Posts about Silver Spring
While repair work continues on the Silver Spring Transit Center, the entire block around it remains roped off. On Friday morning, big signs appeared asking to turn the space into a temporary park.
Six black-and-white posters hang from the fences around the transit center on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue, reading "Move the fence? Let's use this space." They sport photos of different activities that could happen there, like outdoor movie screenings, musical performances, and festivals. In the bottom-right corner is the hashtag #DTSS, meant for people to respond on social media.
Two Silver Spring residents placed the signs early Friday morning. They asked not to be identified to keep the focus on the message, not the act itself. "The Montgomery County election has just happened; people have gotten reelected," they said. "This is an issue a lot of people ran their campaigns on, but not a lot has happened."
They added, "We wanted to do this to bring back the bigger discussion…which is: what is the future of the transit center? What are the short-term uses of the site?"
Montgomery County broke ground on the transit center in 2008, which was supposed to tie together local and regional bus routes, the Red and future Purple lines, and MARC commuter rail. Work stopped in 2011 after workers discovered serious structural defects within the $120 million complex.
After some disagreement between the county and builder Foulger-Pratt about who was responsible and how to fix the building, repairs began in June. County officials say the transit center could open next year.
The transit center in 2012. Today, the space around it is covered in grass. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Recognizing that the fence is necessary because the transit center is still an active construction site, the sign-hangers say they hope WMATA, who owns the land, would be willing to move it away from the sidewalk. "We talk about Silver Spring being this urban, vibrant place, but our biggest asset, our front door, is horrible," they said. "What is a chain-link fence for us to be presenting to the region when we're trying to attract people to live here, to work here?"
Moving the fence even 20 feet away from the sidewalk, they argue, could still keep people out of danger while creating space for aesthetic improvements or other activities. "This can significantly improve the experience of people who use the transit center," they say. "You could add some trees and planter boxes, so you could move them easily."
This isn't the first time community members have discussed the land around the transit center. Earlier this year, Councilmember Hans Riemer and former Planning Board chair Gus Bauman proposed turning it into a park.
The sign-hangers say that's not their goal. "It's a prime development site, not a future long-term open space site," they say. "But we can enjoy it while it's here, and help inform what happens here in the future."
So far, the two signs immediately outside the Metro station have been taken down, but the other signs on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue remain.
While car2go is mostly limited to the District, more and more users live in surrounding areas, and often leave their cars at the edges of the city. One resident of an adjacent DC neighborhood warned car2go drivers to stay away in this note:
Reader Roya Bauman found this handwritten note on a car2go in Shepherd Park, a DC neighborhood that borders Silver Spring. It reads:
This street is NOT a garage for these ugly little cars! Be more considerate. Do not park in front of a private home. It is rude and a breach of residential etiquette. We do not care what the owners of this car company tell you. You Silver Spring transients are ruining our neighborhood.Car2go users can can park the vehicles anywhere within the "home area," which includes all of the District (except the National Mall) and two small areas outside of DC, at Tysons Corner Center and National Harbor. As a result, many people who live in neighborhoods just across the District line, like Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and Mount Rainier, often park their cars in DC and walk home.
Map showing car2go vehicles lined up along Eastern Avenue between DC and Silver Spring. Screenshot from the author's phone.
It's not illegal to park in front of someone else's home, but whether it's "rude" varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In denser parts of the region, where the number of residents exceeds the available parking spaces, cars belonging to other people might constantly occupy the curb in front of one's own home. In low-density areas such as Shepherd Park, on the other hand, many people have come to expect that except for the occasional party, only their own family and visitors will park in front of their own houses.
Residential parking regulations stop residents of Silver Spring and similar border communities from parking private cars for long periods near the border, but car2go creates a new legal use that doesn't fit into the established etiquette as residents of those neighborhoods see it.
The ideal solution would be for car2go to expand its home area to include these surrounding communities. Company representatives have previously said they're planning to expand into Arlington and Alexandria. Expanding to closer-in parts of Maryland as well would allow car2go users to leave the cars in their own neighborhoods, and maybe even in front of their own houses. That's something that neighbors on both sides of Eastern (and Western and Southern) Avenue could agree on.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail, which runs along the Red Line's eastern segment, still has a number of large gaps. The largest stretches from the Fort Totten trash transfer station to the Maryland line. DC officials recently announced they are moving ahead with preliminary engineering and design to close this gap.
