Wednesday, August 12, 2009

meta-highway, or thinking about the intercounty connector

'Road Closed 500 Ft'
Michael Dresser, who writes the "Getting There" column for the Baltimore Sun, has been talking a lot recently about the proposed widening of I-270, which has many in the environmental and urban planning communities worried about more traffic, more pollution, and more sprawl. His advice? Foes of the $4.6 billion project should take advantage of the InterCounty Connector, which can be used to justify new development in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's counties rather than sending it out 270 to Frederick and beyond. So now that the shovel's long since been put in the ground, it's time to ask: how will the ICC change the way we view our area, and what's it going to look like as a result?

At the very least, the InterCounty Connector will be a line on a map. You can use maps to get ideas about a place: gridded lines denote the streets of an older, urban place; squiggles and loops suggest cul-de-sacs in newer suburbs. As a particularly big line, a highway can be used as a spine, forming connections between different and disparate uses, or a datum that separates and organizes them. Since it passes through existing neighborhoods, the ICC will redefine the way we conceive places and the connections between them, whether we like it or not.

Currently, we use phrases like "outside the Beltway" or "I-270 corridor." Will the ICC become a "corridor," defined by one's proximity to it, or a sort of Maginot Line separating the suburbs to the south from the still-rural areas to the north? Or will we start referring to a place "Between the Beltways," home to "a race of clear-thinking individuals untainted by either Inside the Beltway parochialism or Outside the Beltway naivete," as the Post Magazine's Tom McNichol once predicted.

I see Olney, proud of its isolation from the rest of the county, dragged kicking and screaming from its exurban orbit and thrown into the fray. You left the city, the highway says, but now the city's coming to you. Or perhaps, eastern Montgomery County slams into I-270 like shifting tectonic plates, finally able to snag a little of the prosperity so long kept for Rockville and Bethesda. Business executives, seeking to keep home and office no more than eight miles apart as William H. Whyte discovered, find that the ICC's opened up lots of affordable land for new corporate headquarters, with snooty white-tablecloth restaurants to follow.

But in many places, the InterCounty Connector closes more doors than it opens. Some residents in Tanglewood, against the ICC's interchange at Route 29, are happy about the highway because it will block people living in the apartments on Briggs Chaney Road from reaching their community on foot. But in Longmead Crossing, a neighborhood literally built around the ICC right-of-way, it is an unwelcome intrusion dividing friends and neighbors. And it's not surprising that the State Highway Administration has to build little underpasses for the deer and turtles whose habitats are being affected by the construction.

A 2010 U.S. road atlas depicts the InterCounty Connector (the dotted green line at top right).

There will be so much pressure to build at each of the highway's new interchanges that one conservative writer proposed not building any at all to reduce opposition from smart-growth advocates. We've already seen the first of what will be many proposals to build at the on-ramps in places that to most are just names on maps: Norbeck, Bonifant, Layhill. To the outsider, these are all just different ways of saying "Silver Spring," but you can't put that on every exit sign. Does the ICC suddenly make all the rural hamlets that drowned in suburban sprawl relevant again, if only as new marketing tools?

This new world that we're creating brings no good or bad tidings, but simply the anxiety that comes with knowing that change is inevitable. If only it were so simple as drawing a line on a map, my questions could've been answered many, many years ago.

6 comments:

Akil said...

"I see Olney, proud of its isolation from the rest of the county, dragged kicking and screaming from its exurban orbit and thrown into the fray. You left the city, the highway says, but now the city's coming to you" basically olney doesn't want to be dragged into the sh&thole that aspenhill, wheaton, and parts of silver spring have become and who can blaim them

Douglas said...

Akil, if anything the road will probably further shelter olney from becoming a "sh&thole", which is an opinion that pisses this native and resident of Aspen Hill off to no end. Most times a big freeway goes up, it locks the poorer areas out of expansion. Read, SE Freeway/Anacostia Freeway in DC, 880 separating West Oakland from Downtown Oakland until the earthquake the destroyed it, parts of LA.

Patrick said...

History suggests that Douglas is right. Highways have often acted as walls separating neighborhoods, especially ones with as few interchanges and crossings as the ICC.

It is likely to act the way 270 does, separating the genuinely rich from the upper middle class (Bethesda/Rockville) and the upper middle class from the working to middle class (Gaithersburg/Germantown).

Thomas Hardman said...

Dan Reed writes, in part:

> Foes of the $4.6 billion project
> should take advantage of
> the InterCounty Connector,
> which can be used to
> justify new development in
> eastern Montgomery and
> Prince George's counties
> rather than sending it out 270
> to Frederick and beyond.

