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Politics


In Montgomery's District 1, more differences in leadership than policy

Both of the Democratic candidates running in Montgomery County's District 1, stretching from Chevy Chase to Poolesville, agree on most smart growth issues. Both of them have past experience on the County Council. But one candidate has a stronger record of leadership on transit and complete streets.


District 1 is the green area on the left.

District 1 is geographically diverse, containing urban, suburban, and rural communities. The wealthiest of the five council districts, it's home to some of the county's most engaged residents, generating twice as many constituent requests as other districts.

This year, incumbent Roger Berliner is running for a third term against former at-large councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, who lost her seat in 2010. Both candidates scored identically on ACT's questionnaire, each professing strong support for the Purple Line, bicycle and pedestrian-friendly road designs, dedicating existing traffic lanes for BRT, opposing the M-83 highway, and increasing housing in urban centers.

Candidates agree on most things, but Berliner pushes to make them happen

As District 1 is the most expensive part of Montgomery County, both candidates focused on ways the county can preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially near transit. Berliner has sponsored legislation that requires the co-location of affordable housing with any new capital projects in the county, such as police or fire stations. In her answers, Trachtenberg supports amending the zoning code to favor denser development near transit.


Roger Berliner.

Notably, Councilmember Berliner, a former legislative director on Capitol Hill and well-known environmental lawyer, has made sustainability and utility reform some of his top priorities. He has demonstrated a significant willingness and capability to champion transit, cycling, and pedestrian issues in the county.

As the current chair of the County Council's Transportation and Environment committee, he effectively shepherded the county's Bus Rapid Transit plan to a unanimous vote last November for an ambitious plan that preserves dedicated lanes on most of the system. He has also authored an update to the county's Urban Road Code designed to create more complete streets in urban areas like Bethesda, and been a strong supporter of the major suburban redevelopment efforts in White Flint.

Surprisingly, Berliner has done all of this while retaining support in some unlikely places; Pat Burda, mayor of the Town of Chevy Chase and a Purple Line opponent, is publicly supporting him in this election.

Trachtenberg's views on development evolved over election cycles

Trachtenberg, a dedicated local and national advocate for women's equality and mental health issues, joined the council in 2006 on a slow-growth platform with Councilmember Marc Elrich and County Executive Ike Leggett. But she may be best known for two bills she successfully passed in 2007, one prohibiting transgender discrimination and the nation's first countywide ban on trans fats in restaurants.


Duchy Trachtenberg.

Campaigning to slow development appealed to voters in 2006, during the midst of the housing boom, but Trachtenberg changed her tune as the recession took hold and people were eager for economic growth. During her 2010 reelection campaign, she expressed support for the redevelopment of White Flint and the Great Seneca Science Corridor, citing them both as examples of how to build near public transit.

This year, meanwhile, Trachtenberg accepted support from developers who were upset by the council's vote to significantly limit development in the sensitive Ten Mile Creek watershed near Clarksburg. Councilmember Berliner helped make that happen, but Trachtenberg's campaign tried to make it sound like he did the opposite while claiming she opposed the development.

Both candidates have said all of the right things when it comes to sustainable transportation and smart growth. But for voters, it's less clear whether both candidates are able to take a leadership role on those issues, shepherding in a more urban, sustainable equitable future along District 1's transit corridors while protecting the farms and parkland elsewhere.

Politics


Candidate who's "concerned" about Purple Line gets angry when pro-Purple Line organization gives her a low score

If you're running for office, you'd like to get votes from everyone, and avoid angering people. A lot of candidates try to do this by expressing "support" for big projects which have a lot of proponents, while also voicing "concerns" to those against the project.


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

Muriel Bowser was an avid practitioner of this strategy during the DC mayoral primary, favoring things like development at Takoma Metro or DC's zoning update while simultaneously sharing opponents' views. In Montogmery County, at-large council candidate Beth Daly is trying it with the Purple Line, and crying foul when the Action Committee for Transit didn't fall for it.

