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For Montgomery's District 3, it's about new transit vs. more highways

Montgomery County's District 3 will be at the heart of several key new transit projects in the coming years. Will its new councilmember push to surround them with new, walkable neighborhoods, or move forward with a 1960s-era road plan?

District 3 is the purple area in the center.

Located in the heart of the county, District 3 contains the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, along with Leisure World and Derwood. It's a fast-growing area, but most new development is designed around the approved Corridor Cities Transitway and a proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Route 355. It also contains part of the proposed M-83 highway between Gaithersburg and Clarksburg.

After 16 years representing the area, current councilmember Phil Andrews is leaving to run for County Executive. Running to replace him are Gaithersburg mayor Sidney Katz and city councilmember Ryan Spiegel, Rockville councilmember Tom Moore, and local activist Guled Kassim. Only Spiegel and Moore returned their ACT questionnaires.

Candidates agree on complete streets, building near transit

Ryan Spiegel. Photo from his campaign.
Both candidates unequivocally support the Purple Line and improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists even when that might slow vehicles down. Moore says we must "focus on overall mobility, not cars," while Spiegel cited his advocacy for Capital Bikeshare and implementation of Gaithersburg's bike master plan.

District 3 has grown significantly in recent years, adding 25,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Much of that growth is happening in Rockville and Gaithersburg's existing town centers, or in new, urban neighborhoods like Crown in Gaithersburg, which will be on the Corridor Cities Transitway. And both candidates agree that this is the right way to go.

Moore, who grew up in Montgomery County, cited his support for Rockville Town Center as evidence of his record on building near transit. If elected, he says he'll "push to concentrate Montgomery County's housing growth along our existing transit corridors" and along future transit corridors as well.

Spiegel said he supports density in the right places, and has worked to create incentives to focus development at transit. He sees transit as a draw for developers to build nearby, allow building height increases near transit, and would work to steer development away for areas "not appropriate for growth."

Bigger differences on Bus Rapid Transit and new highways

Tom Moore. Photo from his campaign.
However, Rockville and Gaithersburg control their own planning and zoning, instead of the county. As a result, the new county councilmember can only ensure that the transportation infrastructure is there to serve future development.

On BRT, Moore was unequivocal in his support for dedicating lanes to buses, saying "person-throughput, and not vehicle-throughput, is the key metric here; a lane converted to bus use is more efficient." Spiegel said he supports repurposing lanes for transit, but qualifies his answer that he supports it "in targeted locations where it makes sense."

At the recent Transportation Forum in Silver Spring, both Katz and Spiegel both said they oppose M-83, which has been on the books since the 1960s. But Moore received a "minus" on ACT's scorecard on M-83; he says opposes it, but is open to learning more. I "would first want to gather all the information and public input I can with the advantages of being a sitting Councilmember," he wrote.

Other candidates

Sidney Katz. Photo from MyMCMedia.
Katz, a former business owner, has been mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years, and was a city councilmember for 20 years before that. But his campaign website doesn't say much about land use and transportation, other than that he supports the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and "Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated lanes." He's endorsed Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed BRT but is often skeptical of building around transit.

Guled Kassim, a former Marine, immigrated here from Somalia as a child and grew up in Silver Spring before moving to Derwood. While running for District 19 delegate in 2006, he worried that the county's "rate of growth was too fast," but expressed support for the Purple Line.

Guled Kassim. Photo from his campaign.
On his campaign website, Kassim says his main priorities for "congestion relief are building the Corridor Cities Transitway and a new interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, which would serve a transit-oriented development being built at the Metropolitan Grove MARC station. He also supports "big improvements in existing intersections for a freer flow of traffic" during rush hour, though that may make the area's roads even more impassable for pedestrians and cyclists.

Most people might know District 3 as the home of Rockville Pike and the Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds. But in recent years, Rockville and Gaithersburg are leading the county's larger shift to becoming a more urban, diverse place. As a result, whoever becomes the area's next county councilmember will have a big role to play in its future.

