Monday, November 30, 2009

Following the Poles

One of the most ubiquitous and annoying features of Downtown Silver Spring streets is the lowly utility pole. Aside from carrying power and communication, these poles cover Silver Spring like a pin-cushion – where they cause all kinds of grief for pedestrians.
The unofficial symbol for Silver Spring should be the tilted and twisted utility pole. The sculpture at Gateway Park on Fenton st evokes the poles – as if to highlight their prominent (unavoidable) place in our community. They are a major obstacle in so many places

Today I discovered that white “Xs” had been painted on a number of utility poles on my street. I have been complaining about these poles for a while now, so I am hoping that the pole are slated for replacement. I just hope that PEPCO is planning to replace them with something modern and ADA compliant. Lines on these poles have burst into flames and dropped to the ground twice within the last year. If someone had been beneath them when they fell, well, no telling what might have happened.
MCDOT just recently completed the first round of pedestrian improvements on Sligo. I hope that PEPCO and Montgomery County will take this opportunity to do the right thing – the SMART GROWTH thing – and replace these poles with better, ADA compliant infrastructure..

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pedestrian; S.O.L.

This afternoon we went to the Safeway to do Thanksgiving shopping. On the way back we ran across a tree service truck parked over the sidewalk. Couldn't get my 100lbs. of groceries past the truck, which was still running. We waited for a few minutes, thinking that the driver would return. No one came. I heard a chainsaw in the back yard of the house where it was parked, so I went back looking for the driver. I found him and asked if he would please move his truck. I asked him why he didn't use the parking lane instead of blocking the sidewalk. He said he didn't want to get "boxed in." I told him that a lot of people walked here, and some of them were pushing strollers or had service animals, and this kind of thing was dangerous. He moved his truck, but as we passed he pulled it right back up on the sidewalk – this time even more.

When I got home I called the Police non-emergency number and reported the truck. I waited about 45 minutes, and then went down to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t.

I called again, and even went in to the 3rd District Station – right across the street. No one seemed to know how to handle my complaint, and the receptionist there told me to call the non-emergency number again, which I did.

After about a 20-minute wait, two officers met me in the parking lot of the station. Basically, they told me that there was nothing they could do, and the the roadway was their priority. I asked if they could see the possible dangers brought on by this obstacle, and they didn’t really seem to care. They cut the conversation short, and went in to the station. When I left, the truck was still parked there, blocking the sidewalk.The sidewalk was blocked for more than two hours.

I did exactly what I was advised to do by my Councilmember, and by Sgt. Harmon. I knew it would’nt do any good, but I tried anyway. I was persist ant, but I tried always to remain polite. I was direct, but I never raised my voice or cursed. Everyone was polite, although I felt that the Officer was a little annoyed with my persistence. It took a big chunk out of my afternoon,and I left disappointed. Better luck next time, I guess. See, I told you that pedestrians are not respected in Montgomery County! Hey Pedestrians - TOO BAD! You will just have to keep dealing with things like this as best you can. Is this acceptable in a Smart Growth area? Don't we want people to be able to get around without driving? Don't we need reliable ROW access for pedestrians for that to happen? If this kind of thing can happen, then the ROW is NOT reliable for pedestrians.

Pedestrians in a Smart Growth area must be treated AT LEAST as equals. If you want to do it right, pedestrians should get preferential treatment in places like Bethesda and Silver Spring.

STAY SAFE. Don't try anything chancy. Obey the law, even if that means re-tracing your steps(even if you are towing 100lbs of groceries). The time you could save is not worth your life. Go to a crosswalk! Take your time. When you come across these obstacles, don't put yourself in danger by walking in the road! Find another way around, but stay out of the street!

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Step on a Crack..."

Sunday, November 22 was a warm, sunny day, so Kathleen and I decided to take Opie for a walk. We walked over the Bridge across the CSX/Metro tracks at Burlington Avenue, past the new Montgomery College Arts Center, and down Georgia Avenue to Walter Reed. Great walk of about a mile.

On the way back up the hill, we walked through a part of Sheppard’s Park, which has some really interesting architecture. The streets were quiet and the sidewalks were empty. Piles of leaves in the street gutters as leaf-blowers whirred down almost every street.

Georgia Avenue, all-in-all has pretty-good sidewalks. But – step a few feet from Georgia and the sidewalks deteriorate quickly. Forgotten passages – such as the bridge over the CSX tracks – are often in poor shape… clumsily patched with asphalt, broken and uneven. One trip hazard after another. Connectivity of pedestrian infrastructure in Silver Spring is really very poor in some places. How do pedestrians get to the adequate sidewalks if the adjoining sidewalks are obstructed? How does a person with a disability negotiate infrastructure that is broken, disconnected, or obstructed?

By the Way... Montgomery County Sidewalks look worse than DC sidewalks. DCDOT takes much better care of pedestrians than does MC. Just so you kinow...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Under my Umbrella

For most people, an umbrella must do one thing well - get you from the doorway to the vehicle, and the reverse. It usually doesn't take much to accomplish this, so most people sacrifice durability for compactness. I think a lot of people look for cheap umbrellas that they don't mind forgetting on the sink in the bathroom, or on the trash can at Star buck's.

But what if you have the kind of life where few vehicles are involved? What if you walk everywhere? You need something better than a pocket umbrella. You need something durable and large enough to keep you dry. For a pedestrian, an umbrella is an investment. I keep one for years. They are usually stolen. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to choose between making time, being safe, or getting wet. There are so many places in Silver Spring that are not "Umbrella Friendly," that I usually just stay in when it rains. Yes, I do have sense enough to come in out of the rain.

