How the SHA Takoma Junction Vision Study Can Help Businesses
Tonight is the first of two Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) Takoma Junction Vision Study community meetings regarding the Takoma Junction roadways, Philadelphia Avenue (MD 410) and Carroll Avenue (MD 195). This session, Part I – Crafting a Vision Statement, runs from 6 pm to 8:30 pm and is open to all. Next Monday’s session is Part II – Bringing the Vision to Life; June 10, 6 pm – 8:30 pm. Both sessions will be held at the Takoma Park Seventh Day Adventist Church, 6810 Eastern Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20012
I hope you will participate in these meetings. And, I hope you will include a healthy business district as part of the “vision” for the Junction. While the City can assist businesses in a number of different ways, there are two areas that SHA is best able to address: the configuration of the intersection, and accommodation of truck deliveries for the area businesses.
At a meeting that SHA held with Takoma Junction businesses, there was a statement made by the meeting facilitator that “residents don’t want a change to the intersection.” The intersection is failing now, according to SHA’s own traffic metrics as well as two recent traffic studies. Several business representatives noted that they would like to see a change in the intersection to make it work better. But, what was not said there, and what seems to have been forgotten in recent months, is this: under Montgomery County law, without a change in the intersection configuration, NO area business will be allowed expand its building by even 1000 square feet or by a change to a use that increases traffic demand by even one car.
I have heard from some folks that, rather than the two-story neighborhood commercial building that is proposed for the City’s lot, they would prefer a smaller building, a park, or an expanded TPSS Co-op. None of that would be allowable under County law unless significant intersection improvements are made. Improving crosswalks and bike facilities alone will not be sufficient to meet the County law regarding traffic.
How does this work elsewhere in Montgomery County? Montgomery County exempts whole commercial districts from its traffic requirements! But areas with small independently-owned businesses are left with burdensome requirements that hinder their success. I am not asking to have the area become exempted from the County law, but as a community, we need to recognize how the commercial properties in the Junction are and will be constrained by this law if the intersection configuration is not addressed in the near future. And, because the intersection is failing now, real infrastructure improvements need to be made.
In historic neighborhood commercial areas, deliveries were made to the businesses from the street or from a back alley. In Takoma Park space is limited and the topography is difficult behind the properties. The only location for deliveries for most of the properties in the Junction is from land that is part of the State Highway right of way. How can these deliveries be accommodated, while protecting residential areas and also ensuring pedestrian and vehicular safety in the area? What real options are available to accommodate grocery, restaurant, and package delivery businesses in the Junction?
The Junction intersection is a difficult, congested area now. “No change” is not an acceptable option; without any improvements, the traffic will only continue to worsen and the area will be less hospitable to pedestrians, transit users and business patrons. The current delivery situation is dangerous and illegal, and presents on-going and growing challenges.
SHA has similar districts across Maryland and many talented engineers and designers. This is their opportunity to be creative and show how historic main streets and their businesses can survive and evolve and remain the heart of their communities.
There are many opinions about certain aspects of use and development in the Junction area. What I think most of us can agree on, however, is that Takoma Park wants a healthy, vibrant and safe business community at the Takoma Junction. Let’s strongly urge the Maryland State Highway Administration to do the work to get us there.