Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Montgomery

Bicycling


Montgomery County has plans for a protected bikeway network in White Flint

Work is already underway on an update to Montgomery County's bicycle master plan, but the county isn't waiting that long to start working on building bike infrastructure in a quickly-urbanizing neighborhood.


A protected bikeway in Bethesda. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

At a meeting at Walter Johnson High School Tuesday night, planners discussed a proposed network of protected bikeways in the White Flint area. The county's Department of Transportation has agreed to recommend adding this network to the Capital Improvement Plan. That means that it'll recommend the County Executive put money to design the bikeways into his budget.

Protected bikeways are a better way to create low-stress bicycle facilities than conventional bike lanes, which rely just on paint. They keep cyclists separate from drivers with things like flexposts, parked cars, curbs, or medians. In some cases, the protected bikeway may be raised to a higher elevation than the street.


The Montgomery Planning Board's proposed protected bikeway network in White Flint. The dotted lines in the northwest section are not part of the current proposal for the CIP.

These proposed lanes won't be the entire bike network in White Flint, but they will be a starting point for creating a low-stress network in the area, Montgomery's newest urban neighborhood. Other streets will have different types of bike infrastructure, and the protected bikeway network may well grow larger over time.

The redesign of White Flint's suburban streets is a positive step in the county's quest to transform the auto-oriented suburban district into a walkable and bikeable district.


Two-way protected bikeway in Seattle. Photo by Matt Johnson on Flickr.

While the Montgomery County Planning Board recommended more separated bike lanes on the west side of Rockville Pike, those streets are already well into the design phase and changing them now would be expensive and time-consuming. Those planned streets aren't without bike infrastructure. In most cases, they will have conventional bike lanes or shared-use paths.

This proposed network is a great start, and will likely be just the tip of the iceberg. Planners intend to recommend more separated bike facilities around the county as part of its bicycle master plan.

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Bicycling


An interactive map will make Montgomery more bike-friendly

Casey Anderson, the chair of Montgomery County's planning board, says he wants the best bike plan any place US city has ever seen. The county's interactive Cycling Concerns Bicycle Atlas is a tool for gathering the feedback it needs to make that happen.


Image from Montgomery County. Click for the interactive version.

The primary goal of the County Bike Plan is to move from a world where only 1% of the population feels comfortable riding (high stress roadways) to one where those who tolerate moderate (10%) or low stress (50%) also feel comfortable riding. Importantly, it also recognizes that there is a substantial minority that will never get on a bike.


Image from M-NCPPC.

This effort began with the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit, and has been part of a series of community meetings where Board Chairman Casey Anderson and planner David Anspacher led attendees through a discussion of common cycling issues and defined the four levels of stress.

Unlike a similar atlas unveiled in Fairfax County this spring, which asked cyclists to identify routes they'd like to see bike lanes on, Montgomery's map asks users to note problem areas within the county's existing network, such as poor or missing connections, unsafe sewer grates, and concerns with road conditions.

The map will remain up indefinitely. The county has already started using feedback from the atlas to address immediate concerns. The plan should be complete in 2017, and it will include recommendations about specific bike facilities to be built.

Hundreds of people have already used the map,, and the county is asking them to keep it up. Users can also rate and comment other users' feedback directly on the map.

There will be one more community meeting to discuss the Bike Plan on Tuesday, October 6, at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

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Retail


DC's "Little Ethiopia" has moved to Silver Spring and Alexandria

Historically, the DC area's Ethiopian diaspora has centered on Adams Morgan and Shaw. But as the community has grown, it's mostly moved out of the District. Today, the region actually has two "Little Ethiopias": one in Silver Spring and one in Alexandria.


Where the region's Ethiopian population lives. Map by the author.

Ethiopians have a lot of roots in the DC area

Ethiopians first began moving to the United States in the 1970s, fleeing a military dictatorship. The DC area has the nation's largest Ethiopian community, but just how big it is up for debate.

The 2013 American Community Survey found about 40,000 people of Ethiopian ancestry in the region, while the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Center says there are 100,000 Ethiopians living in the area.

