More Upcoming Events in May

The Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board will host a round-table meeting on bicycle and pedestrian safety on Monday, May 5th at 7:00 pm at the B-CC Regional Services Center.

The WMCCAB wants to learn more about citizen’s concerns surrounding bicycle and pedestrian safety issues through the Western Montgomery County areas. If you are interested in bike-pedestrian safety and want to discuss these issues with other concerned citizens and the board, please attend this round-table discussion.  All are welcomed to attend and participate in the meeting on Monday.

 

In addition, the Montgomery County Planning Department, National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, and the Urban Studies and Planning Program at University of Maryland will host Makeover Montgomery 2 | Moving Forward Montgomery: The Continuing Transformation of America’s Suburbs conference from May 8- 10, 2014. This conference is open to all individuals, planners, developers, business owners, and citizens. The registration fee is $35 for all.

The keynote address will take place on May 8th at the auditorium at the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD.

The breakout sessions will take place May 9th and May 10th at the Silver Spring Civic Building located at One Veterans Place in Silver Spring, MD.

According to the conference site,

The conference will focus on three primary tracks:

  • Transportation and TOD;
  • Creative Use of Public Assets and PPPs;
  • and, Current Planning Trends.

The agenda includes sessions on zoning, Transit Demand Management (TDM), public/private partnerships to develop park space, Transit-Oriented Development (TOM), parking in mixed-use developments, sustaining built environments, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), affordable housing and many more. Many of these topics will touch on issues and concerns related to the White Flint redevelopment and Sector Plan. There will also be some familiar faces participating in these sessions so if you attend the conference, look out for those involved in the White Flint redevelopment process.

“Road Diets” in NYC

As Mayor Bill De Blasio begins his role as Mayor of New York City, people are now examining all the changes the last mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, brought to the city.

Bloomberg and his staff succeeding in changing the built environment of New York City to better the safety and well-being of its residents. His team, including former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, were able to change the infrastructure of many roads and streets around the city to help pedestrians and bikers feel welcomed in their city. These changes, often called “road diets”, “shaved off excess space,” providing pedestrian-friendly spaces to once unsafe, car-centric streets. Branden Klayko provided before and after pictures of 25 areas throughout the city that show these road diets and pedestrian plazas.

Check out these amazing before and after pictures! The changes shown in these pictures are truly aspiring for us here in White Flint.

 

Why is the U.S. More Car-Dependent than Europe?

Car-centric travel was once the model every city, town, and country wanted to follow. In the height of motorization, the U.S. became the role model for the rest of the world for car production and travel. This gave room for other parts of the world to develop other strong modes of transportation. We began to see Europe focus their attention on a more balanced transportation system that encouraged pedestrian and bicycle friendly forms of transit much earlier than the U.S. Only recently has the U.S. and its policies focused on the need for complete streets.  Americans are extremely dependent on cars for transportation, but we are learning as time goes on why we need to focus transportation planning and funding on more infrastructures than roads for cars. But why did the U.S. become more car-dependent than Europe? What elements allowed the U.S. to develop this way? According to Ralph Buehler, there are 9 reasons why this trend happened.

  • Mass motorization– Mass motorization occurred earlier in the U.S. than other countries. In addition, Americans in general have “greater personal wealth” than Europeans, which allows households to purchase more cars more often.
  • Road standards– Related to mass motorization, the U.S. had to adapt its streets and roads to allow for cars to thrive in cities across the country. Infrastructures were created that would allow cars to succeed over any other means of transportation.
  • Vehicle taxes– Taxes on cars and gas are much higher in Europe than in U.S. Also in the U.S., parts of the gas tax are “earmarked” for road construction, which means certain programs or initiatives do not need to compete for funds. Europe does not function this way.
  • Interstate highway system– The highway system was created in the 1950s, allowing for suburban sprawl to explode across the country. As people spread out farther from cities, Americans became more dependent on cars to travel to services and amenities they need.
  • Government subsidies– Prices Americans pay for elements that allow us to drive (gas and tolls) only amount to “60 or 70 percent of roadway expenditures,” with the rest covered by other taxes they pay. In Europe, citizens pay more in taxes that are spent on road construction.
  • Technological focus– Americans focus more attention on “technological changes rather than altering behavior” to hinder the problems surrounding cars and car traffic. In Europe, actions are taken to change citizens’ behavior surrounding cars, such as creating “car free zones” or reducing speed limits in certain areas.
  • Public transportation– In general, the governments in Europe have supported public transportation for longer and with a higher monetary value than the U.S. government. The U.S. government often comes in too late to save a public transit system, allowing the system to slowly disappear.
  • Walking and Cycling– There are many European cities that have “implemented entire networks of bike lanes, separated cycle tracks, off-street bicycle paths, and traffic-calmed neighborhood streets.” The U.S. has only begun to incorporate these elements in redeveloping urban areas. The White Flint Sector has taken notice of this need to incorporate a walkable and bikeable street network or grid.
  • And finally, Zoning lawsRalph Buehler stated that the majority of European cities have a sustainable mixed-use land use planning that incorporates residential space with commercial and retail space. The U.S. has only begun to use this type of land-use planning. This is primarily due to zoning laws preventing commercial and retail spaces to exist in zoned residential areas.  Montgomery County is in the process of revising its own zoning code to bring this thinking into action.