Ronit Aviva Dancis lives in Bethesda. She serves on the board of the Action Committee for Transit. 
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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What does ACT give as it's scorecards on the 10 or so other M83 alternatives?
Many are more targeted, better for handling future growth and benefiting more constituents - and pretty much all less expensive than the 330+ million dollar BRT proposal
For example - ignoring the need for improvements for Muncaster Mill Road won't make it go away, and working on it now will ensure it's built excellently bike and pedestrian friendly.
Not doing Alternative 5 is IMHO just stupid.
Really not respecting ACT for dumbing down the questions and ignoring other alternatives and presenting those who might as against transit. This bias is wrong.

by asffa on Jun 10, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

Will this be done for other parts of Montgomery County?

by Jon on Jun 10, 2014 4:38 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] These kind of out of context informational pieces are not to anyone's benefit. And it is a shame that ACT would carry the bucket for TAME Coalition on M-83, because I think the fundamental principles that guide ACT's positions on a lot of things are good. But ACT is totally wrong on a lot of its positions regarding Upcounty. What I see typically in conversations with opponents to M-83 is that they are driven by either self-interest, idealism, or ignorance.

Someone reading this would think that the edge of the world (Montgomery County) is at Rockville or Gaithersburg, and conveniently forget that there are 100,000+ people living in Germantown (if incorporated, the biggest area next to City of Baltimore), 20,000+ in Clarksburg (with a projected population of 45,000+), and many more beyond in Montgomery Village, Goshen, Damascus, and points north.

M-83 is not a 1960's era road plan. The roadway is integral to the long term vision for Upcounty and was very much part of Montgomery Village (built with ROW dedicated for M-83), East Germantown, and Clarksburg as all these areas were planned from the 60s.

All of this noise now is just to protect a property owner sitting on 200 acres, who while totally dependent on auto for their survival, is politicking under the cover of non-profit tax-exempt status against M-83. Compared to that, when built out in the next few years, Clarksburg by itself will be paying over $100 million in property taxes to the County. Where is the return on that for residents in Upcounty?

This deceptive campaign was exposed by the Montgomery County Planning Board, the City of Gaithersburg, and the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board when each of these entities supported the master plan alternative for M-83. Go figure!

If anyone believes that CCT or BRT on MD 355 would somehow magically will address the larger Upcounty traffic congestion issues, they are not up to speed on facts. And it is easy then write these divisive pieces. I do not think anyone in Upcounty is against transit. But this "all or nothing" attitude that has no greater good but only the narrow interests of one entity is not good.

by Truth about M-83 on Jun 10, 2014 5:20 pm • linkreport

Just to add to the previous comment, I hope this is not a piece to put pressure on both Ryan Spiegel and Tom Moore to duel it out to show who is more opposed to M-83. You can always learn the truth and educate yourself if you dig a bit deeper than the fiction that opponents to M-83 puts out there. Another fact is that both Greater Goshen Civic Association and Clarksburg Civic Association as well as the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, and Clarksburg Chamber of Commerce support M-83 Alternative 9A (the master plan alignment).

The reality is that there is absolutely no money ($550 million plus at today's $$) to move CCT into construction at this point and BRT along MD 355 at this moment is just a desire line on a plan (expected to cost over $1 billion in today's $$ with many millions of annual operating cost and less than 25% fare recovery. Sounds very socialist though :)).

I have also heard people throw out additional traffic and sprawl because of M-83. But on closer questioning as to where do they anticipate density, they just throw out places like Laytonsville - Laytonsville?! Again, I have to think that they never saw these places, and of course conveniently forgets that M-83 is and was planned to relieve congestion in areas to the east of i-270 while protecting historic communities (Goshen, Prathertown, etc) and our Ag Reserve. For example, Sugarloaf Citizens Association is opposed to M-83 because, as they state, the roadway has an impact on the Ag Reserve. But the fact is that the master plan alignment has no impact on the Ag Reserve. And you wonder why then SCA is opposed to Alt 9A; would someone care toexplain?