Bill Turque talked about the controversy in the Washington Post. Daly wrote on the ACT questionnaire that she supports "the east-west connectivity of the Purple Line," but with a long litany of caveats.

She is "still not certain" of what the county will pay, because she "suspect[s]" that the money the state has promised won't go far enough. She wants more effort to "reduce environmental and economic impacts" on the surrounding communities, like noise, trees, and effect on businesses.

The Purple Line has endured decades of debate and political battles. County and state leaders have made a decision about what route to build, and made tradeoffs about all of these issues. The federal government is on board. But it's pretty clear from reading Daly's answer that she doesn't agree with that decision and isn't willing to endorse the specific project that's on the table.

Why is Daly surprised ACT rated her as a Purple Line skeptic?

It's her right to take this view, but she shouldn't be surprised when ACT, an organization for which the Purple Line (as currently proposed, specifically) is perhaps its top issue, doesn't rate her highly.

What's odd about the controversy Turque describes is not that ACT likes the specific Purple Line proposal or Daly doesn't; it's that Daly is angry with ACT when her answer was pretty clear. According to Turque, Daly's husband said he wanted to "grab [ACT President Nick Brand] by the neck" for the scorecard.

Daly tells Turque that the rating was unfair because other people who expressed "concerns" in the past got plus marks. That particularly refers to Marc Elrich, who also holds an at large seat and is ideologically aligned with Daly. He's been a Purple Line skeptic in the past, but when ACT specifically asked on its questionnaire whether candidates would endorse the current Purple Line project "without qualification," Elrich simply wrote "YES."

That means either Elrich has moved past any former concerns and now supports the project as it's being proposed, or he was not being truthful on the questionnaire. He argued to Turque that Daly's answers were not negative. Sorry, that doesn't fly. The question was pretty clear.

Turque also talks about a lot of inside baseball controversy about whether ACT leaders were trying to help incumbent at-large member George Leventhal. An ACT board member who's close to Leventhal apparently wanted questions about the Purple Line at a recent candidate forum to not focus on affordable housing around Purple Line stations. The Coalition for Smarter Growth's Kelly Blynn, who in her professional role for a nonprofit is not trying to help a particular candidate or another, refused and left the question in.

More information can help voters decide

The Purple Line is very much worth building as proposed, but that doesn't mean candidates don't deserve credit or scorn for their stances on other matters. Affordable housing along the Purple Line is important, and hopefully Montgomery County will take many steps to ensure that the communities around its stations remain mixed-income.

Daly pushed to reduce the amount of development in Clarksburg, which is far from transit, at the edge of the region's core, and not the best place for a lot of new housing. (Leventhal also voted to reduce development in Clarksburg.) The ACT scorecard doesn't cover every single factor voters might use to weigh the candidates.

However, politicians have a lot of incentive to dodge questions and blur their positions. Good reporting (often absent in political campaigns) cuts through the fog and helps voters know who actually shares their values. So do advocacy scorecards.

Muriel Bowser successfully kept the focus off her actual views in the DC campaign. ACT is trying not to make the Montgomery races work this way. Other organizations can do the same for other issues besides the ones ACT focuses on. Any candidate who wants to play both sides of an issue shouldn't be surprised if he or she gets called out for it.

Politics


Montgomery District 5 candidates want growth and transit, but in different places

All of the candidates running for Montgomery County's District 5 council seat say they want to bring jobs, shopping, and transit to an area that's long awaited them. But they seem to disagree on whether that investment should go where it's most needed, or where there's the least resistance.


District 5 is in light blue on the east side of the county.

Councilmember Valerie Ervin's resignation last fall left an open seat in Montgomery County's District 5, newly redrawn in 2010 to cover a narrow strip from Silver Spring to Burtonsville. Several candidates jumped in to succeed her.

Joining former journalist Evan Glass, who'd already announced before Ervin resigned, are state delegate Tom Hucker, Board of Education member Chris Barclay, community organizer Terrill North, and preacher Jeffrey Thames.