There's also a large population from Eritrea, which broke off from Ethiopia in 1991. The Census doesn't break out ancestry data for Eritreans for local areas. But in 2005, but the Population Reference Bureau estimated that about 2% of African-born blacks in the region, or about 2,300 people, came from Eritrea.

Today, Ethiopians are the largest African immigrant group in the region, making up one-fifth of the region's African diaspora. There are about 1200 Ethiopian-owned businesses in the region, according to the ECDC, as well as the Ethiopian community's own Yellow Pages. Famous Ethiopian entertainers have settled in the area, and major events serving the diaspora are held here, like this sports and live music festival that was at the University of Maryland this summer.

Two "Little Ethiopias" emerge

When the diaspora began, Ethiopians arriving in DC settled in Adams Morgan, then along 9th Street NW in Shaw, occasionally called "Little Ethiopia." Since 2000, DC's Ethiopian population has more than doubled, from 2134 to 4807 in 2013, though it's shifted north towards Petworth and Brightwood.

But like many immigrants in the region, many Ethiopians moved to Maryland and Virginia, and today most of the community lives outside the District. Montgomery County has the region's largest cluster of Ethiopians, with nearly 13,000 residents claiming Ethiopian ancestry, three times as many as in 2000. Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria have the region's second- and third-largest Ethiopian populations.


Ethiopian nightlife in Silver Spring. Photo by Reemberto Rodriguez.

Today, there are two "Little Ethiopias." One sits in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and reaches into far northwest DC. Another is in Alexandria and extends west towards the Skyline area of Fairfax County.

Both areas are home to several thousand people of Ethiopian descent. Ethiopians make up 29% of one Census tract next to downtown Silver Spring, while one census tract in Alexandria, consisting of a large apartment complex called Southern Towers, is 40% Ethiopian.

The most Ethiopian places

The most prominent sign of the region's "Little Ethiopias" is food. Downtown Silver Spring has dozens of Ethiopian eateries, and with those numbers come specialization: there are white-tablecloth places, sports bars, an "Ethiopian Chipotle," and of course, many different coffee shops. Meanwhile, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain visited an Ethiopian market in Skyline on the DC episode of his show No Reservations.


Montgomery County's annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring. Photo by Alan Bowser on Flickr.

These communities are also gathering and economic hubs not only for Ethiopians, but the wider African diaspora living in the DC area. Silver Spring is home to I/O Spaces, a coworking space geared to the African community. Montgomery County, which hosts an annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring, is also the first jurisdiction in the nation to name September African Heritage Month.

Will "Little Ethiopia" continue to move farther out?

Why did Little Ethiopia, like so many other immigrant enclaves in the DC area, leave the District? Gentrification and displacement may be one cause. Though it's also likely that people moved to Maryland and Virginia for cheaper housing, better schools, or to be close to friends and family.

It'll be interesting to see if the region's Ethiopian population continue to move further out. There are already large concentrations of Ethiopians extending far from both Little Ethiopias: the one in Silver Spring stretches north towards Burtonsville, while the one in Alexandria continues south along I-95 towards Lorton.

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Transit


The seven keys to a great bus rapid transit system

Montgomery County is looking at a new bus rapid transit system. How can we make it great? We looked at examples of successful BRT systems around the country.


Photo by Wolfram Burner on Flickr.

Montgomery County's unanimously-approved Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan calls for a bus rapid transit (BRT) system, also called RTS, that can serve as an alternative to driving and begin to manage the county's unsustainable traffic problems. Planning for routes along Route 355, Veirs Mill Road, and US 29 are now in "Phase 1," meaning the county is moving forward with their respective studies and designs.

County Executive Ike Leggett is still deciding how to fund the overall system. Leggett's decision will affect key components of the network, from the features it will have to when it will get built. There are more than 30 bus rapid transit systems currently running across the US and Canada-- many since the early 2000s-- and a lot of them have far exceeded expectations.

Below are seven characteristics of great BRT systems from around the country. To ensure a successful BRT system for Montgomery County, Leggett's plan should allow the county follow their leads.

