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Bethesda's Capital Crescent Trail Tunnel could be saved after all

The on-going back-and-forth drama about what will happen to the Capital Crescent Trail through Bethesda just took another turn. But first a quick refresher:

Back in 2011, MTA determined that using the existing Air Rights tunnel through Bethesda - the one that the Georgetown Branch Trail currently uses - would be much more difficult and expensive than previously thought.  During the following year, they considered and eliminated several options, like moving the station or putting the trail in a concrete box above the tracks, and they also took tearing down the Air Rights Building off the table. The Montgomery County Planning Staff determined that they could keep a narrow, pedestrian-only path in the tunnel, but that putting the trail above the tracks would be too expensive. And so it seemed the trail in the tunnel was doomed.

But, in the spring of 2013, they began to work a plan to tear down the Apex building, to allow for several improvements to the Purple Line and as a way to keep the trail in the tunnel. The options at that time were presented by the Coalition for the CCT. Things seemed promising as the county offered incentives to the building's owners to allow for its demolition. 

But by that summer, prospects had dimmed when it was reported that the building's owners wouldn't even return the County's phone calls.

But then, a month later, it seemed like they were, in fact, interested

But, by November they had announced that they were being offered too little, too late

But, the County said they were considering eminent domain

But, then they gave up and all hope was lost. miracle. The trail tunnel gets yet another chance. Tonight, plans for the redevelopment of the office building that sits on top of the location for the Bethesda Purple Line station will be unveiled at a public meeting.

The required “pre-submission community meeting” will include information on the sketch plan for redevelopment of the building, known as the Apex Building, at 7272 Wisconsin Ave.

it’s not yet known which developer is behind the project and how it might affect design plans for the Purple Line station.

[The trail tunnel] appeared dead until Oct. 29, when attorney Bill Kominers told the Planning Board that his client, ASHP, was still working with a “prospective developer” to redevelop the site.

Kominers convinced the Planning Board to allow for the removal of the historic Community Paint and Hardware building next door. He said the historic building, which was first moved about 50 feet in 1988 to make way for the Apex Building, makes the site too constrained for redevelopment.

Kominers said Monday morning the team behind the project won't reveal details about it until the Nov. 30 meeting, so everybody learns "the same set of facts."

I can't even wait. It's like Christmas.

A spokesperson for the Maryland Transit Administration, which is expected to select a winning team of contractors to design, build and operate the Purple Line early next year, said the agency is aware that the Apex Building owners are proposing to redevelop.

"MTA is open to the possibility of redesigning the Purple Line station in Bethesda with a new building should the existing Apex Building be razed, provided this adheres to the Purple Line's current construction schedule," said MTA spokesperson Sandy Arnette.

Update: Here's more on the deal to buy and redevelop the site. 

Carr Properties has inked a deal with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHSP) to buy the Apex Building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave for $105.5M. Carr plans to demolish the 164,119 SF office building and replace it with a mixed-use development.

And here.

It’s unclear if the Apex Building would be demolished in time to make way for a more expansive Purple Line station below.

Montgomery County considered but decided against offering an incentive packageto convince ASHP to move out of the building and find a redevelopment partner. Razing the Apex Building in time for Purple Line construction would allow the state and a yet-to-be-selected team of private concessionaires to build a second tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for Capital Crescent Trail users and other desired station features.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the Maryland Transit Administration (the agency in charge of the Purple Line) said it would still be possible to build the so-called “optimal” station design provided the redevelopment “adheres to the Purple Line’s current construction schedule.”


It's the 25th Anniversary of NPS acquiring the Capital Crescent Trail ROW! (From the archives)

It was 25 years ago this Monday that this article about the Regional Trails Plan ran

A plan before the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments proposes a larger, safer, interconnected network of trails; uniform signs and regulations; better support facilities; and an education program designed to encourage more respect for bicycle commuters.

A key element of the proposal is the completion of 1,000 miles of interlocked, mostly off-road loops and side trails that would link remote suburban trails to the city.

1000 miles. That would be awesome. 

Adoption of the plan would mark the first time in the Washington area that bicycle transportation has received official recognition on an inter- jurisdictional level and would open the way for federal transportation funding not available before for bicycle projects.

"There's a great deal of support for it," said Jon Williams, a COG senior transportation planner. "I don't think there's any question there will be a bicycle element in the {regional transportation} plan."

A major objective of the Bicycle Committee's proposal is to get 5 percent of the area's commuters out of their cars and on bikes by 2000, less than a decade off.

Still working on it...

Hey, remember when Congress could still do things?

Many people were surprised when the 101st Congress, which adjourned last month after months of hand-wringing over deficit reduction, set aside $7 million to acquire a 4.3-mile wooded section of the abandoned Old Chessie Railroad spur near the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Northwest Washington. That section will become part of a new hiking-biking greenway to be named the Capital Crescent Trail.

