Most of the city council is NOT happy with the county’s plans to restrict rush-hour traffic on Ritchie Ave. and the adjacent Sligo Park Hills community.
Though Ritchie Ave. is in the city (Ward 4), and Sligo Park Hills is not, the streets in these areas are similar. They are narrow with no or minimal sidewalks. The residents perceive them as heavily used by cut-through commuter traffic. Each has a neighborhood association that petitioned the county to restrict that traffic.
At a joint Feb. 24th county/city hearing the neighborhood associations and residents turned out in force to support the traffic plan restrictions. The restrictions prevent turns onto residential streets from more heavily traveled roads at certain weekday times. As the county’s plan says, “the intent is to channelize the non-local traffic onto the higher-classification roadway facilities, such as Piney Branch Road,and Philadelphia Avenue.” Traffic on those roads would increase 18%, says the study.
Residents from surrounding neighborhoods also turned out in force to oppose the restrictions.
There was, as one resident described it, “road rage in the room,” At one point the county staff person running the hearing complained that the audience outbursts were downing out the speakers. She told one person to either stop shouting or leave the room. An angry speaker threatened that if the traffic plan was not enacted he would throw rocks at speeding cars on his street. An equally angry resident called the traffic study “half-assed.”
The pro-restriction speakers said their primary concern was safety, especially for their children. The anti-restriction speakers had several concerns that might be summed up by one of the calmer residents who said the traffic plan “may solve their problem, but doesn’t solve the community problem.”
Some were personally inconvenienced by the traffic restrictions – particularly parents of Takoma Park MIddle School students who take Ritchie Ave. to drop their children off. The alternative route, the heavily used Philadelphia Ave., would take much longer, they said.
Others challenged the county’s traffic study, saying the rush-hour car count was inaccurate, did not take into account the additional traffic that will be generated by the Philadelphia Avenue elementary school when it reopens, and did not look at how nearby streets and neighborhoods would be affected by traffic pushed out of Sligo Park Hills and Ritchie Ave.
The very premise of “channeling” urban traffic was challenged as well. That sort of approach only makes congestion, pollution, and road rage worse on major arteries and on nearby residential streets that haven’t been restricted, they claimed. The model currently preferred by environmentalists is to use urban street grids to spread out traffic, said some.
Alternatives were suggested, some more helpful than others. The most inflammatory was to urge people who didn’t like the traffic on their street to move. A more positive proposal was to improve pedestrian safety by installing sidewalks and more speed bumps.
The controversy fermented for almost a week, foaming up again at the Takoma Park City Council meeting March 1. Talk about March coming in like a lion!
Constituents have been roaring in every ward bordering or within a few blocks of the traffic plan area. Their councilmembers put their growling into words during the Council Comment session.
Councilmember Dan Robinson criticized the county’s “suburban model” approach. He said Takoma Park is more urban than the northern part of the county (where the county seat and county traffic planners are) and “we need the grid for better flow.”
Josh Wright said the idea that a neighborhood could ‘seal off” their streets from traffic at certain hours is “bizarre to me.”
Councilmember Clay said she’s had nothing but constituent complaints about the plan. Her ward residents are afraid that traffic will be pushed onto Flower Avenue. She said the city should opt out of the plan and use traffic calming measure instead.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper said people in his ward “are exercised” about the plan. He also supported traffic calming measures.
Several councilmembers pointed out that much of the “cut-through traffic” is local – residents from adjacent neighborhoods.
Councilmember Terry Seamens, who not only represents Ward 4 but lives on Ritchie Avenue, carefully expressed no opinion on the subject.
Ivy League Education
The City Arborist gave a report to the council. He had some entertaining visual aids. He presented city map overlays depicting his activities – each type represented by little icons: ghosts for dead tree removals, lemons for undesirable tree removal, tanks for protective measures taken, and atms for removals requiring payment.
Some of his report was not as cheery – he said his time is not always used to advantage. A tree-ordinance citation can take up to 40 work hours if he has to go to court. He would like to spend more time educating the public, particularly about the danger of letting ivy grow on trees. Recently, he said, a tree behind the fire station fell down, not due to the heavy snow, but because of the additional weight of rain-soaked ivy.
Councilmember Josh Wright asked him to recommend changes to take care of these issues when he gives his next report.
Now you’ve been educated, Dear Reader. Get into your yard and chop your tree-climing ivy – before the mosquitoes come out.
Gloomier and Doomier
Whenever a county council member shows up to “report” to the city council, it is always gloom-and-doom time. Last Monday’s report from county council president Nancy Floreen was no exception. “Buckle your seat belts,” she warned in the dramatic tones of a rich aunt forestalling your handout request by telling you she’s so poor she has to lay off her maid.
The city councilors sat through it, making appropriate noises of concern. Then they brought up the issues they wanted her help on: the above-mentioned traffic plan, wanting input on changes at Montgomery College, and so forth.
The question Floreen had armed herself against – double taxation, of course – was only brought up obliquely. Dan Robinson wanted the financial statistics from municipalities in “the mix” of county budgetary figures. He suggested, as he often does, that a study should be made to see if it would be cheaper for taxpayers and more efficient for the county to turn more services over to cities. And, maybe this would be a good time to look into that, given the county budget shortfall.
Floreen said it was an interesting idea. indeed, the county needs to rethink how it does things (anything to keep Robinson from mentioning double taxation).
Walking the Walk
The city tried to take the politics out of sidewalks. Rather than have councilmembers lobby for sidewalk installation and maintenance projects in their own wards, they opted for an independent study to develop an objective ranking system and determine which sidewalk projects should be done first.
The study results came in, the staff submitted a resolution to the council to approve the ranking system and list of projects. . . and the councilmembers lobbied to add sidewalk installations and maintenance projects in their own wards.
The ranking system was not as objective as it could have been. It was funded by a grant from Safe Routes to School, so priority was placed was on pedestrian access to elementary and intermediate schools – but not the middle school or private nursery schools. This bothered Councilmember Terry Seamens sufficiently that he vowed to vote against it unless it is changed. He said he daily sees parents shepherding small children down the street to a nursery school in his neighborhood and he thought that stretch of sidewalk-less road should be given a higher priority.