WABA made an infographic showing the trail's progress:
According to WABA's post, officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) told the Bicycle Advisory Council that the firms RK&K and Toole Design are now working on the project. It will get the trail segment to the 30% design stage; after that, more as-yet-unscheduled work will be necessary to get the design to 100% and ultimately build the trail section.
There are also other gaps in Silver Spring and in Brookland. A bridge to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station is under construction now, and in NoMa, DDOT is adding short cycletrack segments to get riders all the way to Union Station.
Montgomery County's limited options for paying for parking, besides using piles of quarters, shrank some more yesterday, as the county announced it will not longer support popular Parking Meter Cash Keys.
Photo by the author.
These keys allow drivers to load and store value on the key at a county parking office. When parking, the driver can insert the key into the meter, which will then deduct money every 15 minutes at short-term meters and 3 hours at long-term meters. There is no charge other than a refundable deposit for the keys.
Many people use the cash keys instead of having to carry about $5.50 in quarters to park for a full day. But Tuesday morning, the county's Division of Parking Management announced in a press release that the program will be discontinued. The keys will continue working in meters, but people will not be able to get new keys or add value to existing keys after Monday.
County spokesperson Esther Bowring stated that she does not have information about how many cash keys are in circulation, but estimated the number to be in the tens of thousands.
Bowring said the sudden discontinuation came because of a software glitch that the manufacturer of the cash keys (Duncan Technologies) was not willing or able to fix. As a result, the county is transitioning to a new contractor for all of its payment-related services.
Other alternatives to quarters are limited
The county's press release touts a "Smart Meter Debit Card" as a replacement for the cash keys, but these smart meters are only available in Bethesda. That means that the only non-coin option in the Silver Spring and Wheaton garages is a monthly "Parking Convenience Sticker" (PCS) that costs $113-$123 per month. This is not a valid option for residents that mostly use transit, but may need to drive occasionally.
New meters that accept credit and debit cards will be on street in Silver Spring "later this year," according to the press release. It does not mention whether the credit card meters will also go inside the garages.
Cell phone payment is available in some garages, but not all. That's because enforcement officers were not able to get a reliable wireless signal in underground garages, preventing them from verifying whether someone has parked with pay-by-phone or just has an expired meter.
When the county rolled out pay by phone, to great fanfare in 2011 and 2012, I tried to park in a Silver Spring garage, but noticed the sticker denoting the space was missing. A parking services manager on the phone blamed this on homeless people vandalizing the meters (which seemed odd for a garage that was 3 stories below ground level.) But the "Go Park Now" (Now "MobileNow") application did not recognize the number, meaning that, in fact, the county had not programmed it to work with those meters.
Officials could extend cell phone service inside the garages with "PicoCells" or "Network Extenders." Residential versions are available from the mobile phone companies for approximately $250, and act as miniature cell towers that connect to a land line.
According to Bowring, county officials did examine this option, but initially ruled it out as each floor of each garage would need a separate unit for each mobile carrier. But now that the meter keys are not an option, she said that the county will revisit the possibility.
Though units suitable for garages plus maintenance will cost more than the $250 a resident would have to pay, it would be worthwhile for the county to spend some of its parking revenue to make the phone-based payment system work while Silver Spring residents wait for their transit center, Purple Line, Metropolitan Branch Trail, Bus Rapid Transit, longer VanGo hours or other long-promised alternatives to driving.
For years, the ground-floor shops at the Guardian Building in downtown Silver Spring have sat empty. To lure new tenants, the building's owner brought the space to life with fake storefronts.
The Arkin family has owned this six-story office building, located at Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street, for decades. But as owner Michael Arkin's health declined and he wasn't able to keep the building up, many of the retail tenants moved away, retired, or passed away. After a stroke a few years ago, his sons took over management of the building. "We had our work cut out for us," said son Devin Arkin, who grew up in Silver Spring but now lives in Chicago.
