Wednesday, August 28, 2013

walking to school in montgomery county gets a little safer

A student at Bethesda Elementary School.
Photo by Ronit Dancis.
Last year, drivers hit nine people walking to school in Montgomery County, and residents are agitating for change. With classes starting this week, the county's Department of Transportation has taken a few small steps toward making the walk there safer, but it's not enough.

Tracy Simmons walks her two kids a mile to Bethesda Elementary every day. She says it's simply not safe, citing sidewalks too narrow to walk on, poorly-timed stop lights, and drivers who speed and don't yield to small children crossing the street. "Drivers need to stop thinking about their destination and be aware of what's going on around them," she says. "The streets are for everyone and everyone has the right to be safe while on them."

The Action Committee for Transit, a transit and pedestrian advocacy group, joined with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and area parents to launch the Safe Walk To School campaign last spring, asking MCDOT to make small improvements that could make walking to school safer.

Monday, August 26, 2013

survey shows most people want more transit, walkable places

In many communities around Greater Washington, attempts to improve transit, accommodate walkers and bicyclists or do infill development are often controversial. But a new survey suggests that public support for these and other measures is high in both urban and suburban areas.

Most people support better transit and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. All images from the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.
Over the past 2 years, the Transportation Planning Board, which coordinates road and transit planning efforts across the DC area, has identified ways to improve the region's transportation network to support future growth. As part of the process for creating the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan, TPB surveyed area residents on what transportation issues mattered to them.

TPB mailed out 10,000 inquiries to randomly selected addresses across their planning area, which includes 13 cities and counties in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The agency received 660 responses, and the results are surprising.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

words to my brother before his first day of high school

Tomorrow is my little brother's first day of high school. Our family's been preparing for this day for almost a year, and I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my own high school experience 10 years ago. I wanted to make sure he was prepared. 

So, this morning, I sat LB down and had the following talk with him.

My brother. (I'm hiding his name and
face to prevent embarassment.)
LB: Daniel, when I saw the movie Ted, someone said "Have you ever heard a Boston woman orgasm?" And it was like [affects gravelly, nasal voice] "Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby!" [Laughs.]

Me: Do you even know what an orgasm is?

LB: No.

Me: [Explains it.] LB, I know you're going to high school tomorrow, so I, uh, prepared a little speech for you.

LB: [Groans.] Okay, fine. You get three minutes. That's it.

Me: Fine. Go sit down. [LB takes the chair, I take the bed.] When I was in high school, I was shy and awkward, and I got picked on a lot. I know you don't have that problem.

LB: Nope. If somebody gets picked on me, they get the smackdown. [Smacks a fist in his open palm.]

Me: Okay, well I hope it doesn't come to that. Anyway, because of those things, I was afraid. I was afraid of people who seemed "weird" or "different" or unfamiliar, I was afraid of not fitting in, I was afraid of trying new things. I was afraid of myself and I hated who I was. And I missed out on a lot of things. At the end of junior year, I realized I hadn't done very much.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

video shows what BRT means for montgomery

What would Bus Rapid Transit mean for Montgomery County? I talk about the benefits of BRT alongside residents and community leaders in a new video produced by the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

A Rapid Transit Solution to Traffic from Coalition for Smarter Growth on Vimeo.

The video also features interviews with a variety of local residents and community leaders, including Planning Board member Casey Anderson, Friends of White Flint executive director Lindsay Hoffman, college student Jonathan Jayes-Green, local Sierra Club chair David Hauck, and activist Elaine Binder. Transportation planner Larry Cole, who led the BRT planning process, also talks about how traffic continues to increase in Montgomery County.

For almost 5 years, Montgomery County has been working on a plan for a countywide BRT network, including routes on major corridors like Rockville Pike, Route 29, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road. The plan, which the Planning Board approved last month, has significant issues, but it's still a huge step forward for the county as it seeks to accommodate new residents and workers while helping everyone get around more quickly and affordably.

We don't have room on our streets today to accommodate everyone in a car today, let alone in the future. If done properly, and if given its own dedicated lanes, BRT can give people a new transportation choice that's faster than driving will ever be in many of the county's congested corridors. We simply cannot afford not to make a significant investment in new transit that can support future growth, economic development, and environmental stewardship.

The plan goes before the County Council this fall, but first, they will hold two public hearings on September 24 and 26 to hear from the community. If you'd like to show your support for BRT, you can visit CSG's Next Generation of Transit website to learn more or visit the council's website to sign up to testify or send written comments.

Monday, August 19, 2013

what montgomery county can learn from raleigh, and vice versa

Urbanizing suburbs often suffer from an identity crisis, looking to the big city next door and wondering how to recreate the same vitality and sense of place. But they might find a better comparison with more distant Sunbelt cities, which like many suburbs are only now coming into their own.