The majority-minority district struggles with poverty and disinvestment, and has some of the county's highest rates of transit use and lowest rates of car ownership. In ACT's questionnaire and in public forums, candidates said those issues are why the area needs
more transit and economic development.

Candidates want to build near transit, but some aren't sure about actual plans


Evan Glass. Photo from the candidate website.

Most candidates say they support building near transit, notably in downtown Silver Spring, home to the one of the region's largest transit hubs. Glass, who lived in downtown Silver Spring until 2012 and helped start the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association, supports more development there as a way to preserve other areas and provide more affordable housing.

He's also called for reforms that could help local businesses and draw younger residents. Last month, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with restaurant owner Jackie Greenbaum about the need to reform the county's liquor laws.


Tom Hucker. Photo from the Maryland Assembly.

Other candidates have been reluctant to embrace specific projects that have faced resistance. At a Conservation Montgomery forum last month, Tom Hucker said the council should have never approved the Chelsea Heights development 5 blocks from the Metro station because it required cutting down old-growth trees.

Meanwhile, candidates have endorsed bringing more investment to Burtonsville's dying village center, 10 miles north. Residents generally support that idea, and State Delegate Eric Luedtke, who lives in Burtonsville, has called on District 5 candidates to start talking about it more.

Candidates have also touted the county's White Oak Science Gateway plan, which envisions a new research and technology hub surrounding the Food and Drug Administration headquarters alongside a town center containing shops and restaurants. The White Oak plan has considerable community support, but is tied up due to concerns about car traffic.

"If we don't build it in White Oak," said Hucker at a candidates forum in Briggs Chaney last week, "those jobs are going to go to Konterra [in Prince George's County], they're going to go to Howard County, they're going to go to DC."

Backtracking on transit

At the core of the White Oak plan are three planned Bus Rapid Transit corridors, on Randolph Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and Route 29, which the county will start studying in detail soon. All of the candidates say they support BRT, and Glass has been vocal about giving buses their own lanes, even if it means repurposing general traffic lanes. "Efficient and timely travel can only be achieved through dedicated lanes," he wrote in his questionnaire.

But others have offered reservations, especially in Four Corners, where a small group of neighbors have fought it for years. Hucker says he supports BRT "in certain places where it makes sense," and wants to focus in fixing Ride On first. "I don't support building BRT on the backs of our current Ride On or Metrobus," he said at a recent forum in Four Corners.


Terrill North. Photo from the candidate website.

Terrill North wants BRT on New Hampshire Avenue and on Route 29 north of White Oak, but not on Route 29 in Four Corners, which would be the most direct route to Silver Spring. "I don't think we need to take away curbs or take away business from this community, take away business from this community, take away lanes, because I think that could make things worse," he said at the same forum.

Likewise, all five candidates have endorsed the Purple Line, which could break ground next year. Hucker has long supported the light-rail line between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and represents the General Assembly on Purple Line Now!'s board.


Chris Barclay. Photo from the candidate website.

Meanwhile, North and Chris Barclay have expressed reluctance about developing around future Purple Line stations, like in Long Branch, citing concerns about higher density and the potential impacts to affordable housing and small businesses.

Strong support for complete streets

With a state highway as its spine, District 5 can be a dangerous place for a pedestrian, with lots of busy road crossings and fast-moving traffic. All candidates have said they support making our streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders.


Jeffrey Thames. Photo from the candidate website.

At the Four Corners forum and other events, Jeffrey Thames said he'd like to see more Barnes Dance intersections, like the one at 7th and H streets NW in the District, where pedestrians can cross in all directions. When asked if they'd support pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly streets even if it slowed drivers down, Glass, Hucker, and North all said yes.

After years of watching the rest of Montgomery County draw jobs and investment, it seems like it might finally be East County's turn. Whoever represents the area next will get the chance to determine whether the area can give its residents, especially those of limited means, the investment they want, or if it continues to be a pass-through on the way to other destinations.

Full disclosure: Dan Reed is a member of One Montgomery, an organization that has endorsed Evan Glass, and has contributed to Glass's campaign.

