Wednesday, November 28, 2012

learn about flower theatre, eat great food at discover long branch!

Tricycle, Colesville, 2012
One of artist Howard Connelly's giant tricycles, shown here in Colesville, will be on display at Discover Long Branch! Photo by Andrew Benson on Flickr.

For some, Long Branch is just a pass-through on their way to Silver Spring or College Park, but the neighborhood has its own unique culture and great local businesses. You'll get to learn more about the area and have a great meal at the first-ever Discover Long Branch! event next week.

Nearly four months ago, I organized a charrette or design workshop exploring possible futures for the Flower Theatre, a 1950's-era Art Deco theatre that was an anchor of Long Branch for decades. Since then, the newly-organized Flower Theatre Project has compiled a report of social and economic conditions affecting the viability of reopening the theatre and held a few meetings with community leaders and the property's owner.

The Flower Theater Project's next step is to reach out into the broader community, in the hopes that a stronger neighborhood and local economy will draw the kind of investment needed to bring the Flower Theatre back to life. We've been reaching out to the Long Branch Business League, a group of local business leaders, which is organizing a series of Discover Long Branch! events to raise awareness of the area and its businesses. Their first one will be held Monday, December 3 at El Golfo Restaurant, located at 8739 Flower Avenue, from 6 to 9pm.

From their press release:

The Long Branch Business League and Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP) are initiating a series of events, called Discover Long Branch!  The events offer both spectacle and specials.

At each Discover Long Branch! event, beginning in December, customers will get the chance to personally meet the owner, enjoy special discounts and be entertained by innovative arts and music in the eclectic neighborhood whose boundaries include Piney Branch Road between Flower Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue.

  El Golfo will offer customers a 25 percent discount on its famously diverse Latino food (which also extends to less typical Latin fare, like excellent chocolate mousse).  For children of all ages, there will be a giant (8-foot tall) tricycle to ride, weather permitting. The giant tricycle was created by local sculptor Howard Connelly. There will be other artistic attractions as well.

The series is part of a larger community revitalization effort being spearheaded by the newly reformed Long Branch Business League in partnership with MHP and a wide variety of other local non-profits, artists and arts organizations.

If you're interested in the future of the Flower Theatre, I encourage you to come out. I'll be there along with some folks from the Flower Theatre Project. We'll be talking about our report and some of our goals for the future. It's also a chance to visit an awesome Long Branch restaurant and try some great Latino food (I am partial to their quesadillas, though I'm told their chocolate mousse is also amazing).

For more information about the event and Long Branch, visit the Business League's website or email their contacts, Carlos Perozo and Paul Grenier. And if you'd like to learn more about the Flower Theatre Project, please visit our webpage.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

blairs redevelopment could yield new downtown park

Blair Park Giant
Today it's a parking lot, but in the future it could be a big park.
Downtown Silver Spring could get a big new park in an unlikely place: the parking lot of the Blair Shops.

According to a tweet from Evan Glass, chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, the Blair Apartments at East-West Highway and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring will get a new urban park as part of a future redevelopment project. The announcement was made during a meeting of the advisory board's Tree and Neighborhoods committees, where staff from Montgomery Parks and the Montgomery County Planning Department led a conversation about open space in the area.

The Blairs were built in the early 1960's on the former site of Falkland, the mansion of Montgomery Blair, postmaster general under President Abraham Lincoln. A series of additions and renovations by owner Tower Companies followed in the early 2000's. Today, the 27-acre complex contains over 1400 apartments in 10 buildings, the Blair Shops, a 100,000 square foot strip mall, and a 67,000 square-foot office building.

A few years ago, county planners did a study of potential sites for new, large parks in the area, identifying the Blairs as a possibility. Their drawings of the site show how the site could be redeveloped, with a park measuring several acres in place of the Blair Shops parking lot and high-rise apartments above the shopping center. A street grid would connect the site to the surrounding area, while structured parking garages would make up for the lost parking lot.

Giant Food Parking Lot - Aerial
Rendering of a potential park at the Blairs from the MoCo Planning Department.

Giant Food Parking Lot - Potential
Rendering of how the Blairs could be redeveloped from the MoCo Planning Department.

While there are currently no firm details about how and when the Blairs will be redeveloped, the Tower Companies' website suggests that they eventually plan to have 2800 apartments and 450,000 square feet of total development, nearly double the amount of space there today. It's also unclear whether the park will be publicly or privately owned, though ideally it would be owned by the county.

