Cheers, Jeers for Proposed 'Green Mile' Path
Many see the proposed hiker-biker path for the east side of Wisconsin Avenue as a pointless project requiring the loss of too many trees. Others see it as a way to increase connectivity between Friendship Heights and Bethesda.
The 8-foot-wide paved path proposed for the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Friendship Heights and Bethesda elicited both cheers and jeers from a standing-room-only audience that packed the Town of Somerset Town Hall on Monday night.
The audience had gathered to hear Maryland State Highway Administration officials and Montgomery County Council Member Roger Berliner speak about the project, which is intended to be a shared-use, hiker-biker path along the so-called Wisconsin Avenue 'Green Mile,' much of which runs alongside the Chevy Chase Club.
The path was proposed by some Chevy Chase residents, including some from Chevy Chase Village, many years ago, and has been in the county's master plan for some time. As Wisconsin Avenue is a state highway, it is the Maryland State Highway Administration that is constructing the shared-use path.
But, to build the path, about 52 trees will need to come down, according to SHA plans, and many residents are wary of losing Green Mile trees.
County Council Member Roger Berliner, who described himself at the meeting as "someone who supports trees," is in favor of the path, which the county has endorsed.
"We are trying to evolve our community into a walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible community. And this piece [of Wisconsin Avenue currently] doesn't work for that," he added.
With four pairs of bus stops along this 0.7-mile stretch of state highway and no sidewalk—other than a narrow, trodden-down dirt path—along the east side, there's not a lot of room left on the sidewalk on the west side of the street for pedestrians and bikers who don't wish to brave the state highway.
The proposed 8-foot-wide path would have a green-space buffer between it and the road—with the exception of a couple of blocks adjacent to a private property (not the Chevy Chase Club) where right-of-way-issues exist. In a couple of spots, the path would be elevated by four feet, with an iron fence railing. The retaining wall would be concrete stained to look like stone, Kate Mazzara, assistant district engineer for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said.
During site visits, SHA officials and arborists examined each tree along the Green Mile to determine its health and the impact that the path's construction would have upon it. "Five of the trees had to be removed immediately because they were not in good health," Mazzara said. Those trees were taken down last fall.
For the remaining trees, "[we're] looking at what we can do, design-wise and construction-wise, to save as many of those trees as possible," Mazzara added. Replacement trees may be planted in the median strip of Wisconsin Avenue or elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Not part of the proposal are marked pedestrian crossings at any of the four bus stops.
Many attendees at Monday's meeting expressed concerns about pedestrian safety—that even with a sidewalk on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue, pedestrians still would be faced with crossing six lanes of a state highway to get from the Town of Somerset or Chevy Chase West (on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue) to the northbound bus stops (on the east side) and vice versa. Some added that the speed limit on Wisconsin Avenue between Friendship Heights and Bethesda should be reduced to 30 miles per hour.
The alternative to crossing the road at one of the four bus stops would be either to take the bus all the way up to Bradley Lane, cross at Bradley Lane and walk south on Wisconsin Avenue on the existing sidewalk on that side of the road; or to get off the bus at the bus stop between Grafton and Oliver streets (at the south end of the 0.7-mile stretch) and cross Wisconsin Avenue at the Dorset Avenue traffic light.
In both of these instances, the proposed shared-use path—a "sidewalk to nowhere," one meeting attendee said—might not be useful to pedestrians. Some meeting attendees also questioned the need for four pairs of bus stops, a matter for the Ride On bus service—not SHA—to consider, Mazzara said.
The contingent of meeting attendees who appeared to favor the proposed path the most were members of the bicycling community, who pointed out that biking between Friendship Heights and Bethesda currently means either biking on the approximately 3-foot-wide sidewalk (which is allowed in this instance) on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue, or biking in the road, which can be dangerous, given its traffic and speed limit.
What do you think: Should there be a shared-use path on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue between Friendship Heights and Bethesda? If so, would you use it, and how? If not, why not?
Tell us in the comments or in a Patch blog.