1. Give buses their own lanes. Keeping BRT buses from getting stuck in traffic makes trips far quicker and more reliable. It also prevents people driving from getting stuck behind buses stopping for riders, which can make traffic flow more smoothly. This can be done without widening roads and with minimal impact to traffic by restriping or repurposing lanes. Hartford, CT's CTfastrak runs on fully dedicated lanes and just celebrated its millionth passenger since it began operations earlier this spring. Also, York, Ontario's Viva, Eugene, OR's EmX, Fort Collins, CO's MAX, all have dedicated lanes for BRT buses, among many others. Some cities are even in the process of extending their dedicated lanes.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

2. Run buses very frequently. When buses arrive every few minutes, riders know that no matter when they get to the station, they don't have to wait long to hop on the bus. Los Angeles' Orange Line, Boston's Silver Line, and Pittsburgh's East Busway all run buses every 4 minutes during rush hours.

3. Have traffic signals factor in buses. In some places, a system called Traffic Signal Priority (TSP) coordinates traffic signals to accommodate bus routes by slightly lengthening green lights or shortening red lights, and with minimal to no impact to drivers. Los Angeles attributes nearly a third of the time its MetroRapid system saves to TSP.

4. Make boarding quick. Boarding time represents as much as 20% of bus travel time. Level boarding at stations, like Metro has, reduces boarding time for those in wheelchairs, with strollers, or with bicycles. If riders pay fares at stations, boarding is a much faster process. In London, England, off-board fare payment and all-door boarding has reduced boarding time by 75%.


Photo by Chris on Flickr.

5. Make getting to bus stops safe and easy. Safe, accessible pathways, including wide sidewalks and protected bike lanes on both sides of the street are absolutely necessary for people walking and biking to access stations. Los Angeles' Orange Line has a mixed-use path that runs parallel to the BRT for its entire 18 miles, which allows riders who live or work in-between stations to walk or bike to the BRT station safely and easily.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

6. Give bus systems a cool brand. Unique branding can distinguish the BRT--along withall its new features-- from existing transit options and draw in new riders. In 2005, the year the Viva system in Ontario, Canada's York region opened, 83% of non-riders interviewed recognized Viva. Ridership along those corridors increased by more than 56% in Viva's first year.


Photo by Sean_Marshall on Flickr.

7. Use big buses with extra features. Buses can look and feel more like a light rail train than an ordinary bus. Articulated vehicles with three doors have more space for passengers. Many systems, including Fort Collins, CO's MAX, offer free Wi-Fi on their vehicles so riders can work, study, or read while traveling. Wi-Fi on board is among the things Montgomery County students and staff want.

This could all come to Montgomery

Since late April, Montgomery County's Transit Task Force has met regularly to discuss all options for building, funding, and operating the BRT. In the next week or two, the group will release its draft report on its findings and hold a public forum on September 30 before handing the final report over to Leggett.

It's not often a place has the opportunity to transform its entire transportation network, as Montgomery County does now. If the county can take what works in other systems and listen to the residents who use its roads every day, whether by walking, biking, riding transit, or driving, it can create a transportation network that works for all of its residents now, 20, or even 50 years down the line.

A big part of Leggett's decision will be whether to fund the system with a single local source or a mix of local sources, or to set it up to depend on mostly dried-up state and federal funding. A dedicated funding source can ensure a well-designed BRT with all of the key features that make it rapid and reliable and distinguish it from all other transportation options.

While creative solutions can be made to fit the BRT onto existing roads and to prevent cost overruns, cutting the features that make BRT great would keep Montgomery County's system from achieving what it's setting out to do.

Last week, Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth released a report demonstrating the importance of these and many other features of BRT systems to aid Montgomery County's citizen task force members, elected officials and staff in their upcoming BRT deliberations.

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Transit


The MARC's Brunswick Line only goes one way in the AM and the other in the PM. It could do both.

Service on the MARC Brunswick Line only runs one way at a time: toward DC in the morning and away from DC in the afternoon and evening, on weekdays only. Some MARC riders think there is a simple way to make service between DC and Brunswick run both ways in the early and mid-afternoon.