Glass's tweet says that public meetings on the project will be held early next year. Until then, the potential for a big new park in downtown Silver Spring is exciting. The availability of and access to open space has been a growing issue in the Downcounty in recent months, particularly with residents concerned about new development.

A few blocks from the Blairs, a group of South Silver Spring residents upset that a proposed apartment building on Newell Street will block their views are lobbying to have that property turned into a park. Meanwhile, residents in Wheaton successfully persuaded the county to buy a former art school for parkland instead of letting townhouses be built there.

Montgomery County will continue to grow, and new residents will need places to live, work and shop. They'll also need parks for gathering, recreation and enjoying nature. However, we've seen how poorly-designed, poorly-located parks can be underused, dampen foot traffic and even hurt nearby shops and restaurants.

We can't let that happen again, and the best way to do that is to plan for new parks, not just put them wherever someone doesn't want something built in their backyard. Building a park as part of redeveloping the Blairs means it can be designed as a part of the neighborhood as opposed to an afterthought or leftover space. And since the redevelopment will have to be reviewed and approved by the Planning Board, there will be many opportunities for community input as well.

A well-designed urban park can be a great asset for residents and businesses alike. Hopefully, a new park at the Blairs will do that for downtown Silver Spring.

Friday, November 23, 2012

on the purple couch gives clothes, furniture new life

Bahia Akerele
Bahia Akerele, owner of On the Purple Couch.

While many shoppers spend Black Friday camped out in front of a big-box store or fighting crowds at the mall, there are great finds to be had at our local businesses as well. In honor of Small Business Saturday, I interviewed Bahia Akerele, owner of On the Purple Couch, a consignment store in downtown Silver Spring.

Located on Bonifant Street, On the Purple Couch specializes in "high quality, lightly used" clothes, accessories, shoes and even home furnishings. The shop provides "an alternative to the bigger stores," says Akerele, who lives in Silver Spring with her husband, an immigration lawyer, and their young son.

Inside On the Purple Couch
Inside On the Purple Couch.

Akerele grew up travelling around the world with her parents before setting out on a career in social welfare policy. She moved to the D.C. after September 11 to work with survivors, but became burned out and decided to try something new. After marrying and having a baby, she decided to open a consignment store, and On the Purple Couch opened its doors in April.

The name comes from a goal she shared with her mentor. "I told her, 'wherever the store's located, I'm gonna have a purple couch,'" says Akerele. "When we thought of a name, it stuck." After months of searching for "the right couch," she's currently in the process of having it reupholstered with purple fabric.

Even without its namesake couch, the store feels like an extension of Akerele's gregarious personality, with bright walls and inviting displays. I'm no clothes horse, but I was impressed by the way she took otherwise mundane items of furniture and made them showpieces, like an Ikea bookcase that became a shoe display.

Restored Table
A table that Akerele painted and restored.

Akerele encourages her shoppers to do the same, teaching workshops on how to restore old furniture. "It's a cool way of transforming what you have," she says. The workshop has been so popular that she doesn't have to advertise. "It's really a phenomenon," she adds.

Despite no longer being in social work, Akerele still works to give back to the community. "The engine of the economy are the small businesses," she says. "We live here. We work here. Our son goes to school here."

The store also hosts book signings and fundraisers for groups like the Tigerlily Foundation, an organization for breast cancer survivors. "I call it using our powers for good," says Akerele.

Dressing Room
A sumptuous curtain hides the dressing room.

Though business has been good, Akerele acknowleges that it's hard getting the word out. "I'm on a hometown street. People are only going to come here if they know," she says. "The major challenge is getting people to know we're here."

One way to do that is through social media. In addition to the store's website, Akerele maintains an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Houzz, posting design ideas, fun pictures or anything else that she finds interesting.

The goal is to present a "lifestyle," not just a product, she says. After all, she knows shoppers won't visit local businesses if the offerings are poor. "People have to see value," Akerele says."We need to have what you want."

On the Purple Couch is located at 955 Bonifant Street in downtown Silver Spring. This weekend, they'll be open from 10am to 5pm on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday; for more information, check out their website and social media pages (linked above).

