Takoma Junction traffic havoc

BY ALEX HOLT

The State Highway Administration only needed a day to remove the bus bay at Takoma Junction last summer. But figuring out what do with traffic in the area afterwards takes much longer.

The removal of the bus bay last June took most residents by surprise, including Takoma Park city councilmember Tim Male, who represents Ward 2 and lives half a block away. Male said the day the bus bay disappeared he walked by and saw road crews working in the area but didn’t know what they were doing. In the afternoon, it was gone, instantly increasing area traffic already a local problem.

Filled-in bus-bay. The city's proposed location for a new bus bay is across the intersection, roughly about where the truck in the far distance is.

The bus bay on Rte. 410 at the junction of Rte 195 immediately after it was filled in as part of road improvements, June 2013.

Daryl Braithwaite, the director of the Takoma Park Department of Public Works, said the decision to fill in the bus bay came from discussions with the Maryland State Highway Administration about compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The SHA worked on road resurfacing, and part of that involved making the crosswalks ADA compliant.

Braithwaite said the SHA asked the DPW how to handle the non-ADA compliant bus stop but the agencies decided there wasn’t enough space for the buses to pull out.

busbay-3

Morning rush hour traffic backed up for more than a block from the Takoma Junction intersection.

“The design folks with the SHA that were working on the ADA stuff suggested closing it in and the planning office and the public works office concurred,” Braithwaite said. “We felt that that was the best thing that they could do given that they needed to make the bus stop and the curb ramp compliant.”

SHA spokesperson Christopher Bishop said that the DPW supported the decision.

“The DPW chief informed the SHA that she spoke to city planners and the then-acting City Manager who were all supportive of the work,” Bishop said.

But Braithwaite stressed that the SHA had to give their approval for the bus bay to be filled in.

busbay-1

Takoma Junction – state routes 410 and 195 meet at an angle. The filled-in bus bay is just beyond the far crosswalk visible in the middle of the photo.

“It’s a state highway project with a state highway contractor so obviously anything that had to be done had to be authorized by the State Highway Administration,” Braithwaite said. “It wasn’t a city project, it wasn’t a city contractor so I think that the SHA, because they’ve been bruised and bloodied by the city on numerous other projects, likes to kind of lay low when it comes to controversy in the community.”

Regardless of who made the final decision to fill in the bus bay, Takoma Park City Planner Erkin Ozberk said that the ADA compliance issue means it just isn’t possible to restore the bus bay, no matter how much residents may want that.

“The main issue was a compliance issue and right now it complies with those engineering standards so making a change back to the way it was before would make it noncompliant,” Ozberk said. “We don’t have any real mandate to make things noncompliant.”

But residents and commuters alike say traffic problems at Takoma Junction have increased since the bus bay was filled in.

Catherine Tunis, the president of the South of Sligo Citizens Association, said that since the bus bay fill-in, eastbound traffic has started backing up, even during less traditionally busy hours, to Jackson, Elm and Prince George’s avenues. She also said that many drivers then get frustrated and try to zoom down narrow side streets instead.

busbay-4

The bus bay is now a bus stop.

“It’s causing a lot of problems because people are getting scared and upset that there’s so much traffic,” Tunis said.

Cliff Schwartz, another neighborhood resident, said that traffic is at its worst during rush hour.

“Traffic piles up at work times, in the mornings and in the evenings, so much so that it will go roughly four blocks alone,” Schwartz said.

He said that cars can no longer go round the buses as easily, leading to a huge increase in near-accidents, although he hasn’t seen any actual accidents or injuries…yet. Besides drastically increasing traffic, the bus bay’s absence also makes it harder on ambulances, fire trucks and police cars to go down Ethan Allen Avenue going west. That forces them into the opposing lane.

“Cars are literally driving on the sidewalks to get out of the way of the police cars, the fire trucks and the ambulances to glide through the opposing traffic when there are pedestrians on that same sidewalk,” Schwartz said. “It’s really scary.”

busbayjunction1

Rte. 195 at the junction still has a bus bay. This section was not part of the road improvement project.

Plenty of potential solutions to the problem have been floated, including a city council inquiry into relocating the bus stop from B.Y. Morrison Park to the area by Roland’s Unisex Barber Shop and Kinetic Artistry. But Ozberk said the city has no plans to install a bus bay there because it would involve cutting at least 12 feet into the sidewalk and substantially encroach on local businesses’ property there.

Male concludes that the only thing the city can do for now is remove the bus stop entirely.