If the money hadn't been appropriated, the land would have been sold to developers.

The Park Service took possession of the segment last week, completing public ownership of the 11-mile railway that was built more than 75 years ago to haul coal from Silver Spring to a federally owned power plant in Georgetown.

Happy Birthday (of sorts) Capital Crescent Trail.

As additional funds become available, the vines that cover the rusted tracks will be hacked away and the ties removed to make way for a hard-surface trail. The new trail will provide an off-road route for bicyclists traveling from Silver Spring to Bethesda and downtown as well as an alternative route for bicycles on the crowded C&O Canal near Georgetown.

In another part of the city, a similar campaign has begun to buy the abandoned Metropolitan Branch railway that traces a section of Metro's Green Line from Union Station to Fort Totten before it swings north to Silver Spring. A Metropolitan Branch Trail would provide access to downtown from Prince George's County and complete a loop by joining in-town and Potomac shoreline routes to the outer end of the Rock Creek Trail.

Tell me more about this "Metropolitan Branch Trail" of which you speak?

So what would make a Washingtonian use a bike to get to work? According to a 1989 poll of passengers on Metro's Orange Line, danger from cars is the number one reason for not riding a bike.

Bicycle advocates say the off-road loop system and other items in the COG plan would be major steps toward getting people on bikes regularly.

But that in itself won't do it, says Bill Silverman, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. "We need showers in the workplace and safe, dry places to store bikes," he said. Showers and parking facilities are addressed in the COG proposal.

While the inter-regional plan seems like a huge undertaking, bicycle advocates are optimistic that much of it will become a reality.

"Washington is a bicycle town," said Rich Metzinger, bicycle coordinator for the National Park Service. "It's relatively flat, has a mild climate and wide roads. You just don't find that in many cities."


King Street bike lanes could be extended as part of complete street process

Last Tuesday night was a busy one for bike-advocacy projects, and one of the many meetings that I failed to warn anyone about was Alexandria's King Street Complete Street Community Meeting. This meeting dealt specifically with the Complete Streets project along King Street between Radford Street and Janney's Lane.

The purpose of this meeting is to seek community input. The project will be implemented in conjunction with the resurfacing of the roadway

The presentation is here.

South of Janney's Lane there are already bike lanes. 


The draft bicycle network shows this as an "enhanced bicycle corridor" so this is an opportunity that make that a reality. The presentation from the 17th was more general than specific, but they gave considerable space to cycling in the slides.


At this point, the most important part is to get involved while it's still early.

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If you would like to be added to the project email list, please email Hillary.

Maryland prosecutors are having trouble with 2011 Criminally Negligent Manslaughter law

In light of the decision to not prosecute in the Holden case, when the driver fell asleep at the wheel, I thought this 2013 article on the use of the 2011 Criminally Negligent Manslaughter law was instructive. 

prosecutors from around the state have had mixed success in winning convictions using the new criminally negligent law, created in 2011 as a middle ground between auto manslaughter and lesser traffic charges punishable with fines.

prosecutors are seeking changes to the new law, which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and $5,000 fine, because they say even that is difficult to prove.

"It looks great on paper, but it doesn't work out that way," Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said of the new law.

In the other Anne Arundel case, Edward Cramer of North Beach was found not guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter in the death of jazz musician Joe Byrd

In that case the driver ran a red light

In drafting the criminally negligent manslaughter legislation, lawmakers aimed to create a charge that would punish drivers who cause fatal wrecks but whose actions don't rise to the "gross negligence" standard of auto manslaughter.

Under the new law, prosecutors must prove the driver made a "gross deviation" from how a reasonable person would act in the situation.

Several area prosecutors argue gross deviation is too tough to prove and too similar to the existing auto manslaughter law. They say it would be more appropriate for the charge to require only a "substantial deviation," which more aptly applies to actions that are more egregious than traffic violations.

Prosecutors have tried unsuccessfully to persuade state lawmakers to change the law and plan to try again in next year's General Assembly session.

In Baltimore County, Deputy State's Attorney John Cox said his office has been successful in prosecuting criminally negligent manslaughter cases two out of three times.

In the one case that didn't result in a conviction, Cox said, the driver was allegedly talking on the phone and traveling at 62 mph before smashing into the back of a car stopped on Interstate 83 because of an accident ahead. A 5-year-old boy in the back seat was killed, he said.

A judge found the driver not guilty of criminally negligent manslaughter and fined the driver $1,000 for negligent driving and speeding, Cox said.

"I truly believe I may have had much different chances of success if the law was more clearly set forward," Cox said.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Democrat from Montgomery County, spent seven years trying to get the law passed. He said he would consider tweaks — but only if the state's attorneys can prove it's not working.

