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The Council Connection – Council discusses plan to widen 270 and 495

As summer comes to a close and school resumes, the Council is back for regular session on Tuesday with a full agenda.

In the morning, the Council will discuss issues related to the Governor’s plans to add lane capacity to I-270 and I-495. Governor Hogan announced last fall his intent to form a public-private partnership to widen both highways and likely add toll lanes. The State Highway Administration (SHA) outlined 15 “cross sections” for their Request for Proposals, which you can view here.

We invited SHA to discuss this project with the Council, but they responded that they will not do that until they have “narrowed the options,” likely in December. As Council President, I felt that this issue was too important to sit on the sidelines, so we will have a public discussion with our own transportation policy team to better prepare for this challenging issue.

The Council has long been on record urging the State to advance options that align with County master plans. For I-270 that means an additional two reversible lanes (not four) on I-270, and only between I-370 and Frederick County. These lanes would be reversible HOV or high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes, with both lanes running southbound in the morning peak and northbound in the evening peak. South of I-370 we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since any additional widening would have a major impact on abutting homes.

On I-495, the County’s master plan calls for an additional two HOV or HOT lanes (not four), and only between the I-270 West Spur and Virginia, where the right-of-way is wide enough (300′) to accommodate two lanes. East of the I-270 Spur we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since the right-of-way is only about 200′ wide there; any added widening would have a major impact on homes, businesses and parks.

We look forward to reviewing this issue more closely.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Legal assistance for residents facing deportation

Following up on initiative developed by the Council in the FY19 budget, the County Executive has identified 3 nonprofit organizations that will receive funding to help residents who are facing deportation: AyudaHIAS and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Why is this important? Here is one example: You have heard about the family separation crisis caused by the Trump Administration. KIND works to help those children who are connected to our community, by providing legal assistance. Tuesday’s action will designate these three groups as eligible for the $370,000 funding initiative the Council adopted.

10 Year Water and Sewer Plan

The Council aims to wrap up work on the 10 Year Water and Sewer Plan with a straw vote on Tuesday and final action the following Tuesday. The plan sets the policy for how and where water/sewer extensions are allowed in the County.

Public Hearings on affordable housing bills

On Tuesday at 1:30pm, there will be public hearings on a zoning change (Zoning Text Amendment 18-06) that would help implement the recent changes the Council made to the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) law. The Council passed legislation increasing the MPDU requirement to 15% of new housing units in the most expensive parts of the County, and made a host of changes to modernize the law and make it more flexible. Additionally, a different ZTA would streamline approval processes for “accessory apartments,” which are small apartments that a homeowner might build inside of their home, over a garage, or in their yard.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President


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Proposal to Name New High School for Josiah Henson

I have joined with the First Lady of Montgomery County Catherine Leggett to send a letter to the President and Vice President of the Board of Education, Michael Durso and Shebra Evans, urging Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to name the high school that will open on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville for Reverend Josiah Henson. Reverend Josiah Henson lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle at Charles W. Woodward High School now stands. MCPS plans to renovate and re-open a high school at that location in 2022. Henson, whose autobiography helped to end slavery, is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, we invite the community to join us on August 10 at 7:00 p.m. for a special screening of the documentary film Josiah. Josiah, which is a 39-minute documentary, narrated by actor and activist Danny Glover, that traces Josiah Henson’s harrowing journey from slavery to freedom in Canada and his contributions to the historical forces that lead to the Civil War. The film screening will take place at AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Tickets to see the film are five dollars and are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office. Proceeds from this event will go to the Josiah Henson Special Park.

For more information about the film visit josiahhenson.com

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Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Durso and Ms. Evans,

We are writing to share an unusual opportunity and request your consideration relating to the naming of a high school. We propose that a new high school should be named for Reverend Josiah Henson.

Old Georgetown Road runs the same route today that it ran 200 years ago, when Josiah Henson was enslaved on the Isaac Riley Plantation. The Riley Plantation or Farm was a large property where now you will find homes in the Luxmanor neighborhood and office buildings on Executive Boulevard. A small park with an old farm house stands on part of the plantation grounds and is now owned and operated by MNCPPC as Josiah Henson Special Park. It features the slave-owning family’s house with attached log kitchen, and will soon feature a new visitor center and museum on Henson’s life and slavery in Maryland.

Across Old Georgetown Road from the farm’s boundary today sits Tilden Middle School, formerly Charles W. Woodward High School. Inside of the Farm’s 1863 boundary sits the Tilden Center as well as Luxmanor Elementary School.