Check out this slideshow of On the Purple Couch:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

new park is good for neighbors, but not for montgomery county

Former Maryland College of Art and Design, Georgia Avenue and Evans Drive
The former Maryland College of Art & Design, soon to be Montgomery County's new park.
After years of fighting between residents, a developer, and Montgomery College, Montgomery County's parks department will will turn an abandoned art school in Wheaton into a park. While it's a triumph for neighbors hungry for more park space, it also shows how indifferent the county to its own goals for walkable communities, providing more housing, and land preservation.

Montgomery Parks recently acquired the former Maryland College of Art and Design at Georgia Avenue and Evans Drive in Carroll Knolls, a community of modest post-war homes less than a mile from the Wheaton and Forest Glen Metro stations. They bought the 2.47-acre property for $1.14 million, well below its original asking price of $2 million, with plans to demolish the building and add 1.2 acres the county already owns to form the future Carroll Knolls Local Park, a construction date for which hasn't been set.

Neighbors acknowledge that the area already has a number of parks, but argue that they're either too far or require crossing busy Georgia Avenue. "We are relieved that we will not have to cross Georgia Avenue, a six-lane state highway, without a pedestrian bridge, a crosswalk, nor an intersection light to access nearby parkland," said Beverly Sobel, head of community group Green Space on Georgia, in a press release from Montgomery Parks.

Traffic On Georgia Avenue
Residents say Georgia Avenue is too dangerous to cross on foot.

The new park is across Georgia Avenue from Evans Parkway Park, a four-block-long green space that's currently being renovated and expanded, but to some that's not enough.

It's "not realistic for parents to ask their kids to cross Georgia Avenue to go to a park," said County Councilmember Marc Elrich at a community meeting in 2009.

Montgomery Parks staff agreed, calling Georgia Avenue a "de facto river of traffic that blocks pedestrian access" in their recommendations to turn the MCAD site into a park. They drew a map of the area with 1/4-mile circles around each park to show what was within a short walk, but cut them off at Georgia Avenue, rendering Carroll Knolls parkless.

Map of Park "Service Areas" in Carroll Knolls/McKenney Hills
Montgomery Parks map showing areas within walking distance to parks. MCAD site is outlined in red.

However, one could argue that this conclusion was premature. There are already stoplights and crosswalks a block north and two blocks south of Evans Parkway Park. Making those crossings safer, expanding the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue, and building new sidewalks on the side streets could have provided a nicer and safer not only to the park, but to other amenities in the area.

So why didn't neighbors push for those improvements instead? Green Space on Georgia's homepage makes it clear: "Our current efforts are in opposition to the proposed development of townhouses on the current site of The School of Art + Design at Montgomery College."

After absorbing MCAD in 2005, Montgomery College gave the property to the Montgomery College Foundation, which raises money for the school. In 2007, they had a contract to sell it to developer Kaz Brothers, who successfully petitioned the County Council to rezone the property to allow townhouses.

Mews, Georgia Village (Looking South)
Existing townhouses near the future Carroll Knolls Local Park.

Residents balked, arguing that townhouses violated Carroll Knolls' 1948 covenants, which allowed only single-family homes in the neighborhood. They formed Green Space on Georgia and applied to have the property become a park through Legacy Open Space, a county program that preserves places with historic, cultural and natural significance. The Planning Board rejected it, saying that the cost would be too high.

Kaz Development sued the neighbors, arguing that the now-derelict school already invalidated the covenant; though the Montgomery County Circuit Court ruled in their favor, the neighbors appealed and the decision was reversed in the Maryland Court of Appeals. A second application to Legacy Open Space was approved last year.

The creation of Carroll Knolls Park is a triumph of grassroots campaigning, but it contradicts many of Montgomery County's stated goals and policies. The county wants to promote walking in and around downtown Wheaton but missed an opportunity make it easier to cross its main street. County Executive Ike Leggett talks about facing "unprecedented budget challenges," but nixed an opportunity for needed tax revenue.

Montgomery Parks' strategic vision for the county's park system calls for prioritizing existing facilities, but spent millions of dollars to build a new park across from a park they're already expanding. The county placed a third of its land in an Agricultural Reserve, but creates more pressure to develop it by not building in the rest of the county.