Photo by Phil Hollenback on Flickr.

Currently, the Brunswick-bound train that leaves Union Station at 1:30 pm (P871) runs only on Fridays. And when the train returns from Brunswick to Union Station in mid-afternoon (as P884), it does so without picking up passengers. Running P871 every day and having P884 pick up passengers would provide meaningful two-way Brunswick Line service.

CSX constrains MARC's ability to add service

Since 2007, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has had the goal of all-day, two-way, and weekend Brunswick Line service. However, CSX, the freight railroad company that owns the tracks the Brunswick Line runs on, has said that MARC may not add trains on the Brunswick Line until Maryland begins to build a third track, which the state has not yet done.

At last week's MARC Riders Advisory Council meeting, riders (disclosure: I was one of them) talked to MTA officials about a way to get two-way service without adding trains to the schedule. The early-afternoon train to Brunswick (P871) and mid-afternoon return train to DC (P884) already exist; they just don't run every day. MARC need only restore daily service to one and passenger service to the other, and voilà: the first step toward full two-way service.

The Friday-only early-afternoon train could run every day

The early-afternoon train (P871) currently leaves Union Station on Fridays at 1:30 pm and arrives in Brunswick by 3:04. Before the MARC service cuts in 2009, this train ran every weekday. If you needed to come home early, that was the train you took. The number of riders on the train each day was low, but the proportion of MARC riders who used the train on occasion was high.

Almost seven years after the service cuts, the early-afternoon train is still running only on Fridays. Riders at the advisory council meeting wanted to know why. MTA has restored other service that was cut in 2009, like service on Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Also, because MTA kept the Friday service, the train already has a train slot, trainset (engine and passenger cars), and crew.

There could be passenger service toward DC in the afternoon

There was also talk at the advisory council meeting of service towards DC in the afternoons. The trainset and crew for the early-afternoon train to Brunswick return to DC as train P884, but P884 doesn't pick up passengers.

In the mid-1990s, there was a mid-afternoon train towards DC that picked up passengers. That train left Brunswick at 4:30 pm, with a scheduled arrival at Union Station at 5:30 pm, and flag stops along the way. Could MTA could restore this service as well?

One potential problem might be a delay in the return to Union Station. MARC uses the same trainset and crew for an evening train to Martinsburg, so a delay in P884's return would lead to a further delay for an outbound train. However, MTA could solve that problem by stopping the train only at Point of Rocks, Germantown, Rockville, and Silver Spring. This would add only a few minutes to the trip.

Discuss the Brunswick Line further at a meeting

There will be a public meeting about MARC Brunswick Line service and other transportation topics in the I-270 corridor, sponsored by state delegates from Montgomery and Frederick Counties, on Wednesday, September 9, at 7 pm, at the Upcounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. People from the Maryland Department of Transportation, including MTA, will be there.

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Development


Businesses no longer want office parks, and that can mean more revenue for cities

Businesses are making moves toward neighborhoods that are accessible by transit and easy to walk around in. For cities, it's a smart financial move to view the change in preference as one that's here to stay.


Pike + Rose. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

A recent story in the Washington Post covered a move by Merrill Lynch from a Montgomery County office park you can only get to by driving to the Metro-accessible Pike & Rose development on Rockville Pike. Though commercial lease terms are typically confidential, experts say Merrill Lynch chose to pay 40% higher rent for the new location, which is a five- to ten-minute walk to the White Flint Metro station.

This isn't an aberration. Just a few miles south of Merrill Lynch's office, Marriott is considering move its headquarters from a conventional office park in Bethesda to somewhere else in the region. The CEO told the Washington Post, "I think it's essential we be accessible to Metro and that limits the options."

This preference isn't just limited to two companies. A report in late 2013 found that 83% of the new office space under construction in the region is within a quarter-mile (a five-minute walk) of a Metro station. That is no coincidence.


Headquarters of Marriott International in a Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Local tax bases will shift

These trends are telling, and local leaders concerned about future budgets should take notice. Buildings like the one Merrill Lynch is moving into command higher rents and are more valuable to investors. And because cities and counties raise much of their revenue from real estate taxes levied ad valorem, meaning the tax is a percentage of the assessed value of the property, they mean more tax money.