"I think that it's a fair law," said Simmons, a lawyer whose practice includes criminal defense. "It's an intermediate standard. It was designed to try to bring justice to the grieving families and children who have lost family members because of extreme acts of negligence."

More than 20 people traveled to Annapolis in 2011 to testify to lawmakers about the heartbreaking crashes that killed their loved ones and the drivers who only paid small fines for causing them.

In the emotionally charged hearing, lawmakers heard from a Reisterstown father whose teenage son was killed, the wife of a highway worker killed on the job near Frederick and an Owings Mills woman whose husband was struck and killed while riding his bike in northern Baltimore County.

Federal Bike to Work Act reintroduced

If it is not literally the least that Congress can do to encourage more bike commuting, it's close. 

Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY), Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Erik Paulsen (R-MN) announced the reintroduction of The Bike to Work Act (H.R. 4104), bipartisan legislation that would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow workers to use their pre-tax commuter benefits for bike share programs, just as they already can for other forms of transportation.

Originally introduced in the 113th Congress, the bill will give commuters the option to pair bike share with other forms of transit, greatly expanding mobility and improving access to existing transit systems.

When the bike commuter benefit bill was being voted on, the CBO estimated it would cost $2 million in 2008 and $30 million over 10 years. I wonder if they've figured out how much it is actually costing and how many people are taking advantage of it. 

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail Construction update Nov 2015

About 3 months ago I went out on a tour of the section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail currently under construction from Benning Road to the Maryland boundary. Since then work has continued and more sections of the trail are paved.

Starting from the north, jeff sent these photos of the causeway and bridge near the New York Avenue bridge. 


Bridge over a small stream just north of New York Avenue.


Trail causeway

South of this, in the area of Kenilworth Gardens, I heard the trail is paved, but I haven't been out there to confirm that. But on the section between Nash Run and Benning Road there is more pavement.


"Traffic circle" north side of Watts Branch


Traffic diverter on the south side of Watts Branch Bridge (view previously seen in this photo)


Where the trail connects to Anacostia Avenue, it is at road width, which likely means it will be used by cars too. (same area)


Trail as road  (same shot from August)


Where the road dead-ends - the old road continues through the park though


Where the trail connects to the road (same shot from August)


Trail over the hill (same shot from August)


Where the pavement begins, next to the old Pepco plant site (same shot from August)

Anyway, the whole trail is now paved from just north of Benning Road to Anacostia Avenue. There's still some work to be done on that stretch though, and bridges over Nash Run and the outflow stream as well as the causeway to tie it all together. But a fall 2016 opening, as projected on the project page, does seem within reach.

And though not part of this section, here's another piece of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail under construction. This is the promenade at Florida Rock, right next to the baseball stadium (though for some reason it is all fudged up).


Bike and Roll to offer Christmas tour by bike

More here

Aptly named “Christmas on Wheels,” the tour and rental company announced today.  Christmas on Wheels will be offered every Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning December 4 through December 20 from 4:00-6:30 pm. 

Tour highlights will include the Botanical Gardens Holiday Showcase; a hot chocolate stop; the exquisite decorations at the Willard Hotel and of course, the Capital and National Christmas Trees.  The cost for the bike tour is $39 for adults and $34 for children 12 and under and $64 per person for the Segway tour. 

Driver who killed cyclist Tim Holden fell asleep behind the wheel

As was reported earlier this month, the driver who killed cyclist Tim Holden in Bethesda will face no criminal charges. What is new from this recent WJLA story is that the crash happened because the driver fell asleep behind the wheel. 

Prosecutors say a dogged two-month investigation found the driver wasn't drunk, high, speeding or texting, but rather fell asleep during an early morning commute from the Baltimore area to a construction site in Bethesda. Not nearly enough negligence to press charges, they say.

"There's definitely a lot of frustration and anger and fear and sadness in the community over the outcome. The goal would be to protect all the other lives that are still out there. This guy has proven that he can't operate a vehicle safely and we would like to see him off the roads," Evans concluded.

And good news, he's paid his fines, so I suppose his license is no longer suspended?

Montgomery County Police issued Freeman three tickets; one was for negligent driving. Last week he admitted his guilt in Montgomery County District Court and paid $690 in fines.

In the only other case in Maryland I know of where a cyclist was killed by a sleeping driver, the driver got six months in a nighttime-only facility; but in that case the driver left the scene and turned herself in later. So it was a more serious crime. More, including the crash report, is here at a very well researched article in Bethesda Magazine.

“This crash specifically really struck a chord with people,” said Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Here was a person who was doing everything right while riding a bike, at least from the details that we know, and he was killed with very little consequences for the driver. When as a community and a culture are we going to stop accepting traffic deaths?”