And Carroll Knolls isn't the only neighborhood doing this. White Oak residents opposed to an affordable housing development asked the county to create a nature preserve instead. In South Silver Spring, neighbors who don't want their views blocked by a proposed apartment building are calling for a park as well. And residents in East Silver Spring are preemptively fighting the redevelopment of the old police station, saying it should become a community garden and arts center.

That's not to say that parks aren't necessary, or that the best solution for every vacant lot is private development. But Montgomery County is faced with a significant housing shortage, with a need for as many as 108,000 new homes in the next 20 years. We simply can't afford to turn every unwanted development site, especially those in close-in communities, into a park.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

planners encounter skeptical public at first BRT open house

BRT Meeting, Blair High School
Transportation planner Larry Cole gives a presentation on his BRT proposal.

Montgomery County planners are making the case for a countywide bus rapid transit network, saying it will reduce commute times and help absorb population growth. But at an open house Tuesday night at Blair High School in Four Corners, residents questioned the merits of BRT and whether it justified giving up car lanes.

Last week, Planning Department staff released their recommendations for a 10-line, 92-mile network of rapid bus routes across the county. The system, which may not be finished until 2040, would feature substantial stations with waiting areas and fare machines, stops spaced between a half-mile and a mile apart, and have frequent service throughout the day.

Planners focused on what they saw as the most successful places for transit, namely congested roads in the downcounty and along the developing I-270 corridor. They also emphasized giving buses their own dedicated lanes, whether in the median of a road or on the curb. Not only did they find that this would reduce travel times, but that it could help the county absorb the 200,000 additional residents who will live here in 30 years.

Ongoing development in places like White Flint and proposed development like the White Oak Science Gateway is designed to encourage transit use, and without more transit, they will be a greater burden on the road network.

View Larger Map
Map of MoCo's proposed BRT network. Blue lines represent 2 dedicated on-street bus lanes, purple segments are buses running in mixed traffic, and median busways appear in burgundy.

There wasn't any outright opposition to the plans, but residents clearly weren't convinced of the merits of BRT. Some struggled to understand what made BRT different from Metrobus or Ride On. "BRT is like a starry-eyed concept . . . but I keep looking for a purpose," said Harold McDougall, a law professor who lives in Four Corners. "Once you come through a community like this, you have to have answers."

Much of the discussion revolved around Route 29, which backs up for miles at rush hour with drivers heading towards the Beltway and the District. North of New Hampshire Avenue, Route 29 has a wide median where buses could run, but south of New Hampshire, the road is hemmed in by houses and shopping centers with no room to expand. Residents asked why it was necessary to take away lanes from cars on an already congested road, and questioned why improvements to existing service, like more frequent buses and safer waiting areas, wouldn't suffice.

Cole noted that their traffic models showed that a bus lane could carry far more people. "We will have more bus riders than cars we can move," he noted.

A few residents felt that the plan was a step in the right direction. "You can't assume that the current model of everyone driving is sustainable" as the county grows, said one resident who refused to be quoted by name.

Route 29 Sideview
Traffic on Route 29 already backs up for several miles during rush hour.

Nevertheless, it's not surprising that people are skeptical. There are very few examples of BRT in North America, and many people in Montgomery County aren't familiar with it. They want to know how the service will look in their neighborhoods, including where stops would go and how bus lanes would interact with cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. And they're frustrated that four years since County Councilmember Marc Elrich first introduced the idea of a countywide BRT system, those details aren't yet available.

As a result, the burden is on the Planning Department, the Department of Transportation and other related agencies to make a case for BRT. While they aren't yet studying the system at the level of detail many residents want, it's important to make this concept as clear and compelling as possible.

For starters, county planners need to show how BRT can help neighborhoods like Four Corners where residents already take the bus. Jim Zepp, Four Corners resident and member of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, argued that the BRT system would benefit long-distance commuters from "Howard County and Burtonsville" while buses passed over closer-in neighborhoods south of New Hampshire Avenue.

However, those communities still benefit if residents living further out choose to take BRT instead of driving through their neighborhood. And even if stop locations won't be finalized for a long time, planners should stress that BRT will serve closer-in neighborhoods as well. After all, whether your bus trip is 10 miles or 3 miles long, having faster bus service means a shorter trip for everyone.

Bus Approaching, Reseda Station
A BRT station in Los Angeles.

