from the National Capital Planning Commission. 

In June, Montgomery Parks, part of the M-NCPPC, temporarily suspended its Open Parkways Program for the section of the parkway between River and Arlington roads in order to study the operational effects of reducing the parkway from four lanes to two, according to the department. Implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Open Parkways Program closes sections of the parkway to vehicular traffic on weekends to provide more outdoor space for recreation. 

The study was implemented to determine whether two lanes between Dorset Avenue and Arlington Road could adequately accommodate vehicle traffic, leaving the other two lanes for recreational uses. 

According to Kyle Lukacs, trails planner at Montgomery Parks, the proposal to reduce the number of traffic lanes “meets two goals.”  

“It helps eliminate that cut-through traffic from weekend road closures and helps us to keep that open parkway recreational space that we heard was so important,” Lukacs said during the virtual meeting. “It’s also a cost-effective way to create some additional park and recreational space; and having two lanes of traffic has lower operational costs than maintaining all four.” 


The proposal became controversial after the Kenwood Citizens Association filed a lawsuit Feb. 6 in Montgomery County Circuit Court against the M-NCPPC and Planning Board. The lawsuit alleges that reducing the number of lanes would be detrimental and cited the commission’s failure to get approval to reduce the parkway’s size from the National Capital Planning Commission. The suit was first reported by Robert Dyer@Bethesda Row. 

In a letter to the Montgomery County Council, Tom Eldridge, chair of the Civic Affairs Committee of Kenwood Citizens Association, asked the council to put forth an amendment that asks no funds be spent by the Parks Department “to implement a ‘road diet’ on Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda. Nor should any appropriated funds be spent by the Parks Department on a so-called ‘linear park’ in the footprint of Little Falls Parkway.” 

The association also asked that the Parks Department publicly disclose the accounting of all the funds spent on the Little Falls Pilot Project to date and study the cost and feasibility of building a bridge over Crescent Trail over Little Falls Parkway. 


The association believes Montgomery Parks acted illegally because the M-NCPPC and Planning Board “has never sought approval from NCPC” for their multiple closures on Little Falls Parkway, including the recent pilot project, according to the letter. 

“Our reaction is that it is illegal, and that Parks has acted in an unbelievably arrogant and unaccountable way, not following federal law,” Eldridge said to MoCo 360. 

According to Eldridge, there was never any need to close parts of the parkway. 


“This parkway was functioning just fine before Parks got it in their mind that they wanted to close it,” Eldridge said. “The notion that there’s something wrong with Little Falls Parkway as a four-lane parkway or that it is somehow dangerous, which is what they said [Wednesday] night at the meeting is preposterous.” 

Eldridge said there is widespread public opposition to the project. 

“We live in these communities. There are 19 communities that are part of the Citizens Coordinating Committee for Friendship Heights,” Eldridge said. “They’re uniformly opposed to what Parks is doing. And the reality is that you know, these people from outside our area are trying to impose this on all of us.” 


According to Eldridge’s letter to the council, the lane closures will create dangerous situations because new development that may occur in the Westbard neighborhood, downtown Bethesda and along the River Road Growth Corridor as part of Thrive Montgomery 2050, the county’s master plan for growth, would result in additional traffic on the parkway.  

According to Lukacs, there were continuing concerns over neighborhood cut-through traffic in the Little Falls Parkway area that spurred the traffic data monitoring. 

“So, we began our traffic data monitoring and collection, really looking at the impact on neighborhood streets,” he said.  


Lucaks said the project aims to provide “safe and functioning roadways.”  

“The pre-pilot roadway design allows drivers to exceed the posted speed limit at dangerous speeds, including reports of drag racing. Using Vision Zero best practices, we have helped to reduce vehicular speeds, which helps reduce the frequency and severity of crashes,” he said.  

Vision Zero is the county’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate serious and fatal crashes among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists by 2030 through a fundamental change in how roads are planned and designed.   


According to Montgomery Parks engineer Andrew Tsai, Montgomery County was the first suburban county in the United States to adopt a Vision Zero action plan.  

Lukacs said traffic data from each of the pilot project’s phases has been posted on the website, and news releases have been issued to inform the public of changes.  

In phase one, implemented in June 2022, the Open Parkways Program was suspended, and one travel lane was open in each direction. In phase two, implemented in October 2022, the east side has two-way traffic with one lane in each direction and the west side is open for bicycles and pedestrians.  


“Phase two works because the traffic signals at the intersections are timed to provide slightly more green time to park with traffic.…The adjusted configuration in the road allows for a shorter trail traffic crossing time,” Tsai said.  

He said about 11,000 vehicles travel the road daily, with traffic volume trending downward on the road as well as on major highways in the area since the turn of the century.  

According to data shared by the parks department, traffic has dropped by about 35% on Little Falls Parkway since 2016, by about 20% on River Road and by about 20% at Wisconsin Avenue, close to Bradley Boulevard.  


“The current two-lane configuration has eliminated cut-through traffic in Kenwood, as it has maintained at least two drive lanes along the parkway at all times,” Tsai said. “The peak hour travel times with the current configuration are more than reasonable and consistent with our safety efficient zero goals of 25 miles per hour.”  

The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the road diet project March 23, with a decision on whether to continue the project scheduled for a March 30 board work session.