The Pedestrian Master Plan is moving through the final stages of adoption. At a July 25 public hearing in Rockville, the County Council heard feedback from residents that will aid councilmembers and planners in putting the finishing touches on the document that aims improve the experience for those walking, biking and rolling throughout the county.
Among the proposed recommendations in the master plan is permanently closing a portion of Beach Drive, from Connecticut Avenue and Knowles Avenue, to vehicular traffic.
Kensington resident Michael Heyl counters that the proposed change would create greater problems for pedestrians and motorists moving through his neighborhood.
“When Beach Drive is closed, cars are forced to use our neighborhood as a cut through,” said Heyl, representing the Byeford Rock Creek Highlands Citizens Association in Kensington. “Our neighborhood does not have sidewalks, has narrow streets with cars parked on both sides of it, has families with children, has several blind spots and has no traffic calming measures of which to speak.”
Heyl’s input at a July 25 County Council public hearing is exactly what Montgomery Planning officials said they sought to make improvements to the plan.
“There are of course, some pieces of the plan that can continue to be improved and we really welcome the opportunity through the council work session process to address the comments that were made in the public hearing and make the plan even better,” said Eli Glazier, a planner and project manager at Montgomery County Planning Department on Monday.
Five other residents submitted written testimony to the council opposed to the closure and said that they have brought up these concerns in the past and felt they have been dismissed. In their testimony, residents proposed the plan recommend construction of a bike lane instead of closing off a portion of Beach Drive.
At various time blocks from Friday through Sunday portions Beach Drive are closed to motor vehicles and open to pedestrians and cyclists through the Open Parkways program by Montgomery Parks. The program started during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Beach Drive between Cedar Lane and Connecticut Avenue should be open to vehicle traffic every day of the week,” wrote Kensington resident Eileen Sarsfield. “… Decisions made without data or the input of those impacted have consequences.”
Nine pedestrians have died on Montgomery County roadways since the beginning of 2023, according to county data. That is a number county officials want to see reduced to zero by 2030 through the Vision Zero plan and the new master plan, that makes recommendations based on pedestrian and traffic data and feedback from community members.
Leia Neilson, a high school student, shared at the public hearing her experience with long wait times to cross busy intersections in the county. She asked the County Council to consider making it a priority to shorten wait times with short traffic cycles and longer walking intervals.
Neilson said she frequently takes the J2 Ride On bus, but usually waits two minutes to cross the street to the bus stop, causing her to miss the bus.
“While two minutes may not seem like a long time it is enough to miss a bus you had been on time for and watch it go past you from the other side of the street,” she said. “It is not normal or fair that I and other pedestrians should miss our buses because of an inability to cross the street quickly.”
“With shorter wait times the safety of the community will improve, and it is imperative that we pay attention to this considering the increase in traffic fatalities over the past few years, both nation-wide and county-wide,” she said.
Another county resident, Kimblyn Persaud, emphasized that she is in favor of making pedestrians a priority, but believed improvements should start upcounty and in ZIP codes where more people use housing vouchers, like those from U.S. Housing and Urban Design’s (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher Program, which assists low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities afford housing.
Also attending the public hearing were representatives from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Action Committee for Transit and Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
“I think the testimony that we received last week is in a long line of very overwhelmingly positive feedback that we’ve gotten throughout the process, about the importance and timeliness of this plan and all of the great recommendations that are in it,” Glazier said.
Glazier said the council is looking to take up the plan in the fall, as well as the SAFE streets act, new legislation that aims to improve roadway safety and includes recommendations that are within the Pedestrian Master Plan.
The council will host work sessions to review community testimony in September, according to Glazier. As of this time, dates for the work sessions have not been set. Community members have until Aug. 18 to submit written testimony.