Aerial View of Raleigh
Downtown Raleigh, surrounded by single-family homes, could easily pass for a downtown in Montgomery County. Photo by FiddleFlix on Flickr.

Take Raleigh, where I spent 5 days last month with my boyfriend and his friend's family, who moved there from Bethesda last year. While it's best known as North Carolina's state capital, we found a lot of fun things to do there. We saw a drag show at a downtown bar. We ate at crunchy, farm-to-table restaurants and Vietnamese holes-in-the-wall.

We also spent a lot of time in our friend's car. She and her newly-retired parents live in a new townhouse development off a strip lined with shopping centers, megachurches and similar-looking townhouse developments. My boyfriend said it reminded him of Fairfax or Montgomery counties, except it's all within Raleigh city limits. And our friend's parents don't hesitate to say they live in a city, either.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

where do MoCo's car-free residents live?

Like many suburban communities built after World War II, Montgomery County developed based on the assumption that everyone would have a car. However, many households have just one, or none at all. While some are in the county's urban centers, a surprising number are in very car-dependent places.
Carfree households
Where car-free residents live. All images by the author.
According to the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, a sort of annual census, there are over 374,000 households in Montgomery County, and 91.8% of them have cars. That's not surprising for a largely affluent suburban county, where many people own cars simply because they can. Growing up, I had several friends whose parents raced sports cars, but never drove them on the street.

But car ownership countywide is slightly lower than in 2000, when 92.5% of all households had cars. Today, more than 2 out of 5 households have one car or no car. Like transit riders and young adults, those households are concentrated in certain areas, which can give us insight on where to make it easier to get around without driving.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

it's not the end of the suburbs, but a transition

A new book by Leigh Gallagher heralds "the end of the suburbs," but it may just be a change in how people want to live and get around in suburban communities. Judging from new suburban developments happening in the DC area, that shift is already underway.

Looking Out From Crown Farm Roofdeck
New townhomes with roofdecks at Crown in Gaithersburg. All photos by the author unless noted.

In recent years, there's been a lot of research about how many people, whether young Millennials or retiring Baby Boomers, want to live in places where they don't have to drive everywhere. That's part of the reason why center cities, like DC, have experienced a resurgence in recent decades.

But it leads some commentators to assume that everyone's going to move to the city now, and that's simply not true. Even if we raised the height limit, cities like DC can only hold so many new people. And the false binary between "city" and "suburb" ignores the actual diversity of places on either side of the city line, along with the possibility that people can have the urban, walkable experience they want in a "suburban" place, especially one where they may have grown up and feel connected to.

Monday, August 5, 2013

o'malley announces funding for purple line, transit & road projects

Rendering of a Purple Line station from the MTA.

Maryland will find a private partner to build and operate the Purple Line. The state will also provide over $1 billion in funds for a set of projects that also includes the Corridor Cities Transitway, improved bus service in Montgomery County, and several road projects.

Governor Martin O'Malley announced the funding and partnership plans today at an event with state and local officials at the Bethesda Metro station. "We made the better choices to invest in the future of Maryland's transportation network, allowing us to create more than 57,200 jobs for our hardworking families and rebuild our state's infrastructure," he said.

The Purple Line, which has been proposed in various forms since the 1980's, is now one stop closer to becoming a reality. Maryland Transit Administration officials estimate that the 16-mile light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton would carry over 74,000 people a day in 2040. If the Federal Transit Administration has issues a Record of Decision approving the $2.2 billion project this fall, it will be eligible for federal funding.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

MoCo nervous about density around Purple Line stops

This week, the Montgomery County Council reduced the amount of planned development in Chevy Chase Lake and recommended doing the same in Long Branch, which will both have Purple Line stations. Residents say new development will lead to traffic and, in Long Branch, gentrification. But making it harder to build around transit will only make those problems worse.

Proposed Plaza, Chevy Chase Lake
Rendering of the future Chevy Chase Lake from the Chevy Chase Land Company.

Now that Maryland has a new transportation funding source, work on the $2.2 billion Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton could open as early as 2020 if the state can get matching funds from the federal government. Naturally, people will want to locate near the line, so Montgomery County's working on plans for neighborhoods along the corridor to accommodate new residents, businesses, and public amenities.

This week, they passed a plan for Chevy Chase Lake, while the council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development committee gave recommendations on a draft of the Long Branch Sector Plan, which the council will vote on this fall. Both plans call for turning the neighborhoods' 1950's-era commercial cores into compact, urban neighborhoods, with taller, mixed-use buildings, new public spaces and streets that accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders, not just drivers.

Neighbors in Chevy Chase Lake fought their plan, saying it would exacerbate traffic. In Long Branch, residents worry that redevelopment will push out the area's large immigrant community and destroy local landmarks, like the historic Flower Theatre. So councilmembers have scaled back both plans in the name of reducing traffic and preserving affordable housing.