Monday, October 27, 2014

making room for transit can make better streets for everyone

Many proposed transit projects in our region, from streetcars to bus rapid transit and the Purple Line, involve vehicles running in the street. Giving transit a place on our busy streets can be a hard sell, especially when it means displacing cars. But a recent trip to Minneapolis shows how it can create better places for everyone, including drivers.

The new Green Line runs through the University of Minnesota. Photo by Michael Hicks on Flickr.

Minneapolis finds a compromise on the Green Line

While presenting at Rail~Volution last month in Minneapolis, I had a chance to ride the Green Line, a new light-rail between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. The 11-mile line bears a striking similarity to the proposed Purple Line here in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Like the Purple Line, the Green Line faced resistance from a Republican governor and concerns about gentrification and neighborhood disruption from nearby large immigrant communities.

But it's how the Green Line interacts with the University of Minnesota, and how community leaders came together to make it a success, that might be the biggest lesson for our area. Like the Purple Line, which would pass through the University of Maryland, the Green Line travels on Washington Avenue, the main street at the University of Minnesota.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

if there's one person you should vote for this year, it's jill ortman-fouse

I started getting involved in Montgomery County school issues about a year and a half ago, and through that I got to know Jill Ortman-Fouse, who's one of the hardest-working people I have the privilege to know. She's been a tireless advocate for Montgomery County schools, not just for her own children, but for the thousands of kids and families who don't get a voice in school matters.

Montgomery County is one of the richest counties in the United States, but we also have growing poverty, and more students on free and reduced lunch than the DC Public Schools have students. MCPS is becoming increasingly segregated by race and income, and the achievement gap remains a persistent issue. While our school system as a whole has a great reputation, our schools aren't serving all students as well as they could be.

And that's a huge threat to our community's future success and competitiveness. Schools not only affect our property values, the stability of your neighborhood, and the strength of our local economy. The public schools also consume half of Montgomery County's nearly $5 billion annual budget. They're worth fighting for.

And that's what Jill has done. She successfully convinced her neighbors to forego private school and take a chance on a neighborhood school in Silver Spring many saw as undesirable. Meanwhile, she reached out to families already in the school to resurrect the PTA and make it a force for positive change. Her efforts helped revitalize that school, which is once again the cornerstone of its community. More recently, Jill has been an advocate for school issues throughout East County, working with parents and communities beyond her own to get the resources our students desperately need.

I've watched Jill at house parties and campaign events and school events and candidate forums, and I've consistently been blown away by her resolve in fighting for a more equitable school system. She has integrity and willingness to stick to her principles, something our Board of Education desperately needs more of. Jill knows East County schools and the challenges they face because she's a parent here, and I know she'll hold the Board of Education and MCPS accountable for our needs.

Today's the first day of early voting in Montgomery County, and if you're heading to the polls, I'd like to ask you a favor and support my friend Jill Ortman-Fouse for the Board of Education. Whether or not you have kids, this might be the most important vote you make this election.

If you'd like to learn more about Jill, you can visit her website or check out her list of endorsements, which include the Washington Post, the Gazette, not to mention One Montgomery, your advocate for strong schools and strong communities in Montgomery County.

You should also definitely check out One Montgomery's endorsements for the Board of Education, including Kristin Trible for District 1, Laurie Halverson for District 3, and Mike Durso for District 5, all of whom have been strong advocates for our schools. I'm very proud to vote for them as well.

Friday, October 17, 2014

sharrows tell drivers to share the road with cyclists, except when that road is a state highway

Sharrows are great for streets where there isn't room for a traditional bike lane. But sometimes, they're used as a way to avoid putting in a bike lane, which is bad for bicyclists and drivers alike.
New sharrows on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Photo by Paul Meyer.
Last week, sharrows appeared on Georgia Avenue between Sligo and Wayne avenues in downtown Silver Spring. It's one of eighteen state highways in Maryland where cyclists are allowed to ride in the right lane, and the sharrows let drivers know to look out for them.