Also, local governments often prefer office development to housing development since offices tend to pay more in local taxes than they use in services.

In Loudoun, for instance, the county claims that each new home costs the county $1.62 in added county services—schools, roads, sewers, etc.—for every extra dollar collected in taxes. Homebuilders say the cost is more like $1.20, but either way, each new house is a net cost to the county under its current tax structure. Communities with a healthy mix of commercial and residential development can provide excellent public services at manageable tax rates.

The moves of Merrill Lynch and Marriott as well as the Metro-proximity of new office space show the direction the office market is moving. If state and local governments want to attract and retain the offices of large Fortune 500 companies like Marriott and Merrill Lynch (a subsidiary of Bank of America), they need to plan for and support the types of mixed-use, walkable, transit-rich development companies seek and are willing to pay a premium for.

The future is already here

Fortunately, much of the infrastructure is already in place. The Washington region still has plenty of Metro stations that have not met their full development potential. Furthermore, the new development Metro spurs doesn't necessarily burden the existing infrastructure. In fact we found that car traffic in Arlington's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor declined while development boomed.

It's too early to tell whether leaders are fully aware of what it's going to take to attract commercial development. In good news, the Silver Line's expansion into Virginia has already sparked office construction in Tyson's Corner and the Wiehle-Reston East station, allowing the commonwealth and Fairfax County to expand and capture more economic activity.

Likewise, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan chose to continue the Purple Line, an investment that will improve mobility and will create more places in Maryland that attract taxpaying office tenants. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett successfully pressured the state to reconfigure Old Georgetown Road near White Flint as a narrower complete street, not the wide auto-sewer the state had suggested.

But the region has made its share of mistakes, too. The cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar with no credible plan for any transit improvements ensures that new economic development will largely bypass that section of Arlington.

Creating neighborhoods that give residents and workers practical options to walk, bike, ride transit, or drive will improve the quality of life and also helps the jurisdiction's bottom line. Leaders who want to continue providing high-quality public services to residents without raising tax rates need to attract commercial tenants who are willing to pay higher rents and thus generate more tax revenue.

Leaders have a choice with limited funds: they can use public money to build new arterial roads and fail to spur economic growth or they can invest in the harder, but rewarding, transformation of places like Tysons and White Flint into the nodes that spur the economic development patterns of the future.

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Transit


The Silver Spring Transit Center will open soon. Here's how everything fits together.

After years of delay and construction problems, the Silver Spring Transit Center will finally open next month, bringing together local and intercity buses, MARC commuter rail, and the Red and future Purple lines. To get travelers ready, Metro put together this diagram showing how it will work.


Image from WMATA. Click for full version.

Silver Spring is one of the region's biggest transit hubs, bringing together dozens of bus and train lines and serving 60,000 passengers each day. It'll become an even bigger destination when the Purple Line opens in 2021. First envisioned nearly twenty years ago (and several years behind schedule), the transit center (named for former senator Paul Sarbanes) provides a single place where all of those services meet.

The transit center will have three stories, each with its own entrance from the street. On the ground floor, with an entrance on Colesville Road, you'll be able to find Metrobus routes serving Maryland, some of Montgomery County's Ride On routes, MetroAccess, and a shuttle to the Food and Drug Administration's campus in White Oak. This is where the Red Line entrance will be, as well as some bike racks.

On the second floor, with an entrance on Ramsey Avenue, you'll find Metrobus routes serving the District, additional Ride On routes, and the University of Maryland shuttle, as well as intercity buses like Greyhound and Peter Pan. This floor connects to the MARC train platform and has an escalator down to the Metro entrance.

The third floor, entered from Bonifant Street, will have taxis and a kiss-and-ride. The transit center also has a TRIPS commuter store where you can get transit schedules and buy tickets. All three floors connect to a portion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which will eventually connect Silver Spring to Union Station.

Strangely enough, you won't be able to get MTA commuter buses at the transit center. They'll continue to stop a half-block away at Colesville Road and East-West Highway.

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