I suspect Freeman faces a pretty hefty civil court judgement, and may have trouble getting insurance - and thus driving - in the future. But then maybe not. 

WABA is arguing that the state is setting a high bar for negligence in the recently passed "criminally negligent manslaughter" law.

The criminally negligent manslaughter law says “the defendant should have been aware but failed to perceive that [his] [her] manner of driving created a substantial and unjustifiable risk to human life,” but also that “simple carelessness is insufficient to establish defendant’s guilt.”

"While it is deeply disturbing to all that a man lost his life while cycling in a calm suburban neighborhood, our investigations and analysis based on the law indicate that this accident was just that; albeit a deadly one," Korionoff said Monday.

“Prior to [2011] there wasn’t anything between a traffic ticket and vehicular homicide.  This was put in to be the middle ground,” Billing said, referring to the criminally negligent manslaughter law. “The challenge is many state’s attorneys have interpreted that bar as very high for what is actually negligent.”

“I don’t know all the circumstances of this case, but hitting somebody who’s in the shoulder of the road is rather negligent,” Billing said. “If the legal tools aren’t there, then we need the state’s attorney pushing for the tools that they need to hold drivers accountable. That’s really what it comes down to.”

I feel like the prosecutor was overly cautious here. Falling asleep behind the wheel is pretty negligent. I think being awake is a minimum standard for safe driving. It would be one thing if this kind of case had been prosecuted many times and the courts had rejected the driving-while-sleepy = criminally negligent manslaughter in all such cases. But I don't get the sense that that is the case here. Instead, this is just an accident. Nothing to be done about it. Move along. 

From the archives: When the W&OD Trail was going to connect to the Appalachian Trail

The W&OD railroad used to run from Alexandria to Bluemont, Virginia; but the trail only runs from the Arlington/Alexandria boundary to Purcellville. At one point in the late 80's-early 90's it looked like the trail might extend along the remaining west end of the ROW all the way to Bluemont and the Appalachian Trail. 

When the trail was "completed" in 1988, the park authority stated that they had "plans to extend the W&OD seven miles farther to Bluemont and the Appalachian Trail." The section from Purcellville to Bluemont was admittedly a bit different from the rest of the railroad, as it had been abandoned in 1938, 30 years before the rest of the line was. Nonetheless, in 1988 they stated that

The park authority plans to extend its W&OD Trail to Bluemont and the Appalachian Trail, which follows the border between Loudoun County and Clarke County.

Two years later, the Park Authority stated that they hoped to have the seven mile extension completed in 3 years. 

Park Authority Executive Director Darrell Winslow said money may not be the biggest hurdle in making the plan a reality. Rather, finding land for the skinny extension -- an eight-foot-wide paved path and room on either side for drainage -- could be the toughest challenge, he said.

The Park Authority began trying to complete the W&OD trail by asking the Loudoun government to amend its Rural Land Management Plan to indicate that the extension might be built from Purcellville to the Clarke County line, west of Bluemont.

That request received unanimous approval from the Planning Commission on Oct. 24 and has been forwarded to the county Board of Supervisors. In addition, the Park Authority must submit detailed plans and receive a commission permit -- similar to a permit issued to a public utility -- along with any other permits required by the Loudoun zoning administrator, county officials said.

Park Authority officials first must decide where they want the trail extension to go. The linear park follows the right of way of the defunct Washington & Old Dominion Railway between Shirlington, near Interstate 395, and Purcellville. But the portion of the train line's old path that is west of Purcellville is privately owned and probably unavailable for the trail extension, park officials said.

The agency said it may try to find a new path through the rolling hills or, more likely, it may try to persuade the Virginia Department of Transportation to let it use part of the right of way along Route 7, which connects Purcellville and Bluemont.

The Park Authority has budgeted about $168,000 to acquire land and has pegged roughly $300,000 to build the extension over several years.

The agency hopes to extend the paved trail from its current terminus in the center of Purcellville through the village of Bluemont and to the top of the Blue Ridge at Route 601. Winslow said a short unpaved footpath would extend from that point to the Appalachian Trail

It's not clear what happened (perhaps Allen Muchnick knows?) but obviously the W&OD was never extended. Still, there is reason to keep hope alive. The extension made it into Loudoun County's 2003 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan and Virginia's 2007 Outoors Plan was mentioned as recently as 2012 by the County's Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Board (though the typo in the presentation title doesn't instill confidence). 


Maglev rendering with trails

I'm not even sure if this is meant to be the DC-Baltimore maglev, but I like the parallel bike-ped paths below it. If this is what it looks like when it opens in 2092, then count me on board (or not, I'll probably be on the bike path below it, unless global warming has flooded that).

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