It’s not a completely popular move and Tunis said her neighborhood residents opposed the idea.

Nevertheless, Male recently submitted a petition to Ride On and WMATA asking to move the bus stop, which he says has received about 40 signatures so far. Male doesn’t like to have to propose it either, since he used to ride the route himself.

“It’s a very small inconvenience for me in exchange for having our kids and our community safer,” Male said.

Filled-in bus-bay on Ethan Allen Ave.

Will the bus stop also be taken out?

And Ozberk believes that in order to solve the problems at Takoma Junction, planners need to take a look at the bigger picture.

“I think of it as almost like a house of cards or dominoes,” Ozberk said. “All changes affect other things so that I think that a more comprehensive approach to making improvements all around would need to take place in the future to make any substantial changes or improvements.”

About the Author

Alex Holt
Alex Holt is a first-year graduate student in the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and a recent graduate of Ithaca College. When not at school, he lives in Baltimore, Maryland and he hopes to eventually pursue a career in sports journalism.

7 Comments on "Takoma Junction traffic havoc"

  1. Fred Schultz | April 23, 2014 at 12:52 am |

    A well written article.
    Arguing about the bus bay is completely missing the big picture and a waste of time. To say that the removal of the bus bay is causing delays and back-ups ignores the fact that back-ups on Ethan Allen have existed there for years. Look at it this way. If the removal of a single bus bay could cause such chaos and safety problems, then there is a lot more wrong with the Junction’s traffic plan than just a simple bus stop. The whole TJ intersection is dysfunctional from a traffic and pedestrian point of view. Required is a complete redesign by competent traffic engineers. The street pattern was laid out many generations ago and it is obsolete for today’s traffic and emergency vehicles. We do need Kay Daniels-Cohen’s crosswalk, but to make the Junction into a great, proud focal point for the City, we need to broaden our thinking about how to get buses, cars, bikes and emergency vehicles to flow smoothly and safely.

    Fred
    [Fred Schultz is Takoma Park city councilmember for Ward 6 – ed]

  2. It’s too late to do anything about it now, but 410 going from 4 lanes to 2 through Takoma Park is the main reason traffic is so lousy.

  3. Within the last couple of weeks the traffic lights went out at the Junction for a while. Drivers had to deal with the intersection as though it were an all-way stop-sign situation. Observers said the result was the best traffic flow they’ve seen in years there.

    20 – 30 years ago the traffic was not such a problem – with the same number of lanes. The difference is the traffic lights. It got particularly bad after they put in the light to accommodate traffic turning onto Ethan Allen from Sycamore.

  4. We drove through this intersection today headed to Silver Spring. Next time I’m going via Sligo Creek Parkway. (I like to try 410 once every few months to convince myself how bad it is). We waited five minutes — through two light cycles today — and this was around 1:20 p.m. Incredible!

    I agree with the previous comment. Abolish at least one traffic signal (maybe both) and replace it with a stop sign. At least give it a 30-day trial (better than doing nothing?).

  5. Takoma Park resident | April 27, 2014 at 10:18 am |

    Alex Holt wrote a fine article about one contributor to the very dangerous situation the Junction bottleneck is causing. Holt’s article states, “…cars can no longer go round the buses as easily, leading to a huge increase in near-accidents, although he hasn’t seen any actual accidents or injuries…yet.”.

    It should be clarified that when cars go round the buses [stopped at the bus stop with no bus bay], it’s not an issue that they can’t “as easily” go round the bus, they are crossing a double yellow line, into opposing traffic, and unseen pedestrians, while doing so. Yes, it’s illegal, but cars are now doing it with greater frequency and apparently no enforcement to prevent them from doing it.

    I believe Takoma Park city councilmember Tim Male, who represents Ward 2 and lives half a block away, is correct. Weighing risk vs. benefit, I agree with Male, who concludes that the only thing the city can do for now is remove the bus stop entirely.

  6. Steve Davies | May 15, 2014 at 9:51 am |

    Not sure how the city removes a bus stop. The route is WMATA’s, isn’t it? The road is the state’s.

    I agree with the commenter who said that without lights, traffic moved smoothly. It was better before, when there were stop signs. Same deal with Eastern and Fourth (?) between Carroll/Laurel and NH Ave. A four-way stop was fine. Now you have lights that are not even visible when the trees have leaves.

    So, whatever happened with the Junction task force recommendations? Did they settle on anything, did the council take any action? Or has it just … stagnated?

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