Politics


ACT scores Montgomery County candidates on transit and smart growth

Where do candidates in Montgomery County and statewide in Maryland stand on the Purple Line, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly road designs, Bus Rapid Transit, M-83 and adding housing? A new scorecard by the Action Committee for Transit helps shed light on these issues.


Scorecard for countywide offices.

Maryland voters will be choosing nominees in a primary on June 24th. ACT asked candidates for Montgomery County Council and County Executive, state delegate from Montgomery County, and governor about these issues. ACT then rated the candidates based on their voting records, questionnaire answers, records in office (especially important for candidates who have held executive offices), and public statements.


Scorecard for County Council district races.


Scorecard for candidates for governor.

Here is more detail about the questions ACT asked, and why.

1. Do you support funding and advancing the Purple Line to groundbreaking as described in the Locally Preferred Alternative and the Environmental Impact Statement without qualification?

In the quarter-century and more that activists have worked for the Purple Line, plenty of politicians and citizens have claimed to support the Purple Line. However, that support has sometimes come with qualifications that would make the Purple Line either prohibitively expensive to build or ineffective.

There are those who support the Purple Line only if it were built as a heavy rail line or only if it were bus rapid transit. Some public officials have claimed to be for the Purple Line but then pushed for alternative routes that were impractical or wildly expensive. Others have said they supported the project but then added qualifications that neatly dovetailed with the arguments opponents were making against it.

The Locally Preferred Alternative Governor Martin O'Malley and the County Council selected for the Purple Line includes an at-grade light rail line with a trail alongside it on the Georgetown Branch right of way between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Although the Purple Line is widely considered a done deal, the fact remains that any public works project this large can falter. The Purple Line has uniquely well-funded and well-connected opponents. As activists, our job is to consistently advocate for the Purple Line until the trains are running and the trail is full of bikers and hikers. ACT only gave candidates pluses if they supported the Purple Line without any qualification.

2. Would you support more transit, pedestrian, and bicycle-friendly road design in our school zones and urban centers even if it slows drivers down?

Many officials claim they want safer and more convenient roads for pedestrians and cyclists, but advocates have consistently found that support vanishes if any design changes would lower speed limits or otherwise inconvenience car traffic. It's easy to support pedestrian and bicycle friendly road design; it is very hard to support it when it requires slowing drivers down. Sadly, this is true even of school zones.

For this question, ACT gave pluses only if candidates were willing to support complete streets policies even when a change might slow down some drivers.

3. Do you support changing existing traffic lanes to dedicated bus lanes for BRT?

The basic idea of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is that the most efficient use of road space is for those vehicles that carry many passengers. When lanes are reserved for exclusive use by buses, a road can carry more people faster. Stranding buses in the same congested traffic as cars takes the "rapid" out of Bus Rapid Transit; effective BRT requires dedicated lanes for buses.

Unfortunately, if implemented improperly, this gives highway builders an opportunity to further widen roads for extra bus lanes. In Montgomery County, the temptation exists for politicians to support dedicated bus lanes in the upcounty by widening roads, while opposing any bus lanes in the downcounty. That would mollify those who can't imagine taking lanes away from cars. It is easy for a candidate to support generic BRT; it is harder for a candidate to support changing some existing car lanes to bus-only lanes.

The BRT plan approved by the County Council last fall does not rule out widening roads to create dedicated bus lanes, and includes several chances for residents to delay or stop repurposing car lanes to bus only lanes. Advocates must continue to pressure the County Council to make sure Montgomery County gets the rapid Bus Rapid Transit system it needs.

ACT specifically asked candidates if they support changing existing traffic lanes to dedicated bus lanes, and only gave candidates a plus if they supported that.

4. Will you support stopping all spending on the M83 highway?

M83 is an environmentally destructive highway that would run from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg and cost the county at least $350 million to build. It was put in the master plans over 50 years ago, before major modern environmental laws existed.

To be sure candidates opposed it, we asked if they would support stopping all spending on M83. The question covered money from both the capital budget and operating budget, as well as any money to study it further.

