Thursday, December 26, 2013

a utility line in olney carries more than gas

Utility lines provide us amenities like electricity, water, and gas, but they can also improve the physical connections between communities. A new video shows how one gas line in Montgomery County doubles as a trail and neighborhood gathering space.

John Wetmore, producer of the public access TV show Perils for Pedestrians, recently made a video about an underground pipeline in Olney. The line cuts a 200-foot-wide swath nearly two miles long through several neighborhoods, with just two streets crossing it.

Instead of closing it off, gas company Transcontinental opened the land above its underground pipeline in Olney to the public, building a foot and bike path along its entire length, as well as an informal playing field. Not only does this provide a usable open space for the neighborhood, but the trail's an important connection within the community, providing access to other trails, parks, a library, schools, and several shopping centers.

But the fun stops where Transcontinental's pipeline crosses Pepco's above-ground power lines. While there are examples of safe trails along power lines, this one is completely off-limits to the public. It's ironic because Pepco's slogan used to be "We're connected to you by more than power lines." But it's a bigger shame because there's a lot more to connect on the other side, including Magruder High School, the Intercounty Connector Trail, and Lake Needwood.

Not every utility line is safe for the public to be near, but there are lots of benefits for making them available, both for the larger community and immediate neighbors. As Wetmore says, "Transcontinental's right-of-way invites the community in. Pepco's right-of-way has no trespassing signs. Which corporation would you rather live next to?"

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