The White Flint district faces many of these elements Buehler lists. With the sector plan, as well as the potential passing of the urban road code updates, we hope that we can start to shift the area’s reliance on cars as the main mode of transportation to a more walkable focus.

Safe Streets Act of 2014

On February 7th, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced the Safe Streets Act of 2014 (S. 2004) to the U.S. Senate, “which would require all new federally-funded transportation projects use a Complete Streets approach to planning, designing and building roads,” says Craig Chester.

The bill will create standards for federally funded streets and roads to ensure stronger road/traffic safety and more accessibility for all types of transportation, whether that be a car, bus, bike, or foot. A similar bill was first introduced to the United States House of Representatives in June 2013. Both of these bills “will ensure consistency in policies and funding needed to support these local efforts to ensure safe streets,” notes Chester. If these bills are passed, we hope that state and regional level governments will adopt more Complete Streets policies.  Already, we can see 610 jurisdictions in 48 states, as well as D.C taking action towards creating Complete Streets.

This concept has found its way here in Montgomery County too. Some of our County Councilmembers are taking action towards incorporating Complete Streets policies in our county with the introduction of the Bill 33-13: Urban Road Code Standards and Pedestrian Safety Improvements. Our roads, standards, and policies in the county need to encourage complete streets in order for any development project such as the White Flint Sector Plan to be successful in creating walkable and sustainable communities. This updated urban road code under the Bill 33-13 will be one step closer to creating streets and roads we really want and need throughout the county. The bill hopes to strengthen ADA, pedestrian, and bike language surrounding the county streets. As we mentioned last week, this bill might be adjusted by a multi-disciplinary workgroup that has convened to hash out some of its details. We’ll learn more this summer when it returns to the Council for approval.

Both the House and Senate bills are great steps for our nation to take. It is one step closer to  ensuring national infrastructure and support for walkable neighborhoods and communities to develop across the nation.  With these bills, we can see that our nation is moving forward in encouraging healthy and sustainable living in many different aspects our lives, including transportation. We hope that within Montgomery County and specifically, the White Flint district, that we can encourage and promote complete streets through the urban design and standards we will enforce as well.

Why Not Build More Roads?

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a local office of realtors with an update on White Flint redevelopment.  During our discussion of the multi-faceted way we are approaching the area’s traffic problems, someone asked “Why don’t we just build more roads?  I’m going to drive anyway.”  

There are many answers to this question including the fact that roads are much more highly subsidized than transit and, overall, more expensive to build.  And, because we will experience a disproportionate improvement in traffic when even a small number of people make different choices and get out of their cars, we can still drive when preferred.  But recently, there’s been another reason why building more roads isn’t the answer for the future.

Last month, Atlanta was paralyzed by two inches of snow because they did not have adequate infrastructure to accommodate the mass exodus of commuters.  It’s estimated that one million cars flooded the highways in a matter of hours that day – those drivers had no other options for reaching their destinations and no realistic amount of new roads would have held them.  Even without approaching the cost comparisons between building roads and building transit, there are logistical considerations that make this matter of choice critical.

Read more from POLITICO and CNN.

 

Should Road Safety Be A Community Health Issue?