The questionnaire answers are the first time all at-large county council Democratic candidates stated their opposition to any further spending on the M83 highway, marking an important turning point in the fight against the "zombie" highway.

5. How would you increase the housing supply in our urban centers?

For transit to work, it has to be where people can use it: near their homes. And if more people live near transit, then more people can use it. Therefore ACT has consistently supported development in urban areas like downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda.

In areas like these, politicians who support this sort of development frequently take a lot of criticism from people who don't want any new development whatsoever, and who feel it threatens the character of single-family neighborhoods.

Two recent projects, the Chelsea Heights townhouse development in Silver Spring and the Chevy Chase Lake plan, have typified this debate in the downcounty. ACT considered candidates' statements on those two development projects when rating them on this issue.

Many candidates chose to interpret this question as one about affordable housing programs, which misses the point. The intense market demand for transit-accessible housing means that less affluent residents will inevitably get squeezed out unless we greatly increase the supply. To ensure that housing near Metro does not become a luxury good, we must promote construction of transit-accessible residences at all price levels, including high-end and middle-income housing as well as subsidized housing.

6. Would you support a 2nd road crossing of the Potomac?

At the moment, there are no plans for a second highway crossing over the Potomac which would make an "Outer Beltway." However, some Virginia advocacy groups regularly bring the idea up at Council of Governments meetings, and there are Marylanders who are very interested. The highway lobby in both states is very supportive.

A second road bridge would invite more highway-building at the expense of funds for transit. Although the issue is currently dormant, it might become active in the future and so the ACT board wanted to know what politicians would say about it. It also seemed to be a good opportunity to find out candidates' general attitudes towards highway building and sprawl development.

7. Do you support including the 3rd track needed to allow all-day MARC service?

Right now MARC only runs a few times a day between Martinsburg, Frederick and DC. MARC runs on CSX tracks, and CSX uses those tracks for its own trains, limiting MARC service. For MARC to run more frequently, it needs a third track.


Scorecard for state senator and delegate.

"Why did my candidate get a minus when their questionnaire answers are perfectly correct?"

Some candidates answered "yes", and then followed that with an answer that made it clear they didn't get it. For example, an imaginary candidate who responded to the M83 question by saying "Yes, there should be no further spending on M83. The money should go to a highway that runs from my house to I-270," would receive a minus because they do support building more highways in our county. For the record, no candidate said any such thing.

Candidates who served in executive offices, such as the County Executive, were evaluated on their records in office as well as their public statements, voting records and questionnaire answers.

There have been a considerable number of candidate forums and other opportunities to hear candidates speak. ACT board members have attended as many as possible, not just because we are political junkies in need of help, but because we wanted to see if candidates were consistent in their positions.

We found that some candidates were inconsistent in addition to just not being clear. If a candidate's statements at a public event conflicted with the answer he or she gave on the questionnaire, that factored into the rating. The questions were deliberately written using very specific language to see who would go beyond generalities and commit to a position that might be unpopular.

Candidates running unopposed in primaries were not rated. However, their answers to the questionnaires, along with those of all the other candidates, are posted in full on the ACT website.

Events


Events roundup: Family fun and transit

We just had a beautiful weekend, and another looks to be around the corner. Enjoy the weather with some family-friendly fun, and during the next few weeks, weigh in on transit all around the region.


Photo by tackyjulie on Flickr.

Streetsblog & Greater Greater Washington playdate: On Saturday, May 31, join fellow GGW and Streetsblog readers and their kids for a family playdate at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden from 11-2 You can RSVP here.

Tour de Fat: One of the region's biggest bicycle festivals is also this Saturday, May 31, at Yards Park. It features live music, local vendors, beer and more. The festival is from 10 am to 5 pm, so there's plenty of time to stop by the playdate and the Tour de Fat.

After the jump: Ride around Greenbelt, transit in Montgomery County, transit in DC, transit in Alexandria, and walking at Pentagon City and H Street!

