Friday, September 27, 2013

capital bikeshare arrives in MoCo

On the heels of its third anniversary, Capital Bikeshare makes a big expansion into Montgomery County. Local officials celebrated the first of 50 new stations that will open here today in Rockville with a large crowd of well-wishers.

Crowd at Bikeshare Grand Opening in Rockville
Montgomery County opened its first Capital Bikeshare station today in Rockville. All photos by the author unless noted.

"It's no secret that the Washington area has the worst traffic," said County Executive Ike Leggett. "That's why Montgomery County is committed to increasing its transportation options . . . Bikeshare is another cost-effective option that can help reduce the need to drive, especially for short distances."

supporters pack second public hearing on MoCo BRT

Residents from across Montgomery County spoke in favor of building an 82-mile bus rapid transit network at the second of two public hearings about the proposal at the County Council last night in Rockville.

Upcounty residents call for more transit, not highways. Photo from Aimee Custis on Flickr.

While public opinion at the first hearing Tuesday night was more split, supporters dominated Thursday's hearing, arguing that BRT was the only way to tackle the county's growing congestion. Speakers cited the need for better transit to connect currently undeserved parts of the county, like East County, and as an alternative to proposed roads like Midcounty Highway, which would destroy parkland in Germantown and Clarksburg.

The county has been studying a BRT network for almost 5 years. This fall, the County Council will consider the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which outlines what the system could look like and is required before the county can do any detailed study on a particular corridor.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MoCo BRT supporters unveil coalition at public hearing

Last night, a coalition of 32 civic, business, activist and environmental organizations announced their support for Montgomery County's proposed Bus Rapid Transit network at the first of two public hearings on the issue at the County Council in Rockville.

Transit supporters wave signs at last night's hearing. Photo by betterDCregion on Flickr.

After 5 years of study, this fall the Council will consider a plan to build an 82-mile rapid transit network on several major roads, including Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, and Columbia Pike. Planners say that BRT will allow us to move more people on existing roads as the county grows from 1 million residents today to 1.2 million in 2040.

David Moon of advocacy group Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth unveiled their list of "strange bedfellows" who support the plan, ranging from the Sierra Club to ULI Washington and CASA de Maryland. Before the hearing, they held a press conference to call for a BRT network that has dedicated lanes, frequent and reliable service, bike and pedestrian improvements along transit corridors, and "Metro-like features," which include widely spaced stops, stations with safe, comfortable waiting areas, and fare collection at the station.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

dr. starr responds to my column in last week's post

On Friday, Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Joshua Starr responded to my Post op-ed about the inequities in the school system. But he didn't provide any real answers.

Last week, Dr. Starr spoke at the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board, and chair Evan Glass asked him what he thought of my column. Dr. Starr said, "There's no shortage of self-professed experts on education because they went to school." He later said he'd have a more thorough response to my column. On Friday, the Post published it:
To paraphrase one of my favorite authors, his report of our demise is greatly exaggerated. 
Reed says that MCPS is "coasting on the system's good reputation" and is no longer "great," in essence because our schools have gotten more diverse and our students poorer . . .

Monday, September 16, 2013

MoCo picks development partners for wheaton, silver spring

Last week, Montgomery County officials announced that they've picked developers to build on four publicly-owned sites in Silver Spring and Wheaton. Residents worry that the process isn't more inclusive, but are cautiously optimistic about the potential for new investment.

Wheaton Lot 13
Parking Lot 13, one of the redevelopment sites in downtown Wheaton. Photo by the author.
StonebridgeCarras and Bozzuto will get to redevelop two public parking lots and the Mid-County Regional Services Center on Reedie Drive in Wheaton, along with the 3.24-acre Planning Department headquarters on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. In return, they'll build a new regional services center, offices for the Planning Department and another county agency, and a town square in Wheaton.

In July, county officials put out a Request for Proposals to develop all four sites together, rather than put them out to bid separately. The county previously had plans with developers to build on the four sites and had received substantial community input on how to do them, but the deals fell through.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

design for pedestrians, not cars at glenmont metro

A long-awaited redevelopment could finally bring new housing and retail to Glenmont. But to create a urban, walkable environment around the Metro station, the Glenmont Metrocentre project needs to be designed for pedestrians, not cars.
Glenmont Metrocentre Rending
Rendering of Glenmont Metrocentre from Hord Coplan Macht.
Today, the Montgomery County Planning Board approved a preliminary plan for Glenmont Metrocentre, a 31-acre mixed-use development at the corner of Georgia and Glenallan avenues with 1325 apartments, 225 townhomes and 90,000 square feet of retail space. It would replace Privacy World, a 1960's-era garden apartment complex with just 362 units.

County planners first envisioned this project in 1997. Ten years later, the Planning Board agreed to let developer JBG build retail in addition to housing here, but the County Council refused to approve it until Maryland approved funding for an interchange at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road. With money in hand, the project can move forward. Next, JBG will need to submit a more detailed site plan.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

MCPS can't keep coasting on its good reputation

A Montgomery County school board member once told me, “There are no bad schools in Montgomery County.” This is sort of true, but so stellar a reputation often distracts people from the real problems Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) faces, such as a persistent achievement gap, de facto segregation by class and race and suggestions of middle-class flight. To tackle these difficult problems, families, community leaders and school administrators need to face a hard truth: MCPS just isn’t so great anymore.

Whitman High School
Whitman High School in Bethesda is Montgomery County's top-ranked public school, and one with virtually no black or low-income students. Photo by the author.
In the past 20 years, MCPS has gone from being a predominantly white, middle-class system to one that’s majority-minority and much more disadvantaged. Today, there are more Montgomery students who receive free or reduced-price lunches than there are students in the D.C. Public Schools.

But these changes have not been distributed equally through the county. Minority and low-income students are increasingly concentrated in Montgomery’s east and north. Meanwhile, its vaunted “W high schools” — Wootton, Whitman, Walter Johnson and Winston Churchill — have experienced little change or, in some cases, have become whiter and richer.

As a result, MCPS is increasingly segregated by class, race and academic performance. There remains a substantial achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students. Many of the county’s high school students failed their final math exams last year, but few of those failures occurred at the “W schools.” Instead, they were concentrated at schools such as Gaithersburg, Springbrook or Wheaton, which face problems akin to those in urban schools and lag far behind their wealthier counterparts.

Continue reading my first op-ed in the Washington Post! I'm glad to be contributing to their All Opinions Are Local section, and you can find this column in the paper's print edition on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

poor bike/ped connections push Metro commuters to park-and-rides

Metro planners are looking at how people use the system's park-and-ride lots. While they help people at the region's edges access transit, many commuters in closer-in areas drive very short distances to Metro stations because good pedestrian and bike connections don't exist.

Where Metro's parking customers come from. Image from WMATA.

On the PlanItMetro blog, system planners studied how people use each of the 35 stations where Metro operates parking lots or garages and where they come from. They found that people drive from as far as Baltimore, Annapolis and Manassas to use Metro's 9 terminal stations, which have lots of parking and are some of the system's busiest.

Meanwhile, 26 other stations serve "neighborhood parking" needs, attracting commuters who drive very short distances. Two-thirds of drivers at Forest Glen station come from within two miles, while 30% of drivers at Van Dorn Street, West Hyattsville and Fort Totten come from within one mile. These commuters could walk or bike instead, but many of these stations are located in a way that makes doing so hard, if not impossible.