In 2022, the Tilden Middle building will reopen as Woodward High School. The middle school will move to the Tilden Center and open in 2019. The new high school is presumed to be named for Montgomery County Judge Charles W. Woodward, as it was previously.

The High School instead should be named for Josiah Henson, one of the most consequential figures to live in Montgomery County and a man who walked the very ground where these schools sit today.

A reverend, Josiah Henson escaped to freedom and wrote an autobiography in 1849 of his incredible accomplishments, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Josiah Henson inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her book, the top selling novel of that century, contributed significantly to mobilizing public opinion against slavery, leading President Lincoln to call her, “the little lady who started this big war.”

Josiah Henson, by struggling for freedom and writing his story, which provided the inspiration for Stowe’s novel, played a crucial and very specific role in the story of how our country finally ended slavery. Reverend Henson has never received the recognition that he deserves. He is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

Henson was also an educator. After escaping to freedom, he founded a trade school in Dawn, Canada — the first trade school in Canada, which helped his community of formerly enslaved people to thrive.

Josiah Henson’s work managing the business of the Riley farm or plantation included taking goods to market in Georgetown on Old Georgetown Road. As a result, he walked the ground in this area for many years, where both school properties, as well as Luxmanor ES, sit today. In Henson’s time, the farm was more than twice the size of what it was in 1863; the 1863 boundary, which we have in property records, is shown in the attached map.

Naming a high school in his honor would serve to pay tribute to his achievements, reminding our community of our unique history and the role of African American leaders in our County since its earliest days. It will give our residents and children some ownership of the fight for freedom that Josiah Henson embodies. It will help portray our County in its true light.

To raise awareness about the idea of naming the schools for Reverend Henson, we invite you to join us along with a number of community leaders to see a remarkable new film about his life, Josiah, at the AFI Silver, on August 10th, at 7pm. The films corresponds with a new biography about Henson’s life by Jared Brock, called The Road to Dawn.

Thank you for your consideration!

Riley Plantation Map

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Expanding pre-K for low income children in Montgomery County

Here are Hans Riemer’s prepared remarks from the release of the Office of Legislative Oversight’s Report Pre K in Montgomery County and Other Jurisdictions:

Our recent joint HHS/ED committee meeting on prekindergarten, where we discussed our new OLO report, was incredibly informative. From that conversation and others, it seems to me that we now have key people across County government – my fellow Councilmembers, Superintendent Smith, our early childhood leaders at HHS – that are committed to champion an expansion of quality pre-k.

While middle class families struggle to pay for quality early care and education, their children generally do receive it. The story for low income families is different. According to research in our new strategic plan, seven out of ten of our children who qualify for free and reduced meals are not ready for kindergarten. This is because the average cost of one year of quality pre-k in Montgomery County is $13,595. That’s an access issue to our families who just don’t have the resources. The inability of these families to provide quality pre-k for their children is why the research shows such a positive impact of early education investments for low income students.

During our committee conversation, I requested OLO to provide information about how we could expand pre-k programs in an incremental or staged manner. My staff has been researching this topic and, with the benefit of OLO’s response, I believe a path forward is clear: expand existing Head Start and pre-k programs from a half day to a full day. This is the best first step the County Council can take to provide early education for our most disadvantaged children.

Currently we provide half day pre-k to over 2,800 children. There are proven benefits to full-day pre-k for 4 year olds. Taking these programs to full-day is an important step. It could be implemented through a combination of approaches: if the school has room to expand the program, then it will be school based; if the school-based program does not have room to expand, then we can contract with private providers.

There is widespread academic research to support investing in enhanced early education for 4 year olds. The reasoning is simple on its face: children who begin learning one year earlier receive an additional year of education. Without quality early education, many of the lowest income children will enter kindergarten far behind their peers; they will struggle ever to catch up and many will not catch up. Pre-k for low-income 4 year olds helps put these children on a more even footing, which pays enormous dividends over time. The OLO research documents the incredible impact that pre-k can have and how it allows a school system to use its funds more efficiently later by reducing remedial or intervention expenses for these children during their subsequent years of education.

An investment of $20 million would enable us to provide full-day pre-k to ALL children eligible for free and reduced meals. This is achievable by, for example, investing $5 million per year over four years. The payback for our educational goals would be enormous. An investment plan of this nature would not require additional revenue sources or breaking the charter limit.

I urge my colleagues to consider the importance of pre-k for low income families as we begin to formulate our goals for this year’s County budget.

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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.