Monday, April 28, 2014

students protest MCPS achievement gap in march on rockville

Several hundred students, teachers and school administrators, parents, and local officials marched on Rockville yesterday in a call to close the growing achievement gap between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students in Montgomery County Public Schools.

March to Close the Gap Rally in Courthouse Square
Several hundred people came to march in protest of the achievement gap in Rockville yesterday.

The Minority Scholars Program, a student-driven initiative to close the achievement gap, began organizing the march several months ago. The group began at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda eight years ago as a way to reach out to minority students, and has since expanded to 10 other high schools in the county, including Northwood, Springbrook, and Wheaton. Organizers say the program has “data to support its success” in increasing the academic eligibility and honor roll placement of minority students.

About 400 people marched from the Carver Center, once the county’s black high school under segregation and now the MCPS central office, down Rockville Pike and North Washington Street. Students chanted and held signs with slogans like “Close the Gap,” as drivers honked their horns in approval. The march ended at Courthouse Square for a festive rally on the steps of the county courthouse with music and dancing.

Organizers hope the march will raise awareness about the achievement gap and spur the community to action. “For years, we have been watching and waiting and hoping and wishing for something to change,” said Mike Williams, a teacher at Walter Johnson who helped start the Minority Scholars Program.

Starr Takes a Photo of the March
Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.

Several MCPS and Montgomery County officials participated in the march and subsequent rally, including school board president Phil Kauffman and superintendent Joshua Starr, who tweeted selfies with the crowd and even briefly danced with MSP members on stage. “We care about you and we love you,” he said. “Everything we are doing is about how we can work harder to close the gap.”

Speakers during the rally made repeated comparisons to other youth movements in history, from the East Los Angeles Walkouts in 1968 to the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. Tim Warner, Chief Engagement and Partnership Officer for MCPS, urged the students to offer their input and ideas. “You are the solution…you are what Montgomery County looks like today and you are our leaders,” he said. “You all need to tell us what to do.”

Student leader Gabi Bianchi called the march “the beginning of a revolution to close the achievement gap,” adding, “We have been heard.” She said the Minority Scholars Program will advocate for “institutional changes” at the federal, state, and county levels to give students and schools the resources they need to succeed.

That will be a challenge for the organization. School officials acknowledge that minority students are lagging their peers, and MCPS does have many good programs in place to help close the gap. But the achievement gap continues to grow and appears to be a direct result of de facto racial and socioeconomic segregation in MCPS.

Yet in recent months, Dr. Starr has both rejected a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight about the achievement gap, while Starr and Kauffman both threatened to cut funding for additional programs to close the gap if the school system didn’t get a raise in their budget from the county. These actions really raise questions about the school system's commitment.

Yesterday’s march was a great day for the Minority Scholars Project and for all of the hard-working students and staff who made it happen. But we all have to hold MCPS leaders accountable for their promises to listen to the community's concerns and make the school system more equitable for all students.

Check out this slideshow of the march.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

MoCo's congested intersections aren't in its downtowns

Where do you think the most congested intersections are in Montgomery County? Maybe right by the Bethesda Metro? In downtown Silver Spring? University, Georgia, and Veirs Mill in Wheaton? Actually, no. A review of Montgomery County's 50 most congested intersections found only one inside one of the county's urban centers.

Busy intersections form a ring around downtown Silver Spring. Map by the author.

County planners ranked the busiest junctions for its Mobility Assessment Report, a regular review of Montgomery's transportation needs. (You can see the full list here.) Notably, the report found that the amount of driving in the county has stayed the same since 2002 even though it added 100,000 people.

The busiest intersection is Rockville Pike at West Cedar Lane in Bethesda, next to NIH and Walter Reed, which had a critical lane volume of 1,957 cars during morning rush hour. In other words, that means that nearly 2,000 cars pass through a single lane of that intersection each morning. In second place is Rockville Pike and Nicholson Lane in White Flint, which is slowly evolving into a new downtown.

Other than that, the top 50 didn't contain a single intersection in the downtowns of Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton, in Friendship Heights, or Rockville Town Center. For decades, Montgomery County has had a policy of directing growth to walkable, urban neighborhoods near transit stations with an aim of reducing car traffic.

As a result, while these areas do have higher-than-average rates of foot and bike traffic and high rates of transit use, they're not as congested as more suburban parts of the county. Just 16 of the top 50 intersections were inside the Beltway.

Layhill Road and Norwood Road. Image from Google Street View.

Not surprisingly, some of the busiest junctions are along major commuter routes like Rockville Pike, Connecticut Avenue, and Georgia Avenue. But many are on small, two-lane roads in suburban or rural communities like #4, Darnestown Road and Riffle Ford Road in North Potomac, or #46, Layhill Road, Ednor Road, and Norwood Road near Sandy Spring. These places are spread-out and far from transit, jobs, and other amenities, meaning residents have to drive a lot.

This report shows that if you build places on the assumption that people will drive everywhere, you'll get a lot of traffic, while if you give people options, you'll get less. Not everyone may want to live downtown, but those who choose to do so are keeping the roads clear for everyone else.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MoCo added 100,000 residents since 2002, but driving didn't increase

Montgomery County has 100,000 more residents than 10 years ago, but the amount of driving in the county has actually stayed the same, says a new study on how people get around. Meanwhile, more people are walking and biking inside the Beltway, and bus ridership is growing well outside it.

