The following letter and response might resonate with those who worry that runaway development is clogging our roads with traffic.
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
You wrote on Nov. 7 that "development should be dependent upon building adequate transportation infrastructure to accommodate the growth. Just a thought."
Montgomery County already has this law. It states that development shall be limited to what the infrastructure can handle, and that includes roadways.
However, Montgomery County government routinely ignores this stipulation in order to accommodate increased development. (1)
In other cases, the county simply changed the legal definition of "traffic congestion" so that more vehicles per hour are allowed on the roads before they are legally considered "at capacity." (2)
This should surprise no one, but it does. Why? Most newspapers, including The Washington Post, seldom report on such "mundane" issues as zoning changes and transportation committee meetings. It is at such "mundane" meetings that politicians appease developers with huge tax breaks and zoning changes. The public is left with unpaid bills and clogged roads.
We get what we deserve.
(1) Best example: the huge Rock Springs development at Old Georgetown Road and Interstate 270. Both roads, as well as Interstate 495, were horribly congested, well in excess even of the county's own loosened definition of congestion (or "capacity").
What did the county do? In exchange for a new interchange with I-270, including ramps leading to a highway that was already legally congested, they allowed this development after several token changes to the plan.
Among these changes was a grossly erroneous assumption: that a huge portion of the thousands of people employed in this new development would live in the same development. History has never borne out this assumption, but the issue was enough to confuse the public, bore the press and allow the development to proceed.
(2) In the 1990s, with many roads already crowded 16 hours a day and well over their traffic capacity, the county was already unable to keep up with runaway development. So, rather than fix the problem, Montgomery County systematically changed the definition of "traffic problem." Magically, most of these roads were no longer deemed to be a problem, though anyone actually stuck in traffic would tell you otherwise.
Thank you for a strong letter. I disagree with this part: I don't think the residents of Montgomery County deserve this.
If the politicians have sold out the transportation network to developers, why haven't some slow growth or sensible growth candidates emerged at election time, and why haven't the incumbents been swept out of office?
For whatever reason, my experience with Montgomery County roads is that they are the most traffic-choked in the area. I try not to go there. Montrose Road, Rockville Pike, ugh. The Beltway interchange with Georgia Avenue is the most congested interchange in Maryland. Wonder why.
I'd like to say this is the consequence of one political party dominating local affairs, but I can't. It happens under Republican control, too.
Look across the river for the same problems. The residents of Loudoun County got rid of pro-development supervisors, although with thousands of approved homes still in the pipeline, it may be too late for that county's roads. The state has no funded improvements for the major roads serving this growth -- Routes 50, 15 and 7, the Dulles Toll Road and Interstate 66.
In Fairfax County, on a huge chunk of land bounded by I-66, the Fairfax County Parkway and Route 29, the trees have disappeared and are being replaced by acres and acres of townhouses. We're talking about thousands more vehicles on roads already clogged with traffic.
Meanwhile, there are no state improvements funded for the roads -- I-66, Route 29 and the Fairfax County Parkway -- that serve this new development. Seems mildly insane to me.
I'm beginning to compare developers with movie people. Both groups come into town and are greeted by local officials who bend over backward to accommodate them, regardless of negative consequences to residents. Want a street blocked for your cameras? Sure. Want a farm rezoned for townhouses? Sure. The difference is, the movie people leave.
What do you folks think?
Helping a Stranger
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
This story still warms the heart. I was driving east on Veirs Mill Road when my fuel pump died. I was too far from downtown Rockville to walk back to work, and too new to the Rockville area to know where to go, where to catch the bus, etc. I was stuck.
I was able to coast my car onto a service road and park. I called a cab on my cell phone, but they said the wait could be an hour.
At that moment, a resident of the house where my car was parked appeared with her three children. She was taking the kids to Brownies and graciously offered me a ride to the Twinbrook Metro station on the way.
From there, I was able to take Metro to a friend's house in Mount Pleasant, where I stayed the night. I was quite moved that this woman, with three small children to tend to, would give a total stranger a much-needed lift.
My car was towed to the dealership and fixed the next day. Unfortunately, I never found out this good Samaritan's name, but if she has the chance to read this letter, I want to extend my sincerest thanks.
If I'm ever on the other end of this type of situation, I'll be sure to return the favor.
Michael A. Stodghill
Extending a Courtesy
Dear Dr. Gridlock:
I was recently stopped at the light at Hoadly Road and Dale Boulevard in Prince William County.
A mid-size business truck stopped behind me, and its headlights were beaming directly into my mirrors.
I adjusted the rearview mirror, but the side mirrors were also catching the glare.
I don't know if the driver saw me flip my rearview mirror down to night vision, but he actually turned his headlights down to just his parking lights and left them that way until the traffic light changed, and we were on our way.
It may seem like a small act of kindness, but I definitely appreciated the thought.
What a nice driver. Wouldn't it be wonderful if others in high vehicles followed his example? I'm glad to know he's out there.
Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Montgomery Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.