Wednesday, February 18, 2015

maryland considers building the purple line, but with less frequent service

Maryland's new transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, is looking at ways to build the Purple Line more cheaply. While changing the route or swapping out light rail for buses aren't on the table, Rahn says that less frequent service is one possibility.

purple line at east-west highway
The Purple Line could look like this. Rendering from the MTA.


Formerly the transportation secretary in Missouri and New Mexico, Rahn recently told the Washington Post he wants to take a "practical design" approach to the proposed light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The $2.4 billion project already has federal and local funding, and Governor Larry Hogan has set aside some money in the state budget.

Hogan has asked Rahn to find ways to reduce costs. One way to do that, Rahn says, is to make the service less frequent. This might save money now, but it might make the Purple Line less effective while increasing costs in the future.

Friday, February 13, 2015

it's not about an agenda, but choices

Let's set the record straight: I'm okay with people who want to live in houses with yards. I like the Kentlands. And some of the time, I like Seventh State and its predecessor Maryland Politics Watch, which have offered great coverage of state and local politics for years.

Are you confused? I was too when I read Seventh State creator David Lublin's recent posts on the "Greater Greater Washington agenda," which argue that GGW's (and my) advocacy for stuff like transit and walkable neighborhoods is failing because the Purple Line is in trouble, traffic continues to get worse, and people continue to live in suburban places.

But it's not that simple. For starters, if promoting sidewalks, bike lanes, transit, and housing that people can afford is an "agenda," then sign me up. I bet you can sign most other people up too, because those things aren't really as controversial as they sound.

We know that driving rates in Montgomery County have actually gone down even as the population grows. We know that the county's urban neighborhoods are growing faster than many suburban ones. And we know that, when asked, many people say they'd like to live in walkable, transit-served neighborhoods.

It's not urban vs. suburban, it's about choices. Don't get it twisted!
It's about choices.
But this isn't an urban versus suburban thing. It's about choices. More people are choosing urban neighborhoods. But many people still prefer suburban neighborhoods. Others want something in between. Meanwhile, the lines between "city" and "suburb" are getting blurry, whether you're talking about how places look and feel or demographics, creating the opportunity for even more choices.

Yet as GGW's David Alpert notes, even though people want transit projects like the Purple Line, the political climate is much more dire. On one side are folks like Governor Larry Hogan who want to cut government spending. On the other are affluent communities like the Town of Chevy Chase, where Lublin was once mayor, which has spent lots of time and money to fight transit or development in their backyard.

The result is that people have fewer choices, especially people who want what "the GGW agenda" has to offer. And regardless of which choices you personally prefer, we all lose when there are fewer choices, or when a select few try to take choices away from everyone else.

Friday, February 6, 2015

removing josh starr won't fix the broken culture at MCPS

Montgomery County school superintendent Josh Starr resigned this week, and many community members are wondering what went wrong. While Starr had a lot of supporters, his role in a MCPS culture that didn't take criticism well may have been his undoing.

Starr Takes a Photo of the March
Starr (left) tweets a photo of the March to Close the Achievement Gap last spring. Photo by the author.
A week ago, Bethesda Magazine reported that four of the eight school board members didn't support renewing Starr's contract. Last weekend, Starr and the Board of Education quietly met to discuss his departure February 16, four months before his contract ends.

Some elected officials, along with parents and students were confused about what he'd done wrong, pointing to increased test scores since Starr arrived in 2011. Others felt that Starr didn't have a clear direction for the school system, and wouldn't listen to people he didn't agree with. Ultimately, that may have led to his dismissal. But the frustration with Starr reflects a larger issue with how MCPS deals with a rapidly changing school system.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

without crosswalks, east-west highway is the street where everybody jaywalks

When I moved to East-West Highway in South Silver Spring last fall, I quickly noticed one thing: people cross the street without using crosswalks all the time. Even as the surrounding area becomes more urban and walkable, this street remains a relic of its industrial, car-oriented past.

Man + Dog Crossing East-West Highway_cropped
Drivers stop to let a man and his dog cross East-West Highway. All photos by the author.

East-West Highway was built in the 1920s to connect Bethesda and Silver Spring and provide an alternative to Military Road in the District. (An extension to Prince George's County came later.) Industrial uses like bottling plants, commercial bakeries, and repair shops sprouted up along the road in Silver Spring. When the Blairs complex was built in the 1950s, the developers purposefully faced it away from East-West Highway because it was so unattractive.

When the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring took off about 10 years ago, those buildings gave way to apartments and condominiums. More recently, businesses including Denizens Brewing Company, Bump 'N Grind, a coffeeshop/record store, and Scion, a restaurant based in Dupont Circle, have flocked to the area.

South Silver Spring is now one of the region's youngest neighborhoods, with a large number of transit commuters. Even the owner of the Blairs is embarking on a redevelopment plan to face the street again.

As Silver Spring redeveloped, it became more walkable. But East-West Highway never caught up.