Most recently, the County's attempt to get BRT to Olney was massively opposed by Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) and area businesses/residents (not just because of ROW impacts, but the way the County and transit advocates want to pay for it by creating local taxing districts that can tax residents above the Charter limit with only a majority vote). We will also have to see the Veirs Mill Road BRT will ever get on the road.

The ROW and implementation problems along MD 355 in Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown, and Clarksburg are much more (density being a key one), and an initial MCDOT plan to limit impact and cost to take away two lanes on MD 355 will make it imperative that M-83 is built!!

To talk about density, it is interesting to see the discussion to stone Beth Daly regarding her position on Purple Line, which is probably not much different from that of Marc Elrich. I guess being just an opponent to M-83 doesn't cut it :)

It is always funny to the folks who push these non-workable plans for political consumption and live in Upcounty going to meetings in their personal cars.

by Truth about M-83 on Jun 10, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

As someone who pays taxes and lives within 1 mile of the proposed Alt. 9a of the Midcounty Corridor Study, I am adamantly in favor of this road. Thousands of people have moved into Clarksburg in recent years and are becoming more and more isolated as master-planned roads are not built. How do they get to their jobs in the downcounty? On rural roads not meant for the amount of traffic that now burdens them. Build M-83!

by Upcounty Resident on Jun 10, 2014 7:37 pm • linkreport

It is all well and good to support transit for the growth in District 3 that is now or will be soon be served by mass transit. I do support it. But nothing in this article addresses the massive growth in Germantown east of Rt. 270, Clarksburg and Damascus, which was all approved based on the assumption that the eastern equivalent of Great Seneca Hwy, aka M-83, would be built to serve the new residents. We are only a few short years away from having 40,000 new residents in Clarksburg alone, but decades away from any mass transit option that will serve the upcounty in District 2. These new residents are being demonized for wishing simply to have the one road that was promised to them that would make their trip to Shady Grove Metro a reasonable commute. It just might help revitalize the failing shopping centers of Montgomery Village and Lake Forest Mall, too. M-83 or a significant widening of Rt 355 from Clarksburg all the way to Shady Grove is urgently needed.

by GreyD on Jun 10, 2014 11:40 pm • linkreport

Truth about M-83 - They seem to ignore that transit users of nearby Rockville and Wheaton are also not enamored of this "355 only BRT" plan, since a high percentage of 355 Q bus ridership is riding in from Veirs Mill and the plan would require all said to transfer, and how it'd require Rockville MCC students to walk an extra mile per day if they use the bus. Which is not reasonable considering what number of people that affects, and how that would frankly mean the disabled there wouldn't be able to anymore.
That's not even beginning to address what clogging up 355 deliberately would do in increasing traffic on Veirs Mill.

by asffa on Jun 11, 2014 1:51 am • linkreport

Upper Montgomery County is on a trajectory to be more populated than Gaithersburg or Rockville. It is an unrealistic assumption that everyone from upper Montgomery County will use the bus.
Imagine the congestion on 270 during rush hour... now take a lane away for BRT and imagine the same. M83 is the solution, not the problem.

by SF from Clarksburg on Jun 11, 2014 5:31 am • linkreport

Also from the latest Gazette. Check it out:

by Truth about M-83 on Jun 11, 2014 7:30 am • linkreport

If you used all the addresses that the Post Office calls Silver Spring it would be larger than Germantown but by census district it is smaller, about 100k to 70k.
But in any event we need more transit, not new development-inducing highways. I am disturbed again with ACT for downgrading a candidate merely because he or she says they are "open" to hearing more about a project.
And if transit advocates want to build support for BRT they should abandon this idea of special taxing districts. We don't have special taxing districts for highways and we should not have them for transit either. (The legislature would have to approve the creation of such districts, which is unlikely.)If fares and advertising are not sufficient to support the BRT routes they should not be built, which is why the county is rightly focusing on the routes that would have the most ridership, Rockville Pike and Colesville Road.
But it was not just the creation of special taxing districts that sparked opposition in Olney. Residents were alarmed to hear that many local businesses would have to be torn down on either side of Georgia to make way for BRT.