Either way, bus rapid transit may not come to Montgomery County for a long time, especially with recent comments from County Executive Ike Leggett that there's no money for new transit. Cole noted that individual features of the system, like more frequent buses or limited-stop routes, could give commuters some of the benefits of BRT right away, hopefully making them more receptive to future changes.

In fact, Montgomery County will see its first experiment with BRT later this year. At the meeting, Gary Erenrich of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation announced that WMATA will introduce a frequent, limited-stop bus route along New Hampshire Avenue, the MetroExtra K9, at the end of December.

Cole stressed that not doing anything wasn't a solution for congestion or projected population growth. "The traffic is going to be bad anyway," he said. "The question is whether there will be improved service."

There will be one additional open houses this week, tonight at the Shady Grove Training Center in Rockville and tomorrow at the Wheaton Library. Both meetings will start at 6:30pm with a brief presentation at 7pm.

Planners will take comments at each open house and incorporate them into a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which will set aside space for future transit lines. If the Planning Board votes to approve the plan in January, it will then go for a vote at the County Council later next year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

learn about BRT at open houses this week

Bus Approaching, Reseda Station
Boarding a bus at a BRT station in Los Angeles.
Montgomery County planners are holding three open houses on the county's proposed Bus Rapid Transit network this week. Whether you think BRT is a great idea, a terrible idea, or simply want to learn more, this is a great chance to get involved.

The latest recommendations say that the best way to tackle congestion in the coming years will be giving lanes currently open to everyone to buses. 

Estimates show that a trip from Randolph Road and Route 29 to downtown Silver Spring, a distance of about 7 miles, could take 70 minutes at rush hour in 2040. That's not acceptable if Montgomery County wants to remain a desirable place for people to live and work.

Street Space For 60 People: Car, Bus, Bicycle
Buses can carry the same number of people in far less space than cars. Image by carltonreid on Flickr.

It may seem counterintuitive that taking away lanes from cars would actually improve traffic. But it's simple geometry: a single person in a car requires a lot of space. We don't have a lot of street space in many parts of the county, and as demand for that space increases, we simply won't be able to fit everyone if they have to drive.

Here are the dates and locations of each of the open houses. At each meeting, planners will give a presentation at 7pm and take questions.

6:30pm tomorrow at Blair High School, 51 East University Boulevard in Silver Spring
6:30pm Wednesday at the Shady Grove Training Facility, 16641 Crabbs Branch Way in Rockville
6:30pm Thursday at the Wheaton Library, 11701 Georgia Avenue in Wheaton

We've seen how a well-designed and well-executed Bus Rapid Transit system can dramatically improve commutes. Now it's time to explore how BRT can allow Montgomery County to continue to grow and prosper.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

convert car lanes to bus lanes, say MoCo planners

Today, Montgomery County planners present their recommendations for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network to the Planning Board. While their vision is smaller than what previous proposals for BRT, they suggest repurposing existing car lanes as dedicated bus lanes in many areas, giving commuters a faster, more convenient ride.

View Larger Map
Map of MoCo's proposed BRT network. Blue lines represent 2 dedicated on-street bus lanes, purple segments are buses running in mixed traffic, and median busways appear in burgundy.

Planning department is latest to weigh in on BRT

In 2008, County Councilmember Marc Elrich first proposed a 16-line, 160-mile system of rapid bus routes. Like Bus Rapid Transit systems being built throughout North America, Montgomery's BRT would have substantial stations with waiting areas and fare machines, stops spaced between a half-mile and a mile apart, and frequent service throughout the day.

A subsequent study from planning consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff found that it could reduce congestion while providing new development opportunities for the growing county. The Transit Task Force, a panel of community leaders and major landowners convened by County Executive Ike Leggett, came to similar conclusions earlier this year.

However, not everyone's convinced that the proposed system, which could cost as much as $1.8 billion to build, will be effective. A study from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy suggested that some routes wouldn't get enough riders to be worthwhile.

Enter the Planning Department, who are working on a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, a guide for how Montgomery County's transit network should look in the future. Planners focused on routes within the downcounty, where transit use is already high, and along the rapidly developing I-270 corridor, where transit use could be high in the future.

Orange Line Platform, North Hollywood
A BRT station in Los Angeles. Photo by the author. Plan would repurpose many lanes for BRT

Unlike previous plans, this one emphasizes the need to give buses their own lanes, whether in the median of a road or by repurposing lanes currently open to all traffic. Planners found that this would make the system more reliable, reducing travel times and moving more people than cars could.

