A plan for a safer and improved University Boulevard is underway
If you’ve ever stood outside Blair in the morning, you would know that University Boulevard is quite the scene. As the clock slowly turns to 7:45 a.m., it gets busier and busier. The rush repeats after school as students cross the bustling boulevard to access Four Corners and the bus stops.
University Boulevard’s high traffic volume prompted a response from the Montgomery County Planning Department. Since the spring of 2022, planners have been working on ways to improve the safety and convenience of the boulevard for residents, families, and students in the community. The ongoing solution is the University Boulevard Corridor Plan.
What is the University Boulevard Corridor Plan?
The University Boulevard Corridor (UBC) Plan focuses on University Boulevard (MD 193) and explores opportunities for safer walkways, convenient public transportation stops, and increased access to social centers. Montgomery Planning officially started preparation for the corridor last November. It was followed by eight months of public engagement and hearings, after which the planners published the UBC Plan’s Scope of Work in February 2023.
The Montgomery Planning team chose to focus on University Boulevard for several reasons, but a key reason is that little work has been completed in the region in recent years. Nkosi Yearwood, a Community Planner with the Montgomery County Planning Department, and his colleagues wanted to work on places in the eastern part of the county—such as University Boulevard—that haven’t received as much recent attention. “There’s an existing Four Corners plan. And that was done in the 90s … As a department, we haven't done a lot of work in this area,” Yearwood says.
This UBC plan will only cover three miles, a fraction of MD 193’s total 26 miles, which extends from Kensington to Upper Marlboro. Montgomery Planning intends to split the road development into three phases to individually tackle. The first phase will cover the three-mile stretch from the edge of East Indian Spring Drive to Amherst Avenue in Wheaton. The second phase focuses on University Boulevard inside the Capital Beltway, and the third phase is between the Wheaton Central Business District and Kensington-Wheaton areas.
Each phase will address the same project guidelines and principles. They include supporting environmental sustainability, promoting racial equity and social inclusion, encouraging economic vitality, fostering a safe environment for transportation, and implementing a reliable Bus Rapid Transit system.
Building on countywide initiatives
Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the most recent version of the county’s General Plan, a policy document that outlines a vision for the future of Montgomery County.
Pamela Dunn, Senior Legislative Analyst for the Montgomery County Council, describes Thrive Montgomery 2050 as a framework that gives recommendations for all future Montgomery County plans. “I think that Thrive provides guidance to say that we want to have a multimodal community that allows people to get around by car if that is a necessity for them … And at the same time, we want people to also be able to walk safely and bike safely and get around. So, Thrive has this variety of recommendations that recognize all those realities,” she says.
Specifics of the plan include a rapid transit system to further the mobility and sustainability objectives outlined by Thrive Montgomery 2050.Other frameworks like the Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan will guide plans regarding sidewalks and bike paths along congested parts of University Boulevard.
Specifics of the University Boulevard Corridor Plan
In conjunction with the mentioned frameworks, Yearwood and his colleagues want to ensure the boulevard is pedestrian safe and offers convenient public transportation. “One of the [suggestions] that we've heard loud and clear is a better walking environment for people throughout the corridor,” he says.
A major component of the UBC Plan would be implementing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system — commonly known as “Flash” — along US 29. Montgomery County’s BRT system is a planned network expected to be faster than typical bus services by having priority traffic signaling and dedicated lanes. BRT is the spine of the corridor plan, with new stops planned out to make Flash among the most convenient forms of transportation for community members.
Dr. Zubin Adrianvala, a Planner Coordinator with the Mid-County Planning Montgomery County Planning Department, believes improved conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists may alleviate local traffic. “Making walking, biking, taking the bus sort of more accessible, more exciting, more convenient, can sort of, eventually make even driving more pleasurable. So the overall goal is to make it sustainable for all modes of transport, and not just focus on the car-centric model of doing things because we recognize that there is a diversity of users using the corridor right now,” Adrianvala says.
Impact on Blair
Planners set the Four Corners area as a central part of the plan since it intersects two major roadways. It is home to commercial, residential, and community centers such as the Woodmoor Shopping Center, Saint Bernadette Catholic Church and School, and Montgomery Blair High School.
Blair is one of many schools included in the corridor. According to Montgomery Planning, the corridor contains 12 private educational institutions and five public schools, mainly within the Blair and Northwood clusters. The plan accounts for various aspects of these educational institutions: traffic volume, residential development nearby, and overcrowding.
The plan’s Scope of Work also highlights current over-enrollment capacity at schools like Blair, Northwood High School, Silver Spring International Middle School, and Highland Elementary School. To understand the potential impact of the corridor, planners have worked closely with MCPS.
Community engagement and future steps
In addition to working with MCPS, the planning team has conducted outreach to learn more about the concerns of residents along the corridor. Since the project’s start in the spring of 2022, the team has sent over 3,000 letters to residents along the corridor, engaged over email with over 200 people, and door-to-door canvassed over 1,000 homes.
Still, the planning team wants to continue learning from the community and receiving feedback on the plan. Adrianvala and his team are also interested in hearing more from students in the corridor for their ideas, suggestions, and improvements. “We would love to engage with the student community for sure because we recognize that you all are important users of the corridor,” he says.
The planning process still has months of review ahead as the planning board will review the UBC Plan from the fall of 2023 to the spring of 2024. The plan will only move to the implementation stage after review by county executives and county council, which is expected to be finished by fall 2024.
Though there’s a long way until implementation, we can all look forward to a future University Boulevard that pushes for environmental sustainability measures, social inclusion, and a safe environment for all modes of transportation.
Tejusvi Vijay. Hello! My name is Teju (she/her) and I'm a staff writer. Outside of SCO, I enjoy playing board games, watching Disney movies, and telling puns. More »