Reader Paul Meyer tweeted this photo of the lane markings and wrote, "Sharrows on Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring?!? A start."

Sharrows are a start for Montgomery County, which has embraced bicycling without always committing to the infrastructure needed to support it, like bike lanes. The county has had Capital Bikeshare for just over a year, including in downtown Silver Spring, but due to a lack of safe places to bike, it's gotten off to a slow start.

Georgia Avenue is a big, wide street, with six lanes of traffic, turn lanes, and parking lanes. Though the signed speed limit is 30 mph, the lanes are wide, which encourages speeding. This is the kind of street that only the hardiest cyclists would ride on, and sharrows won't change that. Cyclists will continue riding on the sidewalks where they feel safer, but they're already barely wide enough to accommodate pedestrians in some areas.

Sharrows are ideal for streets that are too narrow for a bike lane. Because of the amount and speed of traffic on Georgia, cyclists need their own space. This street would be a good candidate for bike lanes with a buffer or even cycletracks, where a physical buffer would give cyclists additional separation from vehicle traffic, which benefits drivers too.

Obviously, that would require taking lanes from cars, and in the case of cycle tracks, redesigning or even removing parking spaces. County and state transportation officials have traditionally been reluctant to do that, most recently with Old Georgetown Road in White Flint. And so sharrows are sometimes used as a substitute for a bike lane where the political will to build one isn't there.

Bike Lanes come to Illinois Avenue NW in Petworth
Sharrows are great for narrow streets like Illinois Avenue in Petworth. Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

But if there's any community that should have the will to give cyclists a place on its streets, it should be downtown Silver Spring, where a majority of residents walk, bike, or take transit to work. Nearly a third of all households don't even have cars, and 40% of its public parking spaces are usually vacant.

The new sharrows on Georgia Avenue tell drivers to pay attention to cyclists. But as long as Georgia remains a big, fast street that prioritizes driving over everything else, drivers won't have many cyclists to watch for.

Monday, October 6, 2014

how the department of liquor control is like the public library

Say what you will about Montgomery County's liquor laws, but one benefit is that you can search the inventory of available beverages at all 30 locations in the county via their website. You can see all of the products available in the county, and what each Department of Liquor Control store has in stock.
I was thinking about making an old fashioned. Screenshots from my computer.
After a few minutes of clicking around, I realized that the interface felt really familiar. So I visited the Montgomery County Public Library's site, where you can also see what books are available, and which libraries have them.
I always have to read the book before seeing the movie.
I was struck by how similar their websites are. It's cool that Montgomery County makes it as easy to find and locate booze as they do books. On the other hand, it would be nice if there were more than 30 places to buy bourbon in a county of one million people. (Especially because, according to the DLC website, the downtown Silver Spring branch doesn't have the one I'm looking for.)

I wouldn't recommend consuming these two things together.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

montgomery county wants to turn this dying strip mall into the next mosaic district

Over the past few years, retail developer Edens has transformed a gritty wholesale market and a suburban multiplex into trendy retail destinations. Their next redevelopment project, a dying strip mall in Burtonsville, might be a little more challenging.

'We're Still Here'
One of the few remaining businesses at Burtonsville Crossing. Photo by the author.

Burtonsville Crossing, on Route 29 in eastern Montgomery County, has been hemorrhaging tenants since a highway bypass was built behind it in 2006 and is now 70% vacant. This week, Edens, which has owned the strip mall since 2003, signed an agreement with the county to explore ways to redevelop it and a six-acre park-and-ride lot behind it.

Montgomery County seems to expect big things from the developer. Their press release states that Edens is "known locally for the popular epicurean mecca Union Market" in Northeast DC, and describes "conceptual plans" for restaurants, retail, housing, and a movie theatre, which sounds like the Mosaic District, a mixed-use development Edens is building next to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station in Fairfax County.