Montgomery County's population has grown, but the amount of driving miles hasn't. Graph from the Planning Department.

Drivers traveled about 7.3 million miles on state roads in the county in 2012. It's a slight decrease from 2011, but about the same as in 2002, when the county had just over 900,000 residents, compared to 1.005 million residents today. It's in line with both regional and national trends, and suggests that people didn't stop driving simply because of the Great Recession.

The results come from the Mobility Assessment Report, which the Planning Department conducts every few years to identify Montgomery County's biggest transportation needs. County planners measured pedestrian, bicycle, and car traffic throughout the area, in addition to looking at transit ridership.

Monday, April 21, 2014

easter egg hunt takes over downtown silver spring

This weekend, kids and kids at heart took over downtown Silver Spring for the first-ever citywide Easter Egg Hunt, organized by Silver Spring Inc, a local group that promotes local businesses and artists. Hundreds of people came out to the old B&O rail station at Georgia and Sligo avenues Saturday afternoon for live music, arts and crafts, and a easter egg hunt featuring dozens of local businesses.

Easter Bunny Dances During School of Rock Performance
All photos by the author.
DJs and bands performed throughout the day, including groups from the School of Rock. Our old friend the Easter Bunny really got a kick out of the music.

B Greets Easter Egg Hunters

Long Branch resident and Silver Spring Inc co-founder Pete Tan organized it with his girlfriend Boosaba Pananon (pictured), both of whom grew up in the area.

Dropping An Egg in the Box
Dropping eggs in this box entered you to win the original framed artwork.
Hundreds of eggs were hidden in local businesses throughout downtown Silver Spring. There were small plastic eggs filled with candy for kids, and big paper eggs with gift certificates for adults. Local Silver Spring artists designed each of the eggs, and those who found them could enter to win the original artwork.

B&O Train Station During Easter Egg Hunt
Inside the restored B&O station.
Folks from the Silver Spring Historical Society were on hand to show off the B&O rail station, which opened in 1945 and served as Silver Spring's train station until 1997, when a car crashed through the front door. Now fully restored, the space is open to the public once a month and available for event rentals.

Check out this slideshow with even more photos from the Easter egg hunt.

Over the past few months, I've gotten to know Pete and Boosaba and have been blown away by all of the great work they and the Silver Spring Inc team are doing. In a matter of weeks, they put together an amazing event that brought hundreds of people out to explore businesses and places they may not have seen otherwise. In fact, the event was successful that they ran low on eggs!

If you haven't already, check out their website, which features interviews from dozens of local residents, community leaders, and business owners (and yours truly. Their commitment to our community, and eagerness to celebrate the unique individuals and culture that make Silver Spring what it is, have made me even prouder to call this place home. Thanks, guys!

Monday, April 14, 2014

three ways to build in forest glen without creating more traffic

As new homes, offices, and shops sprout around the region's Metro stations, Forest Glen has remained a holdout due to neighborhood resistance to new construction. But that may change as WMATA seeks someone to build there.

Forest Glen Parking Lot
Forest Glen today. All photos by the author.

Last month, the agency put out a call for development proposals at Forest Glen, in addition to West Hyattsville and Largo Town Center in Prince George's County and Braddock Road in Alexandria. WMATA owns 8 acres at Forest Glen, most of which is a parking lot, and developers have already expressed interest in building there.

Forest Glen should be a prime development site. While it's on the busy Red Line, it's one of Metro's least-used stations. It's adjacent to the Capital Beltway and one stop in each direction from Silver Spring's and Wheaton's booming downtowns. Holy Cross Hospital, one of Montgomery County's largest employers with over 2,900 workers, is a few blocks away. But since Forest Glen opened in 1990, not much has happened.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

montgomery county schools are segregating, but school officials won't admit it

A new report says that Montgomery County schools are becoming segregated by income, race, and ethnicity and that "white flight" is occurring in the system's lowest-performing schools. But officials deny that it's even happening.

Paint Branch Closing Time_bw cropped

This week, the county's Office of Legislative Oversight released their findings on the achievement gap in Montgomery County Pubic Schools. Researchers note that low-income, black, and Latino students are still lagging their more affluent, white, and Asian peers, but even more so now that both groups are increasingly concentrated in different parts of the school system.

While MCPS as a whole is a majority-minority school system and has been for over a decade, most low-income, black, and Latino students attend one of 11 high schools: the Northeast Consortium, with Blake, Paint Branch, and Springbrook; the Downcounty Consortium, with Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood, and Wheaton; and three schools in the upcounty, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley and Watkins Mill. Meanwhile, higher-income students, as well as 80% of the school system's white students and 67% of its Asian students, are now clustered at schools on the western side of the county, including the vaunted "W schools" in or near Bethesda.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

see maps of how the purple line corridor is changing

When built, the Purple Line could dramatically improve transit commutes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. To explore that and other changes the line will bring, researchers created a series of maps including this one of the "commute shed" of each Purple Line station, or how far you can get on transit before and after it's built.

All images from the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.