The sons renovated the building and commissioned an sculpture for the lobby of 1950s-era hardware they found in the basement. But they weren't sure what to do with its nearly 7,400 square feet of empty retail space until they read about towns in Northern Ireland who disguised their empty shops with murals depicting open, lively businesses.
Arkin's advertising firm Huckleberry Pie crafted scenes of busy stores, like a men's wear store and a bakery, and fitted them over the empty windows. Workers toil away behind the counter as ducks and chickens peer out from door frames. Discrete "For Lease" and "Build to Suit" signs appear between images of food and goods.
Cameron Street is a few blocks away from the shops and restaurants along Ellsworth Drive, and as a result there isn't a lot of foot traffic. The Guardian Building isn't alone in having an empty first floor. The Cameron, an apartment building across the street, lost one of its two ground floor tenants, an outpatient surgery center. And two blocks away at Cameron and Spring streets, there are ground floor spaces at United Therapeutics' new headquarters that have been vacant for nearly four years.
If all of the storefronts on Cameron Street were filled, it might actually become a compelling destination that could draw shoppers and diners from other parts of downtown Silver Spring. But since most of them are empty, nobody wants to be the first to take the risk. (Other than Jimmy John's sandwich shop in the first floor of the Cameron, which as a chain can draw customers on name recognition alone.)
Hopefully, the Guardian Building can buck the trend. Its fake storefronts may not convince anyone, but it does look better than it did before. Hopefully, they'll catch the eye of potential tenants soon. According to this marketing brochure, the space is still vacant.
As plans crystallize for a north-south streetcar in DC, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like:
- How will the line snake through the center of the city?
- Will it reach Silver Spring?
- Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
- Is there any money to actually build anything?
How will the line snake through the center of the city?
DDOT's latest report focuses on four potential alternate routes, but project manager Jamie Henson says DDOT could still mix and match components of multiple alternates to create the final path.
North of Petworth, DDOT has settled on a Georgia Avenue streetcar alignment going at least as far north as Butternut Street.
The line could run south from Petworth down Sherman Avenue as far as Florida Avenue, or it could stay on Georgia. Georgia is wide enough for dedicated lanes and is lined with shops instead of houses, so it would probably attract more riders, but Sherman would offer a more stark contrast to the route 70 Metrobus.
South of Florida Avenue things get really interesting.
The route could stay on 7th Street through downtown DC, but that duplicates Metrorail's Green Line, and 7th Street isn't wide enough for dedicated lanes. Or it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it's a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere.
11th Street and 9th Street are intriguing possibilities. Infill and commercial development have lagged there relative to 14th Street. Would a streetcar bring a 14th Street-like boom? Meanwhile, both 11th and 9th are wide enough for dedicated lanes.
9th Street is already home to one of DC's only existing bus lanes. Though the bus lane is lightly used and poorly enforced, that might make 9th a particularly easy place to add streetcar lanes.
To traverse the National Mall, the line could either turn onto F Street through downtown and then use 7th Street to go south, or it could turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue and then use 4th Street.
The F Street to 7th Street option seems to be a path of less resistance, could fit dedicated lanes, would be more central to the National Mall, and would directly serve The Wharf development at the Southwest waterfront. On the other hand, 4th Street would better serve the existing Southwest neighborhood.
Will it reach Silver Spring?
Silver Spring is a natural end point for this corridor. It's big, dense, and already one of the DC region's largest multimodal transit transfer points.
Around 4,000 DC-bound passengers board WMATA's route 70 Metrobus in Silver Spring every day, with still more boarding the parallel S-series routes. There's tremendous opportunity for the streetcar to reach more people and have a greater impact by ending in Silver Spring instead of DC.
But for that to happen, Maryland and Montgomery County have to step up with plans of their own. DDOT has neither authority to plan nor money to build outside the District's boundaries.
So for now, DDOT is keeping its options open. But eventually they'll need to make a decision. At this point, it's on Maryland to come to the table.
Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
Whether or not the streetcar will have dedicated lanes depends on two factors: Is there adequate width on the street, and is there enough political support to repurpose lanes from cars?
