Wednesday, May 22, 2019

you should pay attention to the montgomery county planning board this summer

Two of the most powerful, influential positions in Montgomery County’s government are up for election this summer. The catch: you can’t vote for them. Here’s why you should pay attention to these contests for Montgomery County Planning Board.

The Planning Board oversees development, community plans, and open space in Montgomery County. Photo by the author.

The Planning Board works with community members and elected officials to make Montgomery County a better place to live. It oversees the county’s park system, reviews development proposals, and helps create long-term plans for transportation, parks, neighborhoods, and the General Plan, the county’s overarching vision.

Five members serve on the Planning Board for up to two four-year terms: four board members, who serve part-time, and the chair, who serves full-time. They meet in the very distinctive-looking Park and Planning Commission building in downtown Silver Spring (or as I call it, the Fortress of Planning), and they play a very consequential role in shaping the county’s future.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

marc elrich wants to cut some of montgomery county's busiest bus routes

Some of Montgomery County's busiest Ride On bus routes could come less frequently this fall. County Executive Marc Elrich wants to reduce bus service to save money, reflecting a larger push to defund things that benefit the county's urban areas. The County Council will vote on restoring the bus cuts this Thursday.

Ride-On Bus, Century Boulevard
A Ride On bus in Germantown. Photo by the author.
The seven bus routes affected serve major job centers like White Flint, major shopping destinations like Wheaton and Lakeforest Mall, and Upcounty communities with limited transportation options, like Germantown and Montgomery Village. Four of the routes, the 55, 49, 57, and 59, are among the county's busiest bus lines, together carrying over 11,000 riders each day, or about 15% of Ride On's entire ridership.

Elrich recommends reducing the frequency on all seven routes starting in September. Five of them would go from running every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes, while two other routes would come every 30 minutes instead of every 20 to 25 minutes. The cuts would save about $2.6 million, including $1 million in operating costs and $1.6 million for replacing three buses that would no longer be needed.

This isn't the first time Elrich, who was elected last fall after 12 years on the County Council, tried to cut bus service. This winter, he tried to impose mid-year cuts on the same seven routes, which the county council rejected.

"I am frustrated that the county executive recommended cutting service for some of the highest performing Ride On bus routes," says County Councilmember Evan Glass, who serves on the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, which recommended restoring the money. "Reducing bus service on well-utilized routes will simply force more people into their cars and away from transit, thus inhibiting the county's goal of having a sustainable transportation system."

Sunday, May 5, 2019

my uncle raymond

My Uncle Raymond always referred to himself in the third person, as if he was detaching from himself, because he was going to be fine, he wanted to know how you were, if you needed money, if you needed food, how was my mother, how was my brother. Was my brother still in school? Did my brother and I know how proud Uncle Raymond was of us? When we spoke on the phone, before he hung up, he reminded me: Take care of your mother, okay?

Uncle Raymond (center) and my Uncle Dennis fixing my brakes out behind Second Street. Photos by the author.
Uncle Raymond taught me that love comes in a multitude of forms, and sometimes it comes from behind the wheel of a car. He taught me to parallel park after I'd failed my driver's test three times and was convinced I would never, ever drive. He pulled out the cones he kept in his trunk one afternoon in the parking lot of Carter Barron Amphitheatre, and I still hear his voice every time I have my side mirror lined up with the rear of the car next to me, yelling CUT IT CUT IT CUT IT OKAY STOP and yanking the imaginary wheel to the right.

Uncle Raymond was a DC cab driver for 37 years. He knew where to find every broken parking meter, every remaining greasy spoon diner downtown, every shortcut that Waze hadn’t uncovered. DC cab drivers don’t have an equivalent of The Knowledge, but if I wanted directions I called him, and I gave the exact address for where I was going - never the intersection - and Uncle Raymond would tell me how to get there depending on the time and the weather and if they were doing street sweeping that day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

montgomery county is finally talking about its segregated schools. but can we fix them?

Montgomery County’s public schools are growing, and they’re also growing more segregated by race and class, which is hurting student performance across the board. As the county struggles to address these issues, a debate is raging about who belongs in our community, and who gets to benefit from its resources.

Students, parents, teachers, and community members filled the cafeteria at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda for last night's boundary study meeting. Photo by Mike H, all other photos by the author.
In January, the Montgomery County Board of Education hired a consultant to look at the catchment areas for each of the county’s 200-plus schools with a focus on diversity. Like the District, Montgomery County Public Schools hasn't done a county-wide boundary study in decades, due to resistance from parents who don't want their kids' school to change. (This often has to do with the relationship between school reputation and property values.) As a result, the Board of Education redraws boundaries rarely, like when a new school opens.

With the boundaries largely stuck in place, the majority of the county’s minority and low-income students have become clustered in East County and the Upcounty, while schools in the wealthier west side of the county remain predominantly white. Schools where enrollment is rising sit next to schools with hundreds of empty seats.

To avoid redistricting students to a "less desirable" school, MCPS has planned multi-million-dollar additions at Whitman and Bethesda-Chevy Chase high schools. Meanwhile, a few miles away at Springbrook High School, which has nearly four hundred empty seats, MCPS is taking away teachers because there aren’t enough students.