Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Bethesda transit group protests Metro with leaflets and strong words

September 13, 2011 - 10:34 AM
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Leaflets galore this morning. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Friedman isn't the only Bethesda resident mad about the Bethesda Metro station. Today members of the Montgomery County's 25-year-old Action Committee for Transit have taken to the street with leaflets to protest how WMATA is rolling out its Bethesda Metro station developments.

The Bethesdans offer fighting words — "A disaster looms," the group says. The situation "will get catastrophically worse" unless the Montgomery City Council steps up to help resolve what they see as an untenable construction schedule for the next four years. This morning, these folks will be at the Bethesda Metro station passing out their leaflets starting at 6:45 a.m. Here's what the leaflets, encouraging riders to write to the Montgomery County Council to voice their displeasure, look like.

What's bothering Bethesda residents so much? Like Friedman, the members of ACT have a problem with Metro escalators. Specifically, they're concerned with the order in which Metro is rolling out its construction projects around the Bethesda Metro station. In anticipation of the Purple Line, a new southern entrance to the Bethesda station has been designed and is virtually ready to go. But the Purple Line keeps getting delayed for various reasons, and now, construction isn't expected to start on the new entrance until 2015. Alas.

But here's the real problem, ACT says — WMATA is planning to add new Metro escalators to the existing Bethesda entrance in 2014. This new, other Metro entrance won't appear until 2015. See the problem?

The ACT leaflets and other materials protest the situation that will naturally result. If the escalators will be replaced in 2014, at best one of the two will work at any given moment. People will be huffing and puffing their way up and down 275 feet of Metro escalators all the time, and Bethesda can't and won't endure the strain.

What ACT wants is for Metro to just bump up the construction schedule of the southern Bethesda Metro entrance so people don't have to fight their way around escalator construction throughout all of 2014. The Red Line is rough enough without the marathon workout that would promise. The concern is sensible enough, and adding a new entrance first would alleviate a lot of rider stress. This requires the Montgomery County Council to also work with Metro and the MTA in all the necessary ways. "Career officials at the Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation brought the project to a halt several months ago by failing to authorize Metro to spend funds already appropriated by the County Council," according to ACT. "Before the design of the new entrance can be finalized, Metro's engineers must review the plans drawn up by consultants to the Maryland Transit Administration."

I tried calling ACT president Tina Slater and vice president Ben Ross this morning to hear more about their concerns and how everything went with the leaflets, but neither picked up their phones. Perhaps leaflet passion has consumed the group's members?

"Certainly a new entrance will be good for riders who use the Bethesda station," WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel said. "That said, if we're still working with one entrance, we'll do everything we can to mitigate any difficulties for customers."

Stessel said that may potentially involve replacing the Bethesda escalators one at a time, similar to how the escalator installation at the Foggy Bottom Metro station. Foggy Bottom received its first new escalator earlier this summer — the system's first new one in 15 years — and should have the second installed quite soon. WMATA has undergone more scrutiny than usual involving their escalator repair and replacement efforts recently. At last week's board meeting, WMATA indicated that the construction of the new escalators at the Dupont Circle Metro station could take as much as all next year, which caused immediate concern in the social media spheres. Metro is in the process of bringing in contractors to help speed along repairs these days and is also adding even more signs in an attempt to assure people they're truly working on the problem of broken escalators. WMATA social media manager Brian Anderson has offered a few photos of these "escalator murals," as he calls them, on the Metro Forward Facebook page recently. The transit agency's communications team has, on the whole, done their best to emphasize the positive steps forward in realm of escalators, even as the Rosslyn escalators broke down at the same time as last week's announcement and today, Bethesda residents protest their station's construction timeline. Installing the new Dupont escalators could take up to a year, but WMATA hopes to do so in less time if it's possible.

"We want to be realistic," Stessel told me yesterday regarding the Dupont Circle escalator projection. "We want to manage expectations."

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