The first factor is easy. This chart shows potential street cross-sections, color-coded to match street segments along the route alternatives maps.
Streets color-coded as either purple or blue are wide enough to potentially fit dedicated lanes. Streets coded as green, yellow, or orange are not.
The political factor is harder. Depending on the location, providing dedicated streetcar lanes might mean eliminating or reducing on-street parking, pushing truck loading onto side streets, or any number of other trade-offs.
DDOT's ridership forecasts say shaving 5 minutes off streetcar travel time would boost ridership 11%. If true, that suggests thousands more people would ride a streetcar with dedicated lanes than without.
And of course, the inverse is true too: Without dedicated lanes, many riders who could be on the streetcar might instead opt to drive.
At public meetings last week, representatives from the Georgia Avenue business community voiced strong objections to dedicated lanes, fearing that loss of parking would hurt their stores. But if dedicated lanes add more streetcar riders to a block than they remove parking spaces, the reverse could very well be true.
Is there money to actually build anything?
Thanks to Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council cutting streetcar funding in the latest budget, the DC budget currently doesn't have any funding for this line.
The council could add more money in future budgets, or DDOT could seek alternate funding options like the federal New Starts program. But for now, this line is unfunded and there's not yet a clear plan to change that.
In the meantime, DDOT will continue to plan, with the next step being an environmental study. But all other details pale next to the overarching and unanswered question of how to fund whatever the studies recommend.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Skeptics of Montgomery County's proposal to put bus lanes on major roads fear it could make traffic worse. But a road closure on Route 29 to repair recent storm damage might offer a glimpse of our possible future.
Two weeks ago, a torrential rainstorm flooded Route 29, also known as Columbia Pike, on a bridge where it crosses Northwest Branch in Silver Spring. This isn't the first time the bridge has flooded, and soon after, Maryland State Highway Administration closed the heavily damaged right lanes from Southwood Avenue to Lockwood Drive. Last Monday, it began making repairs, which will last until the end of May.
Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan envisions a line on Route 29 between Burtonsville and Silver Spring, which is already one of the region's busiest transit corridors, with 40 buses an hour during rush hour. Along most of the corridor, buses would have their own lanes, though we don't know if they would be on the curb or in the median, or if there would be a a reversible lane or lanes in both directions.
In any case, creating bus lanes would mean closing a lane to cars, which some residents in nearby Four Corners are vehemently opposed to. Thanks to last month's storm, we now get to see what closing a lane on Route 29 to general traffic might be like.
I've driven and taken the bus through the affected area a few times, including in evening rush hour. And there is some congestion, especially where drivers have to merge from three lanes to two. But the real test is what happens after people adjust to the new traffic pattern.
Studies have shown that taking away street space, often predicted to cause traffic mayhem, can actually reduce congestion as people find alternate ways to get there. Since the closure began, I've experimented with different routes. I've taken the bus at times of day when I would normally drive because there would be less traffic. Meanwhile, the sidewalks are still open, and I've noticed more people walking or biking to and from Trader Joe's across the bridge.
That may not seem like a big deal, but it only takes a 5% reduction in traffic to cause a 10 to 30% increase in traffic speed, meaning only a few people have to change their behavior in order for everyone to have a faster trip. It also explains why major highway closures around the country, like Carmageddon in Los Angeles, didn't cause the traffic they were anticipated to.
Of course, this isn't a perfect trial. The buses still have to share the remaining two lanes of traffic with everyone else. Unlike other, larger highway closures, there isn't a campaign directing drivers to other routes or beefed-up transit service. And unlike a road washout, a bus lane will give drivers another travel alternative to choose from instead of simply taking away street space.
But if Route 29 travelers can handle losing a lane for a few weeks, when the bridge is repaired, we might be able to do another trial with an actual bus lane.
- The Metro plan has changed a lot since 1968
- Did Rush Plus depress Blue Line ridership?
- Shepherd Park neighbors tell car2go users to stay out
- Forget the Washington Monument; DC's tallest tower is actually in Ward 4
- Watch Metro grow from one short line in 1976 to the Silver Line today
- Montgomery and DC officials start talking about working together on transit
- Arlington's Court House parking lot will become a park