ROCKVILLE – In the city’s final public hearing on the Rockville Pike Plan, the mayor, council and others in testimony could not stop debating one central issue: widening Rockville Pike to 252 feet.
The plan, which envisions Rockville Pike as a transit-oriented open boulevard, has drawn ire from many residents and developers for the extensive widening, which would make it wider than the adjoining sections of the road above and below the plan area. The plan area is a nearly 2-mile stretch from Richard Montgomery Drive to the city limits near Bou Avenue.
Amy Ginsberg, director of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint, said the area of Rockville Pike in the White Flint Sector Plan development would be about 180 feet wide and the inconsistency would be hard on traffic congestion.
“The bottleneck will…quickly assume legendary stature as lanes shift and disappear,” Ginsberg said.
Mayor Bridget Newton also said she worried about pedestrian safety if the pike is 252 feet wide, especially when the plan envisions a more walkable community. She said people crossing the street would not be able to do it quickly enough.
“They won’t be able to do it in one fell swoop. Therefore they will be using the middle of the pike as a safe standing zone, which also doesn’t give me much comfort,” Newton said.
Newton said the city could reduce the width without taking out county plans for Bus Rapid Transit, which would run down the middle of the pike.
Councilmember Beryl Feinberg said she wanted to know some of the impact on city services like streetlights and increased trash and recycling pickup that could come with the development along the pike.
Feinberg also wondered about the necessity of bicycle lanes going both ways on both sides of the road, which exist for part of the 2-mile segment. Chief of Long-Range Planning and Implementation David Levy said the bicycles could go on access roads or Chapman Avenue but the mayor and council rejected those options at a previous meeting.
Councilmember Virginia Onley said the access roads separated from the main pike by a buffer could potentially harm small business.
“My concern with access roads is they’re not going to be mom and pop shop-friendly and there are a lot of small businesses on the pike and I’m not so sure if we put those access roads in they will survive,” Onley said.
But Councilmember Tom Moore said he would support the Planning Commission draft on the matter, which includes the access roads separated with a landscape buffer.
“The systemization of these local lanes is something the city’s been working toward for decades….every plan we’ve had for an awful long time has included some form of this in there,” he said.
The council decided to postpone decisions on access roads until Councilmember Julie Palakovich Carr returns to council meetings. She missed the meeting due to the recent birth of her baby.
The mayor and council also went through a number of wording changes to the plan and plan to tackle some of the overarching issues at the next discussion on March 16.
The March 9 public hearing served as the last public hearing on the Pike Plan before the mayor and council send comments back to the Planning Commission on the commission’s June 2014 draft. The public record remains open through close of business on March 13.