In recent years, many health professionals and community planners started focusing their attention on the connections between the built environment and health, especially the issue of obesity.

Robert Steuteville, a writer for Better Cities & Towns’ blog, recently discussed a report focused on health and urbanism completed by Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT). Steuteville believes that this report is missing a major issue that we all face everyday that can affect everyone’s health: car crashes. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death for people ages 5-34. As car fatalities happen more often among younger populations, it makes this issue more serious. We can see that car accidents are affecting our health but as of now, “vehicle crashes are not fully addressed as a community health issue because all Americans have been facing this danger their entire lives.” With the more recent trend in community development of updating or in some cases creating biking and pedestrian infrastructure throughout suburbs and urban areas, the public needs to take a serious look at how they approach road safety, and perhaps start considering it as a community health issue.

Steuteville’s most relevant point in his post for us here in White Flint is the reason for the higher number of car accidents occurring in suburbs versus cities. Suburbs are often seen as safer than cities but when it comes to road safety, that is whole other story. Suburbs often havesprawling and disconnected street networks,” providing more chances for accidents to occur. Residents in the White Flint area can completely understand this point, which is why creating a connected street grid is so essential for the Sector Plan.

Health professionals and community developers focus much of their attention and money on the built environment, since the built environment can help reduce health costs. Roads, streets, and transportation infrastructure can help reduce health costs if they are designed to be productive and safe. This brings us back to the model of complete streets, which works to incorporate both road/traffic safety and issues of health such as obesity. We deserve to have streets we feel safe and secure traveling on whether that be by foot, bicycle, car, or bus. In addition, we should have spaces that encourage physical activity such as walking and bicycling. To have a holistic approach towards redevelopment, both of these issues need to be considered. So yes, road safety is a community health issue and should be treated like one too, just like obesity.

 

Is the Montgomery County CIP Budget Really Helping Pedestrians?

Recently, we have been discussing the County’s proposed Capital Improvement Program budget for 2015-2020. We know that the County has been emphasizing the need to invest in transit to bring redevelopment and growth here and we are thrilled by the robust inclusion of White Flint projects in the current version of the budget. Investing more in transportation is an important step in ensuring walkable and sustainable communities in White Flint and throughout the county, our mission here at Friends of White Flint.

If we want to maintain a pedestrian/cyclist-friendly approach to transportation throughout  Montgomery County with a focus on sustainable and walkable communities, we must ensure that our transit projects adhere to this approach too. If you read this blog often, you will recognize that this idea of creating streets that not only focus on cars but also the people that use them falls under the model of complete streets. We want to urge the County to invest in projects that include complete streets such as building a better and connected transit system that will also allow pedestrians and cyclists to travel safely and securely. Road projects are necessary for the county but we must remember that these projects need to include elements that will help pedestrians and cyclists too.

Portions of this new proposed budget, however, may not fully represent this attitude or even some of the transit needs of the county that many residents find important, such as pedestrian and cycling issues.  Some of the categorizing may not accurately reflect the projects contained within, as noted by Ben Ross in his recent Greater Greater Washington piece.  For example, some projects listed in the “pedestrian improvements” category include “road widenings around new schools”, which was “previously classified as road projects.” Widening roads around schools and highways may not be beneficial for pedestrians or cyclists, groups of people we cannot ignore when it comes to transportation. Instead of spending county funds on projects like these, the Council should focus on a “better transit and a street network that works well for pedestrians and cyclists, not just for drivers,” – like the ones proposed to improve White Flint’s street grid and infrastructures.

How can you urge the County to focus more attention on pedestrians and cyclists? There are lots of ways. Sign up to testify before the County Council at one of their hearings on February 5th (1:30pm or 7:00pm) or February 6th (7:00pm) by calling 240-777-7803. Or email your thoughts to the Council at County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov. Finally, members can email us to have your thoughts incorporated into our testimony on February 5th.

What is “Driving” New York and D.C. to have the Smallest Share of Cars?

In our effort to make White Flint a walkable community, we like to find examples of trends or models throughout the United States and globally from which we can learn. Recently, it seems many other urban areas around the United States are also noticing a trend in their communities, declining presence of cars as their main means of transportation.