Still, there are times when it rains long enough that going outside can't be avoided. There are many utility poles, parking signs, and overhanging branches that make using an umbrella impossible in places. Pedestrian friendly means umbrella-friendly, in my book. You can't simply measure the ground, you must measure the entire space through which pedestrians must cross - all the way up to the head or the tallest person. And you must also take into account the space through which a pedestrian's umbrella must pass when the weather is inclement. For people without cars, being able to walk with an umbrella is essential.

unfortunately for me and many others, Downtown Silver Spring isn't particularly umbrella-friendly. The 1950's-style utility poles everywhere make walking difficult when the weather is good, and downright frustrating when it isn't. Surely, Smart Growth would include some plan to re-configure the power and communications infrastructure in Silver Spring. If we are building a new world here, shouldn't we consider re=building thees systems, and design them so that they don't create these insidious cracks in our pedestrian infrastructure?

Sidewalks aren't just stretches of concrete, they are The Pedestrian Transportation System. Like all systems, Pedestrian infrastructure needs planning, maintenance, and an occasional infusion of new ideas.-Two of these three examples have been resolved. You will still get wet feet and/or a face-full of water crossing Bonifanrt,if you're not careful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Carry-Out Chinese

On Tuesday we had the kitchen floors re-done, so we decided to order food for dinner. We didn't want pizza, and most of the delivery-Chinese around here isn't very good. No, in order to get good Chinese food in Silver Spring, you must go to Oriental East - in Blair Plaza. They don't deliver. That means crossing Georgia Avenue.

Kids both had tons of homework. Wife had a long day at work. So, I decided to try it by myself - I'll walk to Oriental East at night, alone.

I decided to walk across the railroad bridge over Georgia Avenue. At Fenton, I crossed west and took a left, choosing not to walk down Sligo, because you often have to walk in the street against oncoming traffic.Lights in your eyes. You would never see it coming. Gist is not busy, and it comes out right across from the bridgehead. Never mind that you have to walk in the grass a little.

The bridge itself actually affords a nice view of Silver Spring - especially at night.

I could imagine this being a preferred place to cross, if the infrastructure were improved. It is a very dark place. Some of the lighting is out.Kind of scary.The tunnel, however, is not scary anymore. When the kids were little they called this the "Pee-Pee Tunnel."

Now it is lighted, looked-after, and decorated. There is still graffiti, but tghe overall experience is nice.

I cut through what used to be Blair Mill Road., past the Veridian, and down East-West Highway. Past Discovery Studios and Acorn Park. I press the button and stand at the crosswalk just past Blair Mill Rd. Dark again. This is a pitiful crosswalk for the number it serves.Dark, dirty, dingy, and under-marked. I am worried about getting across safely. I take my time. This is my greatest frustration and fear - getting across a busy street with no help. Where is a Boy Scout when you need one?

Needlessness, I make it, but I have to cross immediately again because the construction site there IS STILL BLOCKING THE ROW. WHY??? I have to walk down almost in front of Blair Plaza Apartments to cross, only to cross again to get to Giant. This is very confusing - especially in the dark. Cars don't bother stopping.

The front of the Giant is one of the poorest-designed places in town. Many people walk there or past there - , but the sidewalk is less than three-fee-wide. You have to turn sideways when passing an oncoming pedestrian. Forget any kind of cart here. We lived in Blair Plaza for three years, so I know this place and how to get around. Otherwise, it would be a little sketchy, I think.

On the way back, I walked up East-West Highway to Georgia Avenue. The sidewalks south of Discovery Studios are horrendous. WHAT IS SHA DOING???These conditions have existed for years. Is there some special circumstance that prevents SHA from fixing this? I know they are aware of it. The sidewalks are broken, patched with uneven asphalt, muddy, and full of trip hazards. They lead to one of the most dangerous intersection in Montgomery County - Georgia and East-West Highway.

Frightening five-point intersection. Worn-out crosswalk markings. DARK. HUGE crossing distances and short cycles. It reminds me of Frogger.My guess is that SHA just doesn't think anyone walks here - especially at night. It's all about the car.

I decide not to brave a crossing here. I love life too much. Instead, I go back down under the tunnel, and cross at Sligo Avenue. Not in good shape either, but at least I know my way there. I know how to grab the wires and swing around.

I leave right after I call, and when I get there the food is ready. When I get home the food is still hot.The whole trip took about 40 minutes. Barely broke a sweat on this rather warm night. Would be easier and safer if the Metropolitan Branch Trail were in Place. Phase One will make this kind of trip fun. I will root for this project more later...

Monday, November 2, 2009

A TRIP to Glenmont.

Will and I took Metro to Glenmont this morning, on our way to get new IDs at MVA in Glenmont Shopping Center.

The intersection at Georgia and Layhill Rd is not good for pedestrians. The ramps are too steep, too close together, and the concrete is cracked and uneven.

TThe crosswalk markings are worn-down, and the entire crosswalk system is old, ill-conceived, and full of trip hazards and excuses for pedestrians to cross at some place other than the marked crosswalks.

On the way home we stopped in Wheaton Plaza. We found this temporary walkway at the site of the sidewalk project outside of the Wheaton Metro.TOO NARROW. I did not measure the passage, but I think it is awfully close to be in violation of ADA guidelines> Has anyone check to see?

Finally, on Fenton st we see another example of how temporary and seasonal conditions can make bad infrastructure even worse. Fallen leaves cover and obscure missing pavers in these tree boxes all the way down the street. This is a piece of poorly-designed and executed infrastructure that is liable to injure someone. Hundreds of people walk by here everyday. This is just not acceptable - and people in County government have known about it for years. Why is this being tolerated???