by woody brosnan on Jun 11, 2014 8:59 am • linkreport

Have most Clarksburg residents considered the fact that M-83's projections are far more than the number of people living in Clarksburg? That means M-83 will be a highway carrying pass through traffic from Frederick County - when you read MCDOT's traffic analysis, the reason they favor 9A over 5 (which performs just as well or better) is because 9A increases the capacity for regional traffic. Is attracting more traffic, cars, and pollution the goal?

BRT on 355 is just a line on a map right now, but it's a line with $5 million in state funding for design and engineering. A ride on BRT from Clarksburg could take 25 minutes to Shady Grove Metro and 35 to Rockville - a very promising high quality transit option.

In terms of special taxing districts, as one of the main people working on BRT advocacy, I can tell you the advocacy community is not rallying around special taxing districts or any specific funding agenda yet. Taxing districts were one option floated by the Transit Task Force out of many. At the same time, BRT will never be supported by fares and ads alone - no transit system completely pays for itself, nor do our roads unless we'd like to toll all of them. Transportation is important infrastructure that requires public investment, and the county and state are already spending money on it every year. The question is, what will they spend it on in the future - transit, multimodal options, and road maintenance, or bigger, wider, new roads?

by Kelly Blynn on Jun 11, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

Kelly Blynn Is the idea of taxing districts gone?
Nobody trusts when some plan to make tax the middle class especially (since Veirs Mill oh-so-conviently became the first target/unwilling guinea pigs after wealthier interests successfully battled unwanted BRT away from their districts) is played down as an issue but not actually erased, and then they end up paying it.
1. I'm rather unhappy with the plan for "355 only BRT" that would mean students (presuming they're able) would have to walk an extra mile per day. You have a comment about that? Is that still supported by you or your team?

2. How much is RideOn and other MetroBus services going to suffer to increase BRT budget? (Perspective -for the cost of just a half mile of BRT, the county/state could buy 500 bus shelters and bike racks where there's "flag pole" only style of bus stop. What that kind of cost could do to improve the current systems is possibly enormous.

3. Straight up, what's the actual plan? Where are the stations planned? No plan should grow support when the relevant information always planned for later?

4. 355 only BRT is projected at 330+ million. How many people are expected to use this 355 only bus versus how many are expected to use M-83 or other alternatives? If this is about efficiently moving PEOPLE then where are those numbers? That's a huge cost for even one section of one road, is the whole point to just spend too much in one way to ruin plans elsewhere?

by asffa on Jun 11, 2014 1:35 pm • linkreport

Woody brosnan - yes. for example, a large part of Wheaton has a Silver Spring postal address.

by asffa on Jun 11, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Woody - There is no comparison between Germantown vs. Silver Spring. People who live over at Hampshire Greens (north of the ICC) also has the "Silver Spring" PO. Technically, I have a hard time calling any place outside Spring Street (to the north) as Silver Spring. Compared to that, Germantown is pretty much in one piece, eventhough to help out Boyds, some areas of Germantown and Clarksburg have Boyds PO addresses.

