Popular neighborhood to view cherry blossoms protesting traffic change
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - It’s cherry blossom season in the District! While the Tidal Basin gets a lot of attention, neighbors in another popular spot to view the blossoms are uniting to stop a proposed change they feel would make the neighborhood less safe.
The Kenwood Citizen’s Association is suing the Montgomery County National-Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Planning Board, and organizing a petition to stop a piloted change from becoming permanent on nearby Little Falls Parkway.
The parkway is a mostly four-lane road connecting Bradley Boulevard and Massachusetts Avenue. Right now, there’s a pilot program to reduce it from a four- to two-lane road.
Montgomery County Parks is looking at making this pilot permanent.
The reduction in travel lanes on the main road, they say, has meant an increase of cut-through traffic in the neighborhood, which does not have sidewalks, and this time of year can present an additional hazard because of all the blossom peekers.
"It’s all about safety, it really is. We have a situation now where a four-lane parkway with a median strip has been reduced to two lanes, no median strip, no shoulder. We’re seeing big backups and we’re seeing a lot of cut-through traffic, and that cut-through traffic makes it particularly unsafe for kids, for bikers, for grandparents, for everyone who comes to visit here in Kenwood," said Peter Rizik, President of the Kenwood Citizen’s Association.
Rizik and other neighbors say there is an abundance of park land in the area, and feel closing down two lanes of a key thoroughfare isn’t helpful.
The parkway had full shutdowns on weekends during the COVID pandemic, which the Parks Department says was popular, but neighbors say led to an abundance of cut-through traffic.
Montgomery County Parks tells FOX 5 they were hoping to strike a balance between leaving the road open to vehicle traffic as well as bikers and pedestrians. They say they’ve studied this extensively, looking at traffic counts, turning data and studying the impact of potential growth in surrounding areas on the traffic more broadly.
Kyle Lukacs is a trail planner with the Montgomery County Parks Department. He says Little Falls Parkway as a two-lane road has the capacity for nearly twice as much traffic as it gets now, that neighborhood cut-through traffic reduced significantly compared to when this road was closed altogether, and they feel this is a happy medium that’s still safe.
"A lot of this project has resulted from what we’ve received about the neighborhood cut-through traffic, while also trying to balance that out with the public input we’ve received about maintaining the open space, and we believe we’ve struck a good balance," Lukacs tells FOX 5.
The Kenwood residents question the data that shows this configuration is safer, and have hired a traffic engineering firm to study that.
A particular point of concern for the Kenwood residents is the Capital Crescent Trail crossing over the parkway. Previously, those on the trail would have to cross two lanes of one-direction traffic, pause at a median, then cross two more lanes traveling the opposite direction.
The current pilot configuration has those on the trail crossing the raised crosswalk with two lanes of traffic going opposite directions.
Lukacs tells FOX 5 if the pilot program gets approval from the regional and federal planning commissions, they’ll also look at potential safety improvements to the crossing.
In the lawsuit filed by the Kenwood Citizens Association, they say the way this pilot program was initiated and potential configuration being considered didn’t endure the proper process since the National Capital Planning Commission needs to sign off on this as well.
The National Capital Planning Commission tells FOX 5 if Montgomery County’s planning board approves this, the NCPC must then sign off on it as well.
Kyle Lukacs tells FOX 5 the county believes it’s properly consulted and met its obligations during the review process.
The Montgomery County Planning Commission is holding a public hearing on the project Thursday night and a potential vote may happen in a few weeks.