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Tension Ahead

Pedestrian and bike safety face off against right of way concerns along Seven Locks Road.

Pedestrians need a place to walk, bicyclists need a place to ride, cars need a place to drive, and everyone wants to protect their homes. These demands have come into full conflict along Seven Locks Road .

Art Glazer won’t let his daughter take the bus home from Walter Johnson High School when she stays late for activities during the winter because he worries she could be hit by a car. She would have to take the Ride-On bus and be dropped off at a stop near the Scotland neighborhood along Seven Locks Road, the stop closest to the Inverness Ridge development where the Glazers live. Glazer is the president of the Inverness Ridge Citizens Association.

Once dropped off, Glazer’s daughter would have to cross Seven Locks to get to the Inverness Ridge neighborhood, which is dangerous enough, Glazer said, but that is not even the biggest threat.

“The real danger is walking on the shoulder,” said Glazer of that section of Seven Locks Road. It is one of several sections of the road that is not bordered by sidewalks on either side. “I’ve been driving Seven Locks for 20 years, [and] invariably as cars are turning left [into the Scotland neighborhood], the cars behind them swerve out into the shoulder, and you better hope and pray that no one is standing there. It’s a deathtrap at night.”

A PROPOSED PROJECT to install sidewalks on both sides of Seven Locks Road could spell pedestrian relief for Glazer, his daughter and many others. As proposed, the plan would also add bike paths to each side of Seven Locks, building a model of the county’s hope for promoting bike and pedestrian transportation.

The plan under consideration by the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation would narrow each lane of Seven Locks by a foot, and would add bike paths in the shoulder area of each lane. The west side of the road would hold a shared-use path wide enough for pedestrians and less-experienced bikers not comfortable with riding along the road. The east side of the road would have a sidewalk.

The project is a directive of the 2002 Potomac Subregion Master Plan as well as the 2005 Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan and is currently in initial planning stages with the DPWT.

More than 40 people attended a public meeting before the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, April 26, nearly all of whom live along Seven Locks Road. The majority of those who testified before the planning board at the meeting expressed concern about the project.

The meeting concluded with the Planning Board approving the project in its current form but advised DPWT to take careful note of the worries expressed during the meeting as the project enters the next, more detailed stage of planning.

Most of the concerns expressed at Thursdays revolved around the potential for county to use its right of way along the road to acquire frontage from residential properties along Seven Locks Road to accommodate the width of the project.

According to preliminary DPWT estimates, some parts of the project would require the use of land 65 feet to either side of the center line of Seven Locks Road in certain places. Those figures, said Miller, mark the limits of disturbance for the project, which accounts for the movement of construction equipment and grading to complete the project, but not where the path itself will run.

While such figures suggest that the construction activity could be taking place on some people’s doorsteps, Miller that the numbers are very preliminary and every effort would be made to keep the construction process as far from homes as possible.

“At this point I can say that no, we would not be parking any equipment in their living room[s],” Miller said.

AS IT STANDS today Seven Locks has less than half — approximately 45 percent — of its borders covered by sidewalks, said Aruna Miller, the DPWT project manager overseeing the planning of the proposed project. The project would run on Seven Locks Road between Bradley Boulevard and Montrose Road.

Roads lined only partially by sidewalks are more dangerous than roads that have no sidewalks at all, said Callum Murray, the Potomac Team Leader of the Montgomery County Planning Board staff. This is because they create pedestrian traffic, then force pedestrians to either walk along road shoulders or cross the roads to get to sidewalks, Murray said.

Between Tuckerman Lane and Bradley Boulevard, Seven Locks Road is lined by 18 residential communities, nine places of worship, four schools, four parks and Cabin John Mall, according to the Planning Board. Add several bus stops to that equation and advocates of the project say that these various destinations create pedestrian traffic that badly needs accommodating along the busy road.

“Some neighborhoods such as Scotland can be accessed only from Seven Locks Road, making them difficult for pedestrians to reach,” said Jack Cochrane, the chair of the Montgomery Bicycle Advocates. “A number of people living or working along Seven Locks Road do not have access to a car, and all of us may have need to walk from time to time.”

“I believe there are enough facilities on both sides [of Seven Locks] to warrant safe pedestrian access,” said Royce Hanson, the chairman of the Planning Board, on Thursday.

Glazer said that while he and his organization strongly support improving pedestrian safety along Seven Locks Road, he isn’t so sure bike paths are a necessity.

Robert Gross, the president of the Montgomery Square Civic Association, said that while the idea of having bike paths along Seven Locks Road is a good one, he doesn’t like the county’s plan as it is now. Montgomery Square is an area that would be particularly affected by the proposed limits of disturbance of the project.

“I really would like to see a bike path and sidewalk improvements … but the way the project has been presented has scared a lot of people,” Gross said.

Gross suggested a realignment of the road so that the project would use county parkland and take frontage from the various schools and places of worship along the road. Gross also questioned the need for bike paths that would not link to much of anything.

“The bike paths don’t lead anywhere,” said Gross of the projects limits. “If you want to go to the [C&O Canal ], there’s no good way to get there, if you want to get to Cabin John Park or to [Cabin John Mall] you have to ride along Tuckerman where there are no [bike] paths.”

MANY OF THOSE in attendance at Thursday’s meeting said that any improvements to Seven Locks Road should include the addition of designated turning lanes at the busier intersections along the road to reduce rush-hour congestion.

Andrew Kavounis, the vice president of the Regency Estates Civic Association, is concerned that the proposed project is more about making Seven Locks Road look aesthetically pleasing than actually improving the road, which Kavounis said is in desperate need of congestion relief.

“I don’t understand, and my [neighbors] don’t understand spending millions and millions of dollars not to take one car off the road,” Kavounis said.

Jerry Garson, the chair of the Seven Locks Civic Association said that he rarely sees bikes on Seven Locks Road, and that the need to add bike paths pales in comparison to the need to relieve the road’s congestion.

Cochrane disagrees with the notion that bike traffic is scarce on Seven Locks and says that building the bike paths will bring out the bikers in droves.

“For transportation cyclists, it's hard to overstate the importance of Seven Locks Road,” Cochrane said. “It really is the only effective north-south bike route in the lower I-270 corridor. If you want to get from Bethesda or western portions of D.C. to Rockville, Gaithersburg or Germantown, you use Seven Locks Road. So it's vitally important to make Seven Locks Road a safe and fast route for bike commuters and other road cyclists.”

THE DIVERSE AREAS that Seven Locks Road traverses may cause the ultimate solution to vary throughout. The Planning Board’s commissioners said that the on-road bike paths would need to remain consistent throughout, but that the width of the shared-use path may need to shrink in some parts.

Hanson said that he has lived in two places along the road that snakes through wooded, residential and commercial areas.

“There are great differences [along the road]. The feel of the road is different in different places,” Hanson said. “The project doesn’t need to be the same the whole way through.”

Commissioner Meredith Wellington of the Planning Board agreed.

“It’s important that when you’re retrofitting an existing community, you can’t just put in a one-size-fits-all plan.”