Wednesday, May 28, 2014

single-family homes are the minority in Montgomery County

People often think of Montgomery County as a place where you go to buy a big house with a yard, and in many areas that's still the case. But most households live in townhomes or apartments, and that share will only increase in the future.
A Porch In Silver Spring
A single-family house in Silver Spring overlooking townhouses being built, with apartments in the background. Photo by the author.

There are nearly 376,000 homes in Montgomery County according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Less than half, or 48.5% are single-family detached homes. One out of three homes are apartments or condominiums, while another 18.2% are "single-family attached" homes such as twins and townhouses.

But different kinds of homes are clustered in different parts of the county. Single-family homes predominate on the more affluent west side and inside the Beltway. Townhouses are more common in newer neighborhoods far outside the Beltway, while apartments cluster along the Red Line and in farther-out areas.

Monday, May 26, 2014

RIP richard jaeggi

The foundation of a place is its local culture: the stories, struggles, and triumphs that those in a community share and cherish. But where does that culture come from? How do we encourage people to be self-aware about their surroundings, to document, create, and ultimately change the course of their world?

'No Human Being Is Illegal'_cropped
An art piece by the Gandhi Brigade on Georgia Avenue in 2007.

It's something that I've thought a lot since I began writing Just Up The Pike nearly eight years ago. But it's also the mission of the Gandhi Brigade, a youth media organization in downtown Silver Spring whose director Richard Jaeggi passed away yesterday. He was an adult with a strong voice in our community, but he gave it to young people who otherwise may not get heard.

The Gandhi Brigade started in 2005, right around the time the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring finally took hold. Their mission was to prepare young people to take part in their communities through the creation of art and media, hence the motto "Youth Media with a Focus."

It was good timing for them, and for Silver Spring, which had newly emerged as a hangout for teens from all over the region. With Richard's guidance, the organization gave those kids access to cameras, art supplies, training on how to use them, and a bully pulpit. From a storefront in the otherwise dead City Place Mall, the Gandhi Brigade has weighed in on everything from skateboarding to gun violence to national immigration policy.

Thus, Richard and the Gandhi Brigade became an integral part of the community and the ongoing debate over the place of young people in downtown Silver Spring. Their annual Youth Media Festival, with an art competition, live performances, and workshops, has taken over downtown streets for years.

There have been occasional missteps, like a 2009 concert on Ellsworth Drive that erupted in fights. But like any good teacher, Richard turned it into a lesson. “I also believe in making mistakes and not giving up and getting it right the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time," he told me.

For a kid, growing up is an iterative process, requiring a willingness to make mistakes and the resilience to get up and try it again. But it's also useful for a community constantly in flux, and sometimes quick to dig in its heels and simply accept things for how they are.

In a posting on the Gandhi Brigade's Facebook page, Richard's family members said that they'll be volunteering at the next Youth Media Festival, returning to the Silver Spring Civic Festival this Saturday, May 31. Silver Spring has a lost a giant, but one who laid the groundwork for more giants to follow. And it's up to us to make sure that happens.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

columbia pike road closure could show the way for BRT

Skeptics of Montgomery County's proposal to put bus lanes on major roads fear it could make traffic worse. But a road closure on Route 29 to repair recent storm damage might offer a glimpse of our possible future.

The washed out bridge. Photo from SHA.

Two weeks ago, a torrential rainstorm flooded Route 29, also known as Columbia Pike, on a bridge where it crosses Northwest Branch in Silver Spring. This isn't the first time the bridge has flooded, and soon after, Maryland State Highway Administration closed the heavily damaged right lanes from Southwood Avenue to Lockwood Drive. Last Monday, it began making repairs, which will last until the end of May.

Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan envisions a line on Route 29 between Burtonsville and Silver Spring, which is already one of the region's busiest transit corridors, with 40 buses an hour during rush hour. Along most of the corridor, buses would have their own lanes, though we don't know if they would be on the curb or in the median, or if there would be a a reversible lane or lanes in both directions.

In any case, creating bus lanes would mean closing a lane to cars, which some residents in nearby Four Corners are vehemently opposed to. Thanks to last month's storm, we now get to see what closing a lane on Route 29 to general traffic might be like.

I've driven and taken the bus through the affected area a few times, including in evening rush hour. And there is some congestion, especially where drivers have to merge from three lanes to two. But the real test is what happens after people adjust to the new traffic pattern.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

district 5 candidates talk BRT and white oak at four corners forum

Everett Station terminal
District 5 candidates expressed concerns about Bus Rapid Transit coming to Four Corners. Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

In the coming years, East County could see some big changes, from faster, more reliable bus service to a new research and technology hub with homes and shopping. Last night, candidates for the District 5 County Council seat talked about the issues surrounding those projects with some very skeptical Four Corners residents, who described them as "proposed threats" to the community, at a forum at Pine Crest Elementary School.

I live-tweeted the forum, along with friends of JUTP Joe Fox and Jessie Slater. Here's a Storify of our tweets:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

thousands of parking spaces in silver spring and bethesda sit empty every day

Ask someone about driving in Bethesda or Silver Spring on a weekend night and he or she will give you a mouthful: "There's nowhere to park!" But as those communities have grown, their parking demands have actually gotten lower. On an average day, thousands of spaces there sit empty.

Montgomery's downtowns have lots of empty parking spaces. Image by the author using data from MCDOT.