Dan, you have to understand: considering the rates for accessing this toll road, it will primarily be attractive to medium-haul truckers and other commercial services.

Thus, other than commercial development, there is little call for any development at the highway intersections and surrounds.

Look, would you buy a house in a place where the only freeway to work cost you $5/day? No, that's ridiculous.

Would rich bastards in Olney pay $5/day to take a freeway to Shady Grove/"Science City"? In a heartbeat.

Thus this highway becomes a road for the rich and for commercial trucking enterprises, and not for anyone else, not unless they put a commuter-bus or Bus Rapid Transit route on the ICC.

But you and most of the other folks are missing a huge point. We do not in any case at all need more Development. We need people who know how to effectively use birth control.

Population stops exploding, no need for new development.

I realize that you architecture students are generally pretty far outside the life sciences, but you folks need to go look at the dynamics of population explosion as a precursor to population collapse before you talk any more about paving the planet.

There's no position more untenable and horrific than discovering that you're an enthusiastic engineer solving a problem that should never have occurred. Frankly, by making it seem like less of a problem, you are only rewarding bad behavior and occasionally you are rewarding bonehead planning and the decisions of idiots, not to mention the tropisms of blind organisms that might as well be cancers: growing today is what is good, no matter that the host will die tomorrow.

A certain respected fellow activist advised me that I should try to write in a way that doesn't seem so angry. But I am angry, very angry, at people who will not dare face the fundamental -- and easily changed -- driver of all of our development woes and planning brouhahah. Face it. There's nothing else at the root of this other than population growth.

Birth control pills don't make any money for developers, but they cost a lot less than paving the planet and turning it into a machine for which we have no long-term energy-supply solutions.

Thomas Hardman said...

"Patrick" writes, in part:

> History suggests that Douglas is right.
> Highways have often acted as walls separating neighborhoods,
> especially ones with as few
> interchanges and crossings as the ICC.

Patrick, this is true, I have seen in in such places as the City of Austin, where the north-south Interstate is called "the Great Wall".

But that is totally beside the point.

In the examples you cite, new freeway rights-of-way were laid across existing communities, from the top down.

For the ICC, for the last 50 and more years, no development was permitted in the rights-of-way for the projected ICC.

Very few streets or highways ever crossed that right of way, and the few homes removed were ones which were extant before the projected route's rights-of-way were either laid down or written into deed advisements and restrictions.

Thus, the ICC is at best a psychological barrier and not a material one. Most of the routes crossing the right-of-way were either than into consideration in the plan, or were never built, any more than the two segments of Rippling Brook Drive was connected across the present-day Matthew Henson State Park between sections of Strathmore at Bel Pre.

That land was reserved for "Circumferential Freeway", of which ICC is a last remnant.

My point is, almost no road which previously crossed the right-of-way of the long-planned ICC has been cut. I defy you to name any significant such streets, or for that matter, any at all.

The "Great Wall" has been in place for the last 50 years and more... but soon you will be able to drive along it, instead of being blocked by it and nothing else, as has always been the case since the early 1960s.


Douglas: with all due respect, I have been in Aspen Hill since 1963, we moved here when I was 6.

And it is in fact a "sh&thole" in many parts. Almost every day I walk out of my house, look at the bus-stop on my lawn, and try not to scream: "I live in the m0th3rfuck1ng GH3TT0".

Because I don't usually scream it, does not make it totally true.

C. P. Zilliacus said...

Dan, please remember that most suburban development across the middle of Montgomery County (and essentially all since the 1970's) was approved with the understanding that the ICC would get built. Certainly the rapid development that took place in the East County after the 1981 Eastern Montgomery County Master Plan was adopted was approved with the understanding that the ICC would be there at some point in the future.

As you correctly noted, Longmeade Crossing was approved with the route of the ICC running right through its property - but consider also that the approvals for Longmeade Crossing also assumed that the ICC would be there to serve the transportation needs of residents of the development.

Now the Montgomery County Council and the M-NCP&PC could not very well "put the toothpaste back in the tube" by un-approving the highway after the development was in place. That was why the M-NCP&PC staff told the County Council back (when removal of the road from the master plans was being debated in 1999 and 2000) that it would take six or seven years to change the planning documents to remove the ICC.

Of course that became a moot point when leaders of the Maryland General Assembly put the Montgomery County Council on notice that if they attempted to remove the ICC from its master plans or sell the right-of-way, that the state would likely take some of that authority away from the Council.

With a pro-ICC majority was seated on the Council and a pro-ICC governor in Annapolis after the 2002 elections, the planning effort to get the project approved and built there was no more serious talk of removing it from planning maps.