Greenbelt Roosevelt Ride: The Greenbelt Museum is organizing its second annual Roosevelt Ride on Sunday, June 1 at 11 am. See Old Greenbelt, the New Deal-era planned community, on the free bike ride and enjoy a picnic lunch afterward. More information here.

Montgomery transit candidate forum: Candidates for the Montgomery County Council will discuss their views on the future of transit at a transportation forum on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building (One Veterans Place). WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the conversation. Come hear the candidates' ideas just in time for the June 24th primary.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is below:

  • Central meeting: Monday, June 9, at the Banneker Rec Center, 2500 Georgia Ave NW.
  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.
Benning Road transit: The Federal Highway Administration and DDOT are starting an environmental study for transportation along Benning Road over the bridge and east to the Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road Metro stations. The first meeting, a public scoping meeting, is tonight, Wednesday, May 28 from 6-7:30 pm at the Department of Employment Services Building, 4058 Minnesota Ave. For more information, go here.

King Street multimodal transit study: The Alexandria Waterfront Commission is analyzing the effects of converting the 100 block of King Street to a pedestrian plaza, where the public can meet, eat, and shop. Planning for driving, biking, walking, and other forms of transit is a key part of the process. On Thursday, May 29, come hear about the plan for the area and provide your feedback at a public meeting at Alexandria City Hall (301 King Street), Room 1101.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page about the event on the web.

Development


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.


Montgomery's housing stock is getting more diverse. 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.

Single-family homes spread out around the county

Not surprisingly, single-family homes predominate on Montgomery County's rural fringe, and in suburban areas. In several neighborhoods, particularly west of Rock Creek Park and in the far northern part of the county, single-family homes are the only type of housing, such as Parkwood in Kensington, Rollingwood in Chevy Chase, and the Town of Chevy Chase itself. 99.5% of all homes in Bethesda's Bradley Manor, recently named the nation's second-wealthiest neighborhood, are detached houses.


Areas with a concentration of single-family homes. All images by the author.

Single-family homes are also very common in older neighborhoods inside the Beltway, which were built early in the 20th century when the county first began suburbanizing. Today, they sit in close-in, highly coveted locations, very close to Metro stations and major job centers. Meanwhile, farther-out areas have a much more diverse mix of housing.

Townhouses are far beyond the Beltway

If you're looking for a townhouse, you may have to look far beyond the Beltway. The county's largest concentrations of attached homes are in parts of Germantown and Montgomery Village, where townhouses comprise over 70% of all homes. Other areas include Westlake, next to Montgomery Mall in Bethesda; Dalewood Drive, across from Wheaton High School, and Westfarm in White Oak.


Areas with a concentration of townhomes. All images by the author.

Why is this? The county's 1958 zoning code and subsequent 1964 General Plan established specific "urban" areas where townhomes and apartments would go. Meanwhile, older, close-in neighborhoods began fighting the construction of anything that weren't big, expensive single-family homes. So townhouses got built farther out, where land was cheap and the zoning allowed them.

Apartments hug the Red Line & sprawl outward

Multi-family homes in Montgomery County tend to fall into one of two camps. You'll find clusters of them around Red Line stations, especially in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and White Flint. These are usually high-rise and mid-rise buildings, and they're often more expensive. The rest are mainly cheaper garden apartments outside the Beltway in areas like Briggs Chaney, Aspen Hill, and parts of Gaithersburg.


Areas with a concentration of multi-family homes. All images by the author.

Notably, areas with the highest concentrations of apartments also have a lot of young people, a high rate of transit use, and a low rate of car ownership. But those living in apartment clusters farther out don't have the same access to shops, jobs, and transit as those in areas like Bethesda or Silver Spring. Creating more town centers in other parts of the county, like at White Oak, will allow those residents to have more access to economic opportunities.

Multi-family homes are the county's future

Single-family homes are still the most common housing type in Montgomery County, and more will continue to be built. But they'll make up a decreasing share of the county's housing stock. Between rising housing costs, increasing traffic, and a diversifying population that's also getting older, there's a growing demand for different housing choices.


