By

Public hearing on new sidewalk snow legislation

Please consider testifying on behalf of legislation that I have introduced, co-sponsored by Councilmember Berliner, to promote sidewalk snow removal.

The bill, 46-16, would establish a commercial-class fine for sidewalk snow removal. This fine would enable the County to levy a fine on commercial property owners up to $500 for not clearing snow (the $500 is a maximum, not a requirement).

While a $50 fine seems adequate for residential properties, it has very little, if any, deterrent effect on commercial property owners. The fine needs to be larger to enable code enforcers to more effectively deal with the problem actors, which are few but have a larger impact.

The Council is holding a public hearing on this bill at 1:30pm on Tuesday, November 29. Please testify. You can sign up online here (look for Bill 46-16).

I am pleased with our progress on sidewalk snow removal, which I addressed in legislation in 2014.

  • MCDOT inventoried all of the County sidewalks and identified which ones the County is responsible for clearing. This information is organized in a GIS layer which I expect (and have requested) will be released soon.
  • In all other cases, the property owner is responsible, as per the original legislation passed by Phil Andrews.
  • In 2015 MCDOT cleared over 50 miles of sidewalks focusing on high traffic pedestrian areas and bus stops.
  • This year MCDOT plans to clear over 320 miles of sidewalk.
  • Urban districts have significantly improved their response with better and more equipment and staff time devoted to removal.
  • In my experience, private property owners are acting with more care and diligence for sidewalk snow removal. County education efforts have made a big impact.

There is, however, more work to do, particularly when it comes to enforcement. Ensuring that the county responds to property owners who do not clear their sidewalks in a timely manner is an area where I think we still have work to do. This legislation will help.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

By

Development mitigation — schools and transportation

I would not be surprised if you missed news reports about the County Council’s rewrite of our development mitigation policy, called the Subdivision Staging Policy, or SSP.

We have spent several months working on the policy. Because I serve on both committees that deal with the SSP, I have worked particularly hard on it and I am happy that it reflects three key priorities that guided my decisions:

  1. simplicity and transparency
  2. a stricter policy to address school overcrowding, and
  3. ensuring new development invests in public transportation, walking, and biking in order to reduce the number of new cars on the road.

The Washington Post Editorial Board praised our new “smart growth” plan as a “thoughtful framework.” Following are some of the highlights that may be of greatest interest to you.

A transparent policy that people can understand: Perhaps the worst aspect of our existing policy was that very few people could understand it. A needlessly complex policy erodes accountability and discourages public participation. The new policy is much simpler and should be easier for residents and business interests to evaluate. In the future it will be much clearer – for developers, community members, and us managing the County’s budget – how much new development will be required to contribute for new infrastructure.

School-capacity development moratorium: The County Council significantly strengthened the moratorium policy to pause development where schools are overcrowded. The new policy will not allow residential development to move forward if any of the individual schools that serve that area are more than 20% over capacity, unless there is a funded project that will add sufficient capacity. Previously, we used a test that averaged all of the schools in a given high school cluster, so that, for example, if one elementary school was severely over capacity but other schools in the cluster were not, the moratorium would not be in effect.

School impact taxes: As a general rule, we charge an impact tax on new development that ensures that developers cannot free-ride on previous county investments in schools and transportation. I supported significantly raising the school impact tax rate to fully reflect MCPS’s one-time expenses for new students. This position was strongly supported by the Montgomery County PTA, and it was one of my top priorities.

Transportation impact taxes: Transportation impact taxes will now be set according to a geographical sliding scale, with higher rates for development that will generate more automobile traffic. New development that is farther from Metro requires more new infrastructure and will be charged more than new development near Metro, which is consistent with the smart growth principles that I support.

Multi-modal development mitigation: Our localized review process will now measure and require improvements for biking, transit and walking infrastructure — not just driving. In the past, development projects were only required to mitigate their impacts on automobile traffic. This policy was one of many in the county that create an unfortunate loop where people do not take advantage of other transportation options because we do not invest in other options. We need to break that cycle, and requiring new development to improve surrounding transportation infrastructure for all modes or options will help.

