‘Green Mile’ would lose trees in sidewalk construction in Bethesda

August 17, 2012

Editor’s Note: Due to incorrect information supplied by the State Highway Administration, the original version of this story reported that SHA officials and those of the Chevy Chase Club had reached an agreement in which the club would donate a portion of its land facing Wisconsin Avenue for construction of the shared-use path. Although both sides have discussed an agreement, SHA has yet to present the club with an agreement.

Several dozen trees could be razed to make way for a new .7-mile sidewalk on Wisconsin Avenue, in Bethesda, though State Highway Administration officials said this week that the state would replace trees it removes after construction is complete.

The project would create an approximately 8-foot-wide shared-use path on the northbound side of Wisconsin Avenue, between Grafton Street and Bradley Lane. The path would accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and bus users and be located adjacent to private homes and the Chevy Chase Club, a country club.

An updated design should be complete by late fall, SHA spokesman David Buck wrote in an email.

Building the sidewalk could necessitate the loss of 53 trees, five of which are dying and slated to be removed, Buck wrote.

Some trees also could be preserved by narrowing the sidewalk in some places, or obtaining land from the Chevy Chase Club, said Kate Mazzara, SHA assistant district engineer for project development for district 3. A final design will be presented to the community in a future public meeting, she said.

“When we do something, we’re not out to clear an entire area of trees,” SHA Spokesman Charlie Gischlar.

To build the path, state highway officials would use land within the state right-of-way that exists beyond a fence marking the boundary of the Chevy Chase Club, state officials said.

Gischlar said the fence would be relocated to the club’s actual boundary, which is approximately three feet beyond the existing fence.

The SHA would offer to replace any trees lost on Chevy Chase Club property, Mazzara said.

Highway officials have discussed obtaining additional land from the club but have made no formal requests to the club, Gischlar said August 15.

Club General Manager Luke O’Boyle said on August 15 that he does not know if club officials would support such a request.

The sidewalk has been requested by local communities, including the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association, to facilitate safer pedestrian access on Wisconsin Avenue. The project has generated controversy because it would lead to the removal of trees along a stretch of road informally known as the ‘Green Mile.’

“This is a small sidewalk that will make Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights a better place to live and an easier place to live without a car,” said Michael Replogle, co-chair of the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association’s Transportation Committee and a former transportation coordinator for the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Most trees affected by the project are relatively small and their loss would not have a negative impact on water quality, he said.

The sidewalk project is backed by officials of the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association and Chevy Chase Village, though they have expressed concern about the loss of trees.

An alternative plan by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance, an environmental group that opposes the project due to tree loss, would preserve all but three trees.

The plan calls for a short sidewalk south of the Chevy Chase Club between Hesketh and Grafton streets, upgrades to bus stops between Bradley and Grafton, and improvements to an existing sidewalk on the other side of Wisconsin Avenue, said Dan Dozier, co-president of the alliance.

SHA officials believe that plan is not viable because one of the project’s primary objectives is to provide a continuous shared-use path on the northbound side of Wisconsin Avenue, Buck wrote.

The alliance’s alternative is more environmentally sensitive, and would provide safer bus stops on Wisconsin Avenue, Dozier said.

“The only reason to get off the bus there is to go across Wisconsin Avenue at a place where there are no lights and no crosswalks,” he said. “For any handicapped person, that’s crazy.”

The plan is opposed by Montgomery Bicycle Advocates because it eliminates bicycle access on that side of Wisconsin Avenue, said Jack Cochrane, chair of MoBike. MoBike has no formal membership, but has 200 people on its listserv.

Cochrane said the segment of new sidewalk proposed by the alliance is an important segment for pedestrian access, but the project is “not just a pedestrian project.”

The southernmost portion of the sidewalk proposed by SHA is adjacent to private homes and would be five feet wide, Mazzara said.

Cochrane said five feet is unsafe for novice cyclists who risk falling from the sidewalk into traffic. MoBike will request that the county approach homeowners south of the Chevy Chase Club to obtain additional land, he said.

“We urge the county to ask these property owners to provide land or an easement that would allow construction of the path further from the street in return for monetary compensation of some sort,” he said. “To my knowledge no one has asked them for this.”

jablamsky@gazette.net

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