Single-family homes like this one in Olney are still being built, but not as many as there were.

As of this April, there were 36,038 approved but unbuilt homes in the development pipeline, most of which will be built in town centers like Silver Spring or Bethesda or in Clarksburg, the county's one last greenfield area. Just 8,644, or 24% will be single-family detached homes or townhomes. And that doesn't include homes that are allowed under zoning but haven't been approved.

This is a big shift for Montgomery County. While the county has sought to concentrate growth near downtowns and transit lines since the 1960's, many residents and community leaders still think of it as an exclusively suburban place. But in the coming years, the definition between city and suburb will continue to blur.

Development


A pro-sprawl movement surfaces in Montgomery County

Do urban living arrangements have no place in Montgomery County? Should the county favor automobile travel to the over other forms of transportation? An influential group of local activists say so.


Wrong for Montgomery County? Photo by dan reed on Flickr.

At a zoning hearing three years ago, former councilmember Rose Crenca declared, "When did we vote to change SUBURBAN to URBAN? For those who prefer an urban environment, please leave." She added that if there is a need for more housing than current zoning allows, it should be built in the county's agricultural reserve.

At the time, most listeners shrugged off those words as a relic of a disappearing past. But now a group of activists, centered in Chevy Chase but extending countywide, has emerged with a similar program. A close reading of the manifesto of the "Citizens Coalition for Responsible Growth," issued with the aim of influencing this year's election, shows that the group shares Crenca's desire to prevent the urban centers from emerging alongside the county's single-family subdivisions.

The group, whose leadership is so far anonymous, comprises residents who opposed the county's recent zoning updates. Those of changes made it easier to rent out part of a house as an apartment and reduced minimum parking requirements for new buildings near Metro.

The manifesto decries such measures, characterizing them as "using land use and development policies to spur behavioral and social changes, without regard to choices and investments already made by those in the County."

Wouldn't tenants, who perhaps have no investment in a Montgomery County house due to lack of funds, benefit from being able to rent an apartment in one? Their voice counts for little. "Our government," the manifesto argues, "has a responsibility to effectively support the interests of homeowners."

On high-speed roadways as in neighborhoods, change is suspect. Bicycle improvements are fine, but not if they come "at the expense of vehicular travel and parking lanes." After all, "very few Montgomery County residents bike to work." By this logic, you wouldn't build a bridge if too few people were swimming across the river.

Almost everyone recognizes, of course, that new buildings can't be stopped entirely. They can come, the coalition says, only when wider roads accompany them. The group would strictly tie development approvals to a measurement called "level of service," which California recently repudiated. This pseudoscientific concept measures how fast cars move rather than how quickly people get to their destinations, making road widenings the solution to almost any transportation problem.

In contrast, the coalition does not want to consider transit as a way to get people to and from new development. "Bus rapid transit, light rail, and other large-scale transit systems," it writes, "must not be used as mechanisms to allow increased development" in areas where traffic moves slowly.

The Citizens Coalition cannot be faulted for lacking vision. It dreams of a 1950s suburb, made up of strip malls and subdivisions. But half a century ago Montgomery County realized that such a future was undesirable and unworkable. The county chose a very different visiona diverse community where livable downtowns, quiet single-family neighborhoods, and farmland coexist. That broader vision has been only very partially achieved. Only by embracing change, and not rejecting it, can we do better.

Events


Events roundup: What do you want to tell the Park Service?

Do you have feedback for the National Park Service? For Arlington about transit or cycletracks? For Alexandria about a street in Del Rey Ray? Weigh in this week, plus a history lesson about the waterfront and walking tours all over the region.


Photo by Park Ranger on Flickr.

Town hall with NPS: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is convening a town hall meeting with leaders of the National Park Service in our region to talk about how they are managing many of DC's parks, large and small.

David Alpert will participate on the panel, along with NPS National Capital Region Director Steve Whitesell, Richard Bradley from the Downtown BID, and Greg Odell of Events DC. The discussion is Wednesday, May 21, 6:30-8:30 in Room 412 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What topics should David bring up? Post your qualms, frustrations, plaudits, and questions in the comments.

