Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Montgomery County planners unveiled an ambitious, wide-ranging community revitalization plan for the east Silver Spring community of Long Branch earlier this week, the first step in a long-term reinvention of the area that will peak with the opening of the Purple Line sometime later this decade.
In essence, the plan seeks to transition Long Branch from a car-centric and pedestrian-unfriendly neighborhood of strip malls, surface parking lots, and little to no public transportation, to a greener, mixed-use area connected by bike lanes, redesigned sidewalks, and two Purple Line Stations. One of the biggest challenges facing the area are the poorly-functioning intersections at Piney Branch Road and Flower Avenue, and Piney Branch Road and University Boulevard (see above). This inefficiency is compounded by narrow or nonexistent sidewalks in much of the area. The plan aims to correct this by widening and reconfiguring the above intersections, as well as installing medians, and dramatically widening sidewalks and adding bike lanes throughout Long Branch.
Of course, accessibility should improve while traffic should (theoretically) decrease when the Purple Line opens in a few years. Long Branch will incorporate not one but two Purple Line light rail stations (see above and below), which will bring considerable changes to local transportation patterns. The stations, at University Blvd. and Piney Branch Road, and at Arliss Street and Piney Branch Road, should reduce congestion along Piney branch and University, the main traffic arteries; combined with the proposed street improvements, this could have a serious calming effect on the neighborhood.
On the green front, planners also propose street trees throughout the area, wide-ranging park improvements, and the creation of two entirely new parks on the very west end (see below).
This blogger visits Long Branch semi-regularly - there's no better one-stop community for thrift shopping, authentic vietnamese sandwiches, and 99-cent VHS rental emporiums - and I can attest to the almost aggressively indifferent urban design (or lack thereof) in the area. It's taken the mediocrity of the suburban strip mall aesthetic and added comically inefficient traffic management and a palpable indifference to pedestrians and cyclists. One is often forced to make right turns off the main traffic arteries, which means braking to a crawl on a zooming four-lane road; when you add in jaywalkers and cyclists forced to ride in the gutter, it's a recipe for disaster. This plan won't turn Long Branch into NoMa, or even downtown Silver Spring, but it will, if carried out, produce a safer, greener, more functional community.
Silver Spring, Maryland real estate development news