Comprehensive mobility plans for urban districts: Previously, new developments in our urban districts were required to research their auto traffic impacts and identify possible solutions. This approach often let developers off the hook or favored solutions that were easy rather than the solutions that were most desired by the community. Under the new policy, the county will take charge of modeling traffic impacts and devising a comprehensive plan for the Metro station districts, then charge each developer proportionately for their contribution to additional use of the networks. The plans will also address and require mitigation for all modes of transportation (public transportation, walking and biking), not just driving.

A final but crucial piece of policymaking in this area will be a new Transportation Demand Management Ordinance. I advocated that the County adopt such a policy and as a result a DOT work group is in the final stages of formulating a proposal for council consideration. A TDM Ordinance will require new development to reduce the number of drivers on the road by investing in and managing other transportation options. For example, building owners will work with their tenants’ employees or residents to increase use of public transportation, biking, or carpooling. The County Council will take up this plan in 2017 and I think it will become a crucial component of our transportation strategy.

The Subdivision Staging Policy, which might be better called the Development Mitigation Policy, is intended to be reviewed and updated every four years, although it can be amended at any time.

By

Advancing Vision Zero in Montgomery County

There were forty traffic deaths in Montgomery County in 2014, the last year for which we have complete data. That includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists and hundreds more are injured. While we have come to accept these tragedies as a fact of life, many crashes are preventable. In recent years, we have also seen a spike in pedestrian and bicycle deaths. As more people walk, bike, and use public transit to get around in our County, warning pedestrians and bicyclists to use crosswalks and wear reflective clothing is simply not enough. Education is a key component of any safety initiative, but we need to reengineer our built environment so that mistakes are not deadly – drivers and pedestrians are people, and people will always make mistakes.

To reorient County government around this paradigm, I joined with Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich to introduce a Council resolution to establish a Vision Zero program in Montgomery County, which passed unanimously in February. Vision Zero is a commitment to use data and all available tools to reduce traffic deaths to zero by a specific date. This commitment helps is a very useful tool to focus our conversation and resources, and similar programs have drastically reduced crashes and fatalities in numerous jurisdictions abroad. Over the last few years, Vision Zero has been widely adopted by American cities. When we passed the resolution, we hoped that an Executive Branch Task Force would produce a report and recommendations by October 1, 2016. The County Executive has embraced the initiative and the Task Force’s is proceeding.

While the Task Force completes its work, including setting a date by which our County aims to reach zero deaths, I continue to look for ways to make our streets safer. One of the clearest ways to improve safety is to lower travel speeds. One 2011 study showed that while the risk of serious injury is only 10% when a pedestrian is hit by a car going 16mph, it rises to 25% at 23mph and 50% at 31mph. While investigating a constituent request to improve safety on a neighborhood street, I found that state law does not allow the County to set speed limits on County roads lower than 25mph and that the “default” speed limit on any residential road that does not have a posted speed limit is 30mph. There are limited exceptions that allow lower speeds, for example in school zones. For many residential streets, this is already far too fast. That floor also limits the ability of Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation to design new roads more safely or add traffic calming to existing roads that would reduce speeds lower than 25mph, since DOT’s criteria for whether traffic calming features are warranted (for example speed bumps) are based on the speed limit of the road.

I worked with District 20 Delegate David Moon to develop state legislation to address these issues, and Del. Moon has introduced three bills that would give Montgomery County more flexibility to lower speeds on our neighborhood streets. All of these bills would be authorizing only; the County would still have to act in order for any changes to go into effect. Our hope is that, if the State grants us this flexibility, the Vision Zero task force can consider and recommend appropriate changes to County policy that might result in lower speed limits, in addition to giving DOT the ability to make changes in individual situations.