In a recent article by Derek Thompson, of The Atlantic, Thompson states that New York City and D.C. have the top two “highest share of non-car households in America”, with Boston and Philadelphia close behind, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. These four cities have something in common: they are known for having relatively good public transportation, which allows residents to rely more on this than a car. But is this the real reason behind the decline in car-use? It is most definitely a factor but even more striking is the overwhelming presence of the millennial generation in these cities. Young, recent college graduates flock to these cities because of the amazing job opportunities and amenities available to them. As we mentioned in past posts, D.C. has become the “millennial capital” of US, something White Flint hopes to capitalize on with its new residences, retail stores and its proximity to public transportation. As groups of people flock to cities, these cities must provide infrastructure that can support them and allow them to thrive. That is why public transportation in cities like New York and D.C. must be effective, which in turn creates smart and productive places. When a city has an effective public transportation system, cars become “an expensive nice-to-have rather than a have-to-have.”

Though this trend may be true for our neighbors (D.C.), can urban areas around Montgomery County begin to see a decline in car-use too?   We certainly have many residents that would prefer option to get around beyond the car.  Our hope is that White Flint residents will not rely so heavily on cars as their means for travel. Many of their goods and services will be readily available to them in a walkable and safe community without the need for a car.

Updates from White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee January Meeting

Here are some updates from the White Flint Sector Plan Implementation Advisory Committee Meeting on January 13th:

The discussion started with a focus on Woodglen Drive and Executive Boulevard. Committee members are concerned with the issues surrounding the shared-use path on Woodglen Drive.  There has been some confusion after the county permitting department made what appears to be a mistake when dealing with Paladar Kitchen and Rum Bar.  Although the sidewalk on Woodglen Drive should have been kept at 8-feet wide to allow for pedestrians and bicyclists, the permitting department told Paladar that 6-feet wide was sufficient.  So, Paladar’s outdoor seating furniture was purchased to these specifications.  Many argue that 6-feet wide is not enough, especially considering obstacles like street signs that create pinch points already.  All parties are negotiating how best to proceed.  Also, we updated you yesterday on the improvements to Woodglen Drive, which will include a bike lane right where Paladar sets its Valet stand.  That will need to be addressed, as well.

The discussion then lead to an update from the County Executive’s White Flint Implementation Coordinator, Dee Metz. The Capital Improvement Budget (CIP) for 2014- 2015 year was discussed. This implementation meeting took place before the budget was released. Dee Metz told the committee that White Flint should expect to receive a significant amount of money from the county. Since this meeting, the budget was announced.  Take a look at this blog post to learn more about what aspects are part of the Capital Improvement Budget and how you can get involved in ensuring that all WF projects receives a fair share of funding from the county.

The focus then went towards discussing the MCPS Board of Education Letter to Chair of the Planning Board. Back in October, the MCPS Board of Education sent a letter to the Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. This letter was sent to the Chair to reaffirm the Board of Ed’s position on the locating the school site on the White Flint Park North site. The Board of Education is in favor of co-locating the elementary school with the White Flint Neighborhood Park at the White Flint Park North location. After this letter was sent to the Board of Ed, the Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association met and discussed the letter. Check out this past blog post to learn more about what was discussed at that meeting.  The issue is ongoing and we’ll keep you posted.

Francine Waters from Lerner Enterprises (and a member of the Friends of White Flint Board of Directors) discussed the organization, Communities for Transit. This is a private, non-profit organization in Montgomery County that focuses on educating and advocating for Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County. Communities for Transit has worked with FoWF and Coalition for Smarter Growth in the past. The organization recently created a video explaining what Rapid Transit will look like for Montgomery County. You can check out the video here.

The meeting ended with a note about the urban design and health. Nkosi Yearwood sent out two documents, Intersections of Health and Built Environment and 10 Principles for Building Healthy Places, that speak to the connections between the built environment of cities and the health of it’s residents. As the redevelopment in White Flint proceeds, it is important to understand how the urban design can impact the health of those in the area. We hope to provide a walkable, recreational, accessible community that will greatly improve the quality of life for our residents. It is important to remember why this redevelopment is happening and who this redevelopment is for.

The next Implementation Meeting is scheduled for 7pm on Monday, February 10th in the Multi-Purpose Room at Shriver Aquatic Center.