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm tonight, Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20 (tomorrow), 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

South Eads Street cycletrack: What should bike lanes, cycletracks, or other infrastructure look like on South Eads Street in Arlington? The county will be building a pilot cycletrack on a part of South Eads, and wants your feedback on the long-term plans for the road. Speak up on Wednesday, May 21 from 7-8:30 at the Aurora Hills Community Center, 735 18th Street South, or take the online survey.

History of the DC waterfront: Ever wonder about the early days of the DC Waterfront? The DC Library is hosting a book talk with author John R. Wennersten on his new book, The Historic Waterfront of Washington, DC. He will discuss the history of the area and the current issues facing the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The talk is Wednesday, May 21 at 6:30 pm in the Black Studies Center at the MLK Memorial Library (901 G Street NW).

Search for the W&OD in Alexandria: Join the VeloCity Bike Co-op for a community bike ride in search of the remnants of the Washington and Old Dominion railroad in Alexandria. Hear about some area history and envision future uses for the space. The ride will begin at the VeloCity Co-op (2111 Mount Vernon Ave in Alexandria) at 10 am on Saturday, May 24.

MoCo candidates on transportation: Maryland is having a primary election on June 24, and in many races the primary will be the deciding contest. A group of smart growth, transit, bicycling, and other organizations are sponsoring a forum for candidates for Montgomery County Council.

WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the forum, and you can submit questions online ahead of time. The candidates will face off on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Contact events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Roads


Berliner presses for a transit alternative to Montgomery sprawl highway

Montgomery councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) took an important step toward defeating plans for the costly and damaging Midcounty Highway and replacing it with transit.


Berliner discusses M-83 at the Council's budget hearing.

Berliner, who chairs the council's Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and the Environment, sent a letter to County Executive Ike Leggett asking him to direct the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), to study a robust transit alternative to the highway project, dubbed M-83.

MCDOT is nearing the end of an 11-year environmental review of M-83 and its alternatives, and hopes to receive a federal environmental permit later this year. In all that time, the agency has avoided considering a transit alternative, despite repeated requests from the community.

When Montgomery County Council's transportation committee discussed M-83 during their budget review last month, the committee voted to allocate no future planning funding beyond the highway project's current environmental review. Berliner made his opinion clear to MCDOT officials then:

It's been part of my own goal with respect to our county's approach to transportation to move into a transit first orientation. From my perspective, I want some assurance that we've looked at every transit option in this corridor prior to our getting a recommendation with respect to this project.
He joins four other councilmembers, Phil Andrews (District 3), Marc Elrich (at large), George Leventhal (at large), and Hans Riemer (at large) who have called for a transit alternative.

Berliner's letter urges MCDOT to consider all viable transit options, including combinations of the Corridor Cities Transitway, express bus service on I-270, two-way service on the inner portions of the Brunswick MARC line, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on MD-355, and completion of the Clarksburg Town Center to reduce local trip demand.

One of the options in MCDOT's road study, Alternative 5, would have added a service lane along MD-355 for cars. Berliner urges MCDOT to study the possibility of transforming that concept into a transitway for BRT. 355 BRT to Clarksburg would provide a straight, rapid transit option for Clarksburg, Germantown, and Gaithersburg commuters to Shady Grove, Rockville, and points south.

Comparative travel times from other BRT systems suggest a 25 minute ride from Clarksburg to Shady Grove Metro, including wait times, which is comparable or better than driving, depending on traffic.


BRT plan for 355 to Clarksburg. Map from Communities for Transit.

According to MCDOT head Art Holmes, the County Executive "is not in favor of moving M-83 forward into construction," but Leggett hasn't yet made clear to the public or his agency what he plans to do instead to improve transportation for gridlocked upcounty communities.

The question remains whether Leggett will stand up to his own agency, which has a reputation for favoring roads over transit, and demand they take a serious look at transit alternatives.

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