Also, somewhere else I read your comments about the Spring Center (Purple Line) Station in Silver Spring. Good points. Hopefully, the Lyttonsville Sector Plan will have great recommendations for the future (Harry Sanders) station. A lot could be done here if there is a will and planning could be done well.

by Truth about M-83 on Jun 11, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

To Truth About M-83
Since I live north of Spring Street I don't agree with your narrow definition, which really is only slightly larger than the Silver Spring Central Business District. In fact you would exclude the Harry Sanders station from Silver Spring as well. But of course that is just an amusing and largely pointless debate that does not impact the important decisions the county needs to make about transportation priorities.

by woody brosnan on Jun 11, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

@Kelly: It is a basic fact that M-83 is not just for Clarksburg. I do not know where people get that idea. Is Great Seneca Highway just for West Germantown/Boyds? No.

So, as clearly documented in all of the planning documents including County's TPR documents and area master plans, the traffic projections for M-83 reflects existing, already approved, and future planned density within communities to the east side of I-270. The fact is that this local traffic is already here and they are on MD 355, MD 27, and local rustic roads such as Brink Road, Goshen Road, and Wightman Road (where they are not supposed to be), as well as on Montgomery Village Avenue. Traffic today is choking historic communities that were supposed to be shielded from all of this new traffic.

You do not need new density or substantial traffic from Frederick to fill up M-83. Even if I am to give you the benefit of doubt, can you explain how traffic from Frederick will get to M-83?

As far as support for alternatives, there is absolutely no support for Alt 5 among anyone in Upcounty, except for those who oppose Alt 9A. In fact, the functional viability of Alt 5 with service roads on MD 355 has to be seriously questioned, not even considering the fact that it will make MD 355 the least ped/bike friendly roadway in Montgomery County. So it is not just Clarksburg, but the larger community overwhelmingly supports Alt 9A, because it makes the most sense technically, functionally, as well as from quality of life and economic stand points. That is why it is still a critical piece on master plans (and the efforts to take it off the master plans are shameful).

Upcounty residents do not have any problem with the study for MD 355 BRT. I am sure Upcounty residents welcome it. But the "my way and not highway" attitude by CSG and ACT is wrong and is the reason for the push back. Regardless, please keep in mind that the ridership projectioons for the MD 355 BRT is built with most of the already existing ridership, the poor souls who ride RideOn 55, etc. If you haven't had a chance to ride this, please do so from Shady Grove Metro Station to Germantown and comment. Despite what current At-large candidates like Beth Daly would insist, in whatever form, MD 355 BRT will not be a solution for Clarksburg (it will operate in mixed traffic to the north of Germantown). Even at 25 minutes (really? I am very skeptical), this is a heavy $$ investment that will have minimal ridership and fare recovery. Unless there is a tree that produces $$, I do not see the BRT going anywhere in the County, especially with the opposition to the taxing districts. The county and transit advocates should get a minimum of one project done, say US 29 or MD 355 all the way to Friendship Heights, or Georgia Ave or Veirs Mill Rd, before they start talking about the merits of MD 355 North BRT.

Also, I am not sure if you are up to speed on what is going on with the taxing districts. It has progressed beyond the TTF. This past year a Senate bill and a House bill were killed in the Committees. Both sponsored by Montgomery County reps. You can look up GOCA's vote and comments in rejecting/opposing the bills.

Upcounty welcomes the multi-modal aspects related to building a sustainable transportation infrastructure, which includes BRT. But to say the M-83 should not be part of it is just channeling the interests of just one special interest entity. Functionally and financially, BRT along M-83 (connecting the I-270 east communities to Shady Grove Metro Station, ICC, BWI, Baltimore, I-95 corridor, Annapolis, Eastern Shore, etc.) and along I-270 (via Express Toll Lanes between Virginia and I-70) are specific projects that we can all work together. CCT could also have a place in this if I-270 ETL's could be realized.

by Truth about M-83 on Jun 11, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

Truth about M-83 - Alternative 5 without BRT (the original alternative given in the study) doesn't have the additional problems done to bikes, pedestrians, cars, everybody but buses, doesn't impact natural areas, and costs much less than Alternative 5 with BRT slapped in there (probably Berliner's idea).

by asffa on Jun 11, 2014 3:08 pm • linkreport

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