I’ve heard that Rockville Pike– a road that cuts through Montgomery County, Maryland– is the largest commercial corridor on the East Coast. Within the stretch of a few miles, you can find a large shopping mall, Target, The Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond, Toys R Us, Whole Foods Market, Fresh Market, multiple CVS pharmacies, Petco, ethnic grocery stores and restaurants, countless fast food restaurants, nail salons, banks, car washes, dry cleaners, furniture shops, and more.
In theory, most of these destinations are accessible to pedestrians, as both sides of Rockville Pike are lined with sidewalks. In practice, walking to any of these places is a challenge. There are a number of reasons why. Blocks are extremely long, so opportunities to cross the street are few and far between. There are six or more lanes of traffic, and the crosswalks are not always well marked, so it feels unsafe to cross the street. The sidewalks are littered with curb cuts that lead to surface parking in front of the stores, and this forces pedestrians to be continously on the lookout for approaching cars. And, as the picture above shows, there are no sidewalk buffers along most of Rockville Pike; the pedestrian walks directly next to the vehicles. Should a car veer off the road, there are no trees or street furniture that can act as a buffer between the vehicle and the pedestrian. The result is that very few people walk along Rockville Pike, because the sidewalks are neither safe nor convenient.
There is reason for hope. One block of sidewalk along Rockville Pike was recently renovated, as part of a mixed-use (residential/commercial) redevelopment project. Walking along this block is like finding an oasis in the desert. The benches, the vegetated buffer, the stores that front the sidewalk, all of it combines to make walking a safe and enjoyable experience. Future planned redevelopment along Rockville Pike should bring a vast improvement of additional miles of sidewalk.