MC 22-17: Default Unposted Speed Limit in Montgomery County

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Korman

This enabling legislation authorizes Montgomery County to lower the “default” speed limit on residential and business district roads that do not have a posted speed limit. The current default speed limit on these roads is 30mph. This bill would authorize the County to lower that limit as low as 20mph. Passage of this law would not implement a speed limit change; the county would still have to act.

MC 23-17: Lowest Posted Speed Limit Allowable in Montgomery County

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Korman

This enabling legislation authorizes Montgomery County to lower the speed limits on certain County roads to 15mph. The current floor is 25mph, with certain exceptions. Passage of this law would not implement a speed limit change, as the county would still have to take action and in most instances perform a traffic study before making the change. This change may be desirable in urban pedestrian zones or other areas with pedestrian safety issues, especially when engineering changes for pedestrian safety would accompany the lower speed limit.

MC 24-17: Speed Limit on Walk to School Routes

Introduced by Delegates Moon and Luedtke

This bill eliminates the requirement that Montgomery County conduct a traffic study before lowering speed limits on county roads within a walking radius of Montgomery County Public Schools and allows speed limits as low as 15mph. This change would allow MoCo’s “Safe Routes to School” program to more quickly implement engineering changes to improve safe pedestrian and bike access to public schools.

Make your voice heard

The Montgomery County Delegation will be holding Public Hearings for these (and all other) local bills on the evenings of Monday, December 5th and Wednesday, December 7th at the Council Office Building in Rockville. Sign up to testify here.

By

Update on the White Flint Separated Bikeway Network

About a year ago, following on some great conversations at the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit, I asked the Planning Department to design a network of protected bike lanes in White Flint and one in Silver Spring. Thanks to strong support from Councilmember Berliner and the rest of the Council, the great work of DOT and the engagement of the advocacy community, a segment of that network in White Flint is now operational on Nebel Street. This week, I joined the County Executive, the Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and bicycle advocates to officially open the Nebel St. protected bike lane in White Flint.

With the leadership of the County Executive and my colleagues on the County Council as well as the steadfast support of the bicycle advocacy community, we are starting to make this vision a reality. Let’s keep our foot on the (bike) pedal.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Nebel St. Bike Lane

Alongside the Woodglen protected bike lane constructed in 2014—the first of its kind in a suburban county, nationwide—the Nebel St. protected bike lane will form the core of a robust network planned for White Flint. The County has near-future plans for protected bike lanes on Marinelli Rd. and Hoya/Towne St., conventional and protected bike lanes on portions of Old Georgetown Rd., and shared use paths on Executive Blvd. and Main St. Protected bike lanes are also contemplated on Nicholson Ln. and Edson Ln in the mid-term future.

When completed, the White Flint network will knit together the activity centers and residential areas with low-stress, safe connections. Please see the map below to get a rough sense of what the entire network will look like.

Current Status of White Flint Separated Bike Lane Network

Map of White Flint Separated Bike Lane Network

That these lanes will be protected, meaning there is a physical barrier between the bike lane and motorists, is incredibly important. The latest research tells us that there are many people who would like to ride their bike to work, to shop, or to exercise, but they are too fearful to do so. This sizeable group of riders, often called “interested, but concerned riders,” will ride their bike for many trips if provided a safe and efficient bike network. Biking does not have to just be for those brave enough to ride in traffic lanes, it can be an option for everyone if we build the right protective infrastructure.

Just as importantly, the protected bike lane network goes a long way in fulfilling the vision of a more bikeable, walkable, and transit-oriented community as outlined in the master plan. These improvements contribute to a Pike District with more economic activity, a cleaner environment, and a better sense of community. Transforming the Pike District is no doubt an enormous undertaking, but these improvements demonstrate the County’s resolve in making it happen.

Fortunately, the progress does not stop in White Flint. The County is concurrently planning and building a similar network in Silver Spring. The Spring St. separated bike lane will be under construction as early as this fall or as late as early next Spring. There is much, much more to come.

Making biking safer for everyone and increasing ridership has been a strong focus of mine at the County Council. That starts with building networks of protected bike lanes in White Flint, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and throughout the County.

More resources