Tuesday, November 26, 2013

county council approves bus rapid transit plan

After 5 years of study, Montgomery County approved a plan for a 10-route, 81-mile Bus Rapid Transit network this morning. If built, it could be the nation's largest BRT network.

Everett Station terminal
Swift BRT north of Seattle. Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

The County Council unanimously voted for a plan to set aside road space for BRT on several major roads, including Route 355, Route 29, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road, all of which already have high rates of transit use. It proposes dedicated bus lanes in 78% of the network, whether by repurposing existing lanes or widening roads to add new ones.

Supporters say the plan will give travelers an alternative to sitting in traffic while supporting future sustainable growth in places like White Flint and White Oak. "There's no real way forward in this county without transit," says Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed a BRT network in 2008.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

new sidewalk shows tension between people, trees

The sidewalk on the east side of Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring just got a makeover, with new brick pavers and street trees. But will it have enough room for everyone who wants to use it?

New Georgia Avenue Sidewalk Looking North
New brick sidewalks and street trees on Georgia Avenue. All photos by the author unless noted.

Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) managed the $650,000 project, which began this summer and lasted about five months. The agency's main goal was to level and lower the sidewalk to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It replaced the existing concrete sidewalk, built in the 1980s, with sturdier and more attractive brick pavers, and created large new bumpouts at some intersections.

The new sidewalk is very attractive and will hopefully encourage visitors and shoppers to stray from the Ellsworth Drive strip and check out the businesses on Georgia. But it also reveals the tension between different users on Silver Spring's often-cramped sidewalks.

Monday, November 18, 2013

county council resist some calls to water down BRT

It's been 5 years since Montgomery County first started talking about a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, but the County Council could vote on the proposed 81-mile system in two weeks. While the latest round of revisions are good, will councilmembers resist calls from a few residents to cut BRT routes in their neighborhoods?

Bus Approaching, Reseda Station
BRT in Los Angeles. Photo by the author.
The draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan designates future transit corridors and recommends how to allocate space on our major roads for them. While business, civic, activist, and environmental groups say planning for transit will reduce traffic and support future growth, some residents are fighting to block the plan.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sits on the council's Transportation and Energy committee, emphasized that it's only the beginning of a longer conversation. "This is a predicate for future action," he said. "Just like when we put the Purple Line in our master plan, we said, 'Hey, this might be a good idea.'"

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

do concerts make wheaton youth center historic?

Update: The Planning Board ruled that the Youth Center should become a historic landmark.

Wheaton residents want a new recreation center, but historic preservationists say the current one, where Led Zeppelin allegedly played a show in 1969, should stay. On Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board will hold a public hearing about whether to make the Wheaton Youth Center a historic landmark.

The Wheaton Youth Center today. Photo by Clare Lise Kelly.

County officials are already planning to demolish the Wheaton Youth Center and adjacent Wheaton Regional Library, both on Georgia Avenue a few blocks north of downtown, and replace them with a new, combined facility that would also hold the Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity, the county's welcome center for immigrants and new residents. The county has set aside $36 million to build the complex, which could open as early as 2016.

Everyone seems to agree that the library, a brown bunker built in 1960 and renovated in 1985, deserves to go. Some feel the same about the youth center, citing its leaky roof, moldy carpeting and broken kitchen appliances. But historic preservationists want to save the Japanese-inspired building, whose concerts with nationally touring bands are the subject of a new documentary. One county planner has proposed a way to build a new building while saving the old one.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

one montgomery seeks to close the gap in MCPS

As Montgomery County's public schools grow more diverse, the achievement gap between rich and poor students, and the schools they attend, grows wider. In response, a new group of parents, neighbors and community leaders has come together to fight for a more equitable school system.

Paint Branch HS, Closing Time
Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville. Photo by the author.

Montgomery County Public Schools is one of the best school systems in the nation. But the isolation of minority and low-income students in the system, coupled with middle-class flight from the county's lower-ranked schools, means MCPS can't always keep its promise of a high-quality eduation to its students and our community. We know that disadvantaged students perform better in socioeconomically diverse schools, and while MCPS has long been a leader in school integration, there's a lot more it needs to do.

But the school system's stellar reputation often means that these issues get ignored or brushed aside, even by MCPS top officials who insist that things are going fine.

The stability of our neighborhoods and the strength of our economy are closely connected to the quality of our public schools. While our schools can't solve social and economic ills, they play a huge role in correcting them. That's why good schools aren't just an issue for parents and students, but for all residents, for community leaders, and for our local businesses.

So that's the bad news. The good news is that we can do something about it. Over the past several weeks, I've been working with a group of East County residents and the Greater Colesville Citizens Association to start an organization that will advocate for a stronger, more equitable school system.

We're called One Montgomery, and Thursday, November 14 we're hosting a community workshop to talk about the issues affecting MCPS today and potential ways we can work with the school system, Montgomery County, and the state of Maryland to fix them. Join us at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, 13925 New Hampshire Avenue in Colesville. We'll have a meet-and-greet starting at 7pm, followed by the meeting at 7:30.

For more information, you can download this flyer. You can also join the conversation on our new blog, Twitter, Facebook, and on our listserv.