GRANOLAPARK: Hot potatoes

Takoma Junction mural
GRANOLAPARK • GILBERT

Dear Readers,

The entire Takoma Park city council is in physical therapy. They all threw their backs out trying to lift the Takoma Junction Task Force report.

In other words, it’s big. And it is heavy lifting in more ways than one.

It is tempting to compare it with the last big, important task force report, the one presented by the Task Force on Environmental Action (TFEA). Your Gilbert usually gives in to temptation.

Both reports represent hours and hours of dedicated volunteer time. Both are big, detailed, and well-researched. But where the TFEA report gave a list of recommended actions they wanted the city to take, the TJTF gives a list of all the problems the Junction has from traffic jams to empty storefronts, possible solutions, alternate solutions, lists of pros, cons, controversies and possible unintended repercussions for each solution, . . . and no recommendations.

There were disagreements on the committee, apparently, so the task force basically organized all the information they had and handed it over to the council so _they_ can make the decisions.

For instance, even though there are pages of information in the report itself about installing a round-about in the Junction to ease traffic and reduce pollution, task force members did not bring it up in their presentation to the council. Some task force members do not favor a round-about.

The report is comprehensive – way comprehensive! Anyone who reads all of it and retains at least half the information will become a Takoma Junction expert. And that was their intent, they said, as they shoveled a wheelbarrow-full of hot potatoes into the city council’s hands.

Meet, mingle, and part

Takoma Junction, for those who don’t know and have read this far, is an intersection designed by a sadistic or drunk road engineer. Two heavily travelled routes, Carroll Avenue and East-West Highway, meet, mingle, and part there. They don’t cross, exactly, they become the same road for a block. There are storefronts, a gas station, a couple of car mechanic shops, the fire station, and some houses along this two-block stretch. Some of the store fronts are empty, what once was a popular shopping area is declining. Parking is difficult. Pedestrians find the road difficult and dangerous to cross, further discouraging shopping. There are daily traffic jams because the traffic lights are badly timed (though this has allegedly improved recently). The two main roads are state highways, meaning any road changes must be approved by the notoriously uncooperative State Highway Administration.

Those are just the basic problems. There’s also a city-owned lot on one side of the street, part of which is a steep wooded hillside. Development of this lot just might revitalize the Junction. Or it could flop. The food coop, one of the city’s most successful retail businesses, is on that corner, and it wants to expand. The coop has two difficult-to-access parking lots, one of which feeds onto a small residential street, causing traffic back-ups. The other lot exits into heavy traffic making it difficult and dangerous to make a left-hand turn. A right-hand turn takes you into what is usually a traffic jam.

Development is curtailed by possible hazardous materials in the soil – from long-gone gas stations, a junk dealer, and a dry cleaner. Streets could be moved so they intersect differently and/or, a round-about could be installed, but that would mean destroying or moving a city landmark (the shell of an old gas station, now a pavilion where the city’s representational street mural is located). It might also run afoul of the area’s historical district status.

Oh, there’s plenty more, Dear Readers. Have a look at the task force’s website, takomajunction.org, where you can download the report.

Thorough

The council heaped praise on the task force. Of course, two of them recently served on that task force. Councilmembers Kay Daniels-Cohen and Seth Grimes were members until they ran for council office last fall. Daniels-Cohen urged the rest of the council to study the report and start taking action soon. Councilmember Reuben Snipper, not a former task force member, also praised the report, calling it a “thorough discussion of issues and options. He said that the “sheer breadth and depth” means  “it will take some time for the council and city to digest it.” He gently noted that despite all the thoroughness, there were no recommendations. But, then he added that “there will always be those naysayers who drive you nuts.” Was he looking at us?

He also noted that even if the city wanted to tackle the Junction’s problems, there was no money or staff support available. He reminded the council and task force members that the city recently laid off staff, and the remaining staff is stretched thin.

It took a couple of years for the city to act on the TFEA report, Dear Readers, and that was with a recommended to-do list. We’ll see how long it takes them to act on this one.

— Gilbert

About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

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