They also found that taking lanes away from cars wouldn't result in additional congestion or lower driving speeds. One big reason for this is that roads leaving the District get wider upon entering Montgomery County.

The 4-lane 16th Street in DC becomes 12 lanes—6 for 16th and 6 for Colesville— after crossing the border. Georgia Avenue is 4 lanes in DC and 6 in Maryland. So is New Hampshire Avenue. Therefore, for these radial routes, the planning department concluded that it wouldn't substantially affect traffic flow to make the road 4 lanes for cars and 2 for buses.

Nonetheless, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been reluctant to take away lanes from cars, fearful it would hurt drivers. As a result, Parsons Brinckerhoff's study assumed that most of the system would run in regular traffic with everyone else, promising riders a slower, less reliable trip.

BRT lines focus on areas of highest ridership

To determine where BRT would be most successful, planners looked at existing activity centers like downtown Silver Spring, and areas like White Flint where lots of development will occur in the future, to see where riders will want to go. They also analyzed current and projected transit ridership. Finally, they suggested where stations might go to draw the most use.

Planners chose to include the following corridors in their recommendations, listed here with their projected daily ridership in 2040:
  • Route 355 between Friendship Heights and Rockville (49,000 riders)
  • Route 355 between Rockville and Germantown (35,000 riders)
  • Georgia Avenue between Silver Spring and Olney (25,000 riders)
  • New Hampshire Avenue between Takoma Park and White Oak (22,000 riders)
  • Route 29 between downtown Silver Spring and Burtonsville (17,000 riders)
  • Randolph Road/Cherry Hill Road between White Flint and the Prince George's County line (16,000-20,000 riders)
  • Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton (12,000-15,000 riders)
  • University Boulevard between Wheaton and Takoma-Langley (14,000-18,000 riders)
  • Rockville Metro Station to the Life Sciences Center, via Route 28 (10,000-12,000 riders)
  • North Bethesda Transitway (8,000-10,000 riders)
  • Corridor Cities Transitway (Montgomery County planners didn't look at this route in detail, but the Maryland Transit Administration estimates that it will carry 47,700 riders by 2035.)
Several routes that appeared in earlier proposals, like Muddy Branch Road, Connecticut Avenue, Old Georgetown Road, Norbeck Road and the Intercounty Connector, were removed because they were found to have few riders.

These recommendations go a long way to making a successful Bus Rapid Transit system in Montgomery County. They focus on the areas where transit use is already high and emphasize the need to support transit with dense, mixed-use development and good pedestrian and bicycle connections.

Speed Cameras, Randolph at Wheaton High
Some proposed BRT corridors, like Randolph Road, wouldn't have dedicated lanes at all.

Should there be even more dedicated lanes?

However, the recommendations' emphasis on dedicated lanes may not go far enough. Buses would still run in mixed traffic on portions of some roads, like University Boulevard between Four Corners and Takoma-Langley, New Hampshire Avenue between Adelphi Road and White Oak, and the entire length of Randolph Road. On other roads, like Veirs Mill Road, buses would have just one, reversible dedicated lane, which could save money but may be difficult to execute and confusing for riders.

These corridors are already home to some of the county's busiest Metrobus routes like the C, Y and K lines, and serve areas slated for intense future development, like Wheaton, White Oak and White Flint. If we're really serious about providing an alternative to driving and improving transit commutes for current and future riders, we'll have to make room for bus lanes here as well.

If the Planning Board votes to approve the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan in January, it will then go to the County Council for a vote in the spring. That's when the County Executive and Montgomery County Department of Transportation will also be able to give input and make changes.

In the meantime, planning staff will present their findings at a series of public open houses next week. For more information on the open houses, you can visit their website.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Barack Obama Speaks After long, bitter, painful campaign season, it's time to take a deep breath and get on with our lives. As a gay person of color, last night meant a lot to me, and I'm both relieved and excited about the direction our state and our country is moving in.

I couldn't be happier with the results: last night, Maryland made history and became one of the first states in the nation where voters approved same-sex marriage at the polls. We gave our hard-working, undocumented youth the right to an affordable public education. We also re-elected President Barack Obama, pictured here as a fresh-faced senator in 2006 when I saw him speak in College Park to a crowd of maybe 50 people.

Of course, voters also approved a horrifically gerrymandered congressional map that inexplicably places Silver Spring, Annapolis and Towson in the same district, but we can fix that nonsense in due time. Besides, voters in Damascus, the last dry town in Montgomery County, finally approved alcohol sales there 78 years after Prohibition ended. (No word yet on whether Jimmie Cone, "the closest you could get to having a local pub" in Damascus, will get a liquor license.)

You can check out the full election results, including congressional & school board races, at the Washington Post's website or the Maryland Board of Elections' website.

Now that the election's over, here comes the important part: TAKE YOUR CAMPAIGN SIGNS DOWN. Don't let your enthusiasm over winning (or bitterness over losing) get the best of you.

The same goes for campaigns who littered our streets and highways with signs. According to this handy guide, political signs on private or public property in Montgomery County must be removed after 30 days. Meanwhile, signs next to state roads must be removed within 15 days of an election. Signs in the right-of-way of state roads - for instance, between the sidewalk and the curb or in the median - are prohibited entirely, and the State Highway Administration has already been throwing them out.

These laws aren't strictly enforced, but following them keeps our streets clean and allows all of us to forget that this long, unpleasant campaign ever happened. So please, get rid of your signs. I've already done my part, picking up some signs I found near my house.

I'm particularly pleased that they're anti-marriage equality signs in Spanish. Groups like National Organization for Marriage thought they could drive blacks, Latinos and gays apart, and they failed. It goes to show that divisive politics just don't work.

That is, unless you're the Peterson Companies (the folks who brought you Downtown Silver Spring), who funded an organization that opposed both marriage equality and the Dream Act so they could get a casino at National Harbor. Peterson will get his casino, but thankfully he couldn't manage to through Maryland's gays and immigrants under the bus to do it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

groups plant street trees in montgomery hills

Casey Trees Volunteer Planting, Seminary Road
Volunteers set a new tree upright on Seminary Road.
Volunteers planted a dozen trees in the Montgomery Hills neighborhood of Silver Spring Saturday morning in a community tree planting organized by nonprofits Casey Trees and Conservation Montgomery.

Based in Brookland, D.C., Casey Trees was founded 10 years ago to help restore the city's dwindling tree canopy. Since then, they've planted over 10,000 trees in the District. For Saturday's tree planting, Casey Trees' first project in Montgomery County, they teamed up with Conservation Montgomery, an environmental group advocating for a range of issues from tree-lined streets to watershed protection. The same day, they held another planting in conjunction with energy company Clean Currents at the Blairs in downtown Silver Spring.

About 20 volunteers from around the region came out to plant a mix of swamp white oak, sweetgum and redbud trees along Seminary Road, Columbia Boulevard, and in Public Parking Lot 12, located at the corner of the two streets. Volunteers were given a demonstration on tool safety and planting before setting out with saplings and shovels.

Casey Trees Volunteer Planting, Columbia Boulevard
Newly-planted trees along Columbia Boulevard.
Conservation Montgomery drew up plans for where each tree would go, working with a county arborist to avoid underground utilities, overhead wires and other barriers. They also consulted with neighbors. "We moved one [proposed] tree because it would create too much shade in one gentleman's garden," said Arlene Bruhn, who sits on Conservation Montgomery's board of directors.

Jim Woodworth, director of tree planting for Casey Trees, noted the "traffic calming benefits" of street trees, which will not only look good and provide shade but encourage drivers to slow down. The planting site is less than half a mile from the Georgia Avenue/Capital Beltway interchange, one of the state's busiest intersections. Studies also show that one street tree can result in over $90,000 in direct benefits, ranging from increased property values to less air pollution.

Casey Trees will hold additional community tree plantings through December, though there aren't any more scheduled in Montgomery County. You can learn more about them and their volunteer opportunities by visiting their website. You can also visit Conservation Montgomery's website to learn more about their organization as well.

Tree I Planted in 1993 . . .?
I helped plant this tree almost 20 years ago.
Post-Script: Visiting Casey Trees and Conservation Montgomery's tree planting in Montgomery Hills reminded me of a tree I planted myself a few blocks away. As a first-grader on the Woodlin Elementary School student council, I participated in the planting of this tree on the school grounds in 1993. I was surprised to find it's still there, though it could probably use a little pruning, as it's gotten very scraggly.