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Council Suggests Strategies to Improve Pedestrian Safety Along State Highways in Letter to Maryland State Highway Administration

ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 3, 2018— Council President Hans Riemer sent a letter on Nov. 30 to Greg Slater, administrator for the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), to suggest a number of strategies that should be pursued to improve pedestrian safety on state roads. The letter follows up on the Nov. 13 Council meeting with SHA, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Department of Transportation and others. The following is the text from the letter, which is also attached:

On November 13 the County Council had a wide-ranging conversation with you regarding both general and specific strategies for improving traffic and pedestrian safety along State highways in Montgomery County. I want to summarize for you the general strategies we wish the State Highway Administration to pursue going forward:

  • Reduce the lane widths to 10 feet in all our urban areas (11 feet if adjacent to a parking lane or a curb), consistent with the direction in the County’s Road Construction Code. This is the standard that has been applied to County roads since the Council updated the Road Code in 2014. It was developed after significant engineering review by our Planning Board and Department of Transportation staffs; the 10-foot-width standard was deemed sufficient to accommodate trucks and buses. The state roads in urban areas should adhere to the same standard. The County has formally adopted about 25 urban areas where this standard applies (see the attached map).
  • Set the speed limit on all state roads in urban areas to 25 mph unless a different target speed is specified in a local master plan. This, too, was a provision in the 2014 Road Code update. Target speeds in our suburban areas are not specified in law, but many of our most recent master plans do set them, and they are often lower than the current posted speed limits. As we noted in our earlier letter, the speed limit on Georgia Avenue (MD 97) in Aspen Hill should be reduced from the current 45 mph posting.
  • Audit the location and access to both transit bus and school bus stops on state highways to identify where stops and crosswalks should be relocated or installed, and where improved lighting is needed.
  • Identify where the next set of full pedestrian signals and HAWK signals will be implemented, and to develop the warrants for these types of signals.
  • Incorporate officially designated Safe Routes to Schools in the prioritization for pedestrian safety improvements.
  • Reconfigure state roadways where we have identified bikeways—especially protected bike lanes in the Bicycle Master Plan we adopted on November 27.
  • Reduce the time to analyze proposed pedestrian safety improvements as well as the time to install them once a decision is made to implement them.

The above initiatives should apply to all state highways; we would like to also proceed as we have discussed to work through a set of changes for Georgia Avenue specifically.

As promised at the November 13 worksession, I am attaching a set of individual locations along State highways of immediate concern to Councilmembers. I request that your staff evaluate each of them and report back with an action plan.

We look forward to a continuing partnership with SHA in achieving the Vision Zero goal in the foreseeable future. These steps will hasten us on that path.

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Council Making Strides on Pre-K

On November 1, 2018, I had the opportunity to join Superintendent Jack Smith, his early education team, and members of the Board of Education for the grand opening of the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center. You can read the news coverage highlighting that event here.

Grand Opening of Regional Pre K Facility

This is the first “regional pre-k facility” implemented by MCPS. It is a big step forward in the ongoing efforts by MCPS and the County Council to fund pre-k for low-income 4 year olds. There are about 100 slots for eligible children at the Center. There are also about 175 children enrolled in a pre-k program run by the Arc of Montgomery County at that same location, with about 1/3 of those children having special needs.

Three years ago, I co-authored legislation with Councilmember Nancy Navarro requiring the County to pass a Childcare Strategic Plan and create a Child Care Policy Officer. I did not get everything I wanted in that bill, such as creating an Office of Child Care independent from our County’s HHS, but the compromise bill that I passed with the support of Councilmember Navarro was a clear a step forward. The County then proceeded to hire a Child Care Policy Officer and to draft the Child Care Strategic Plan, which engaged the educator, parent, and provider community.

One of the recommendations from the plan was to focus on expanding part-day Head Start and pre-k programs to full day, and then to expand programs for low-income children in pre-k. For me, that recommendation was a light-bulb as it provided a real path forward to expand pre-k programs. Up to that point, all of the talk about universal pre-k seemed to go nowhere as a result of an overwhelming price tag. As opposed to needing $100 million or more to create “universal” pre-k, we identified that we could provide a classroom seat for all low income four year olds in the County for about $35 million. In this case low-income is defined as up to 300% of the Federal Poverty Level (which is, for example, about $78,000 in annual income for a family of 3).

Based on the plan, two years ago I recommended to my colleagues on the Council that we add $5 million in the 2017 (FY18) budget to move towards the goal. Because many councilmembers care about this issue, we were successful in securing $2.5 million to fund full day Head Start and pre-k through MCPS, and to add $2.5 million to child care subsidies. As a result we created hundreds of slots for low income children.

Following on that success, with early education clearly identified as a priority for the MCPS Board of Education and our visionary superintendent Jack Smith, this year, in my Council President’s budget (FY19), MCPS requested $2.5 million in additional resources for pre-k expansions. The Council did a little better, funding not only that request but an additional $800,000 for more children to be eligible, thanks in particular to support from the Council’s Education Committee chairman Craig Rice.

As a result of these steps, there are now 700 more children enrolled in full day Head Start and pre-k programs through MCPS than there were 2 years ago. We are more than $5 million towards the goal of covering low income children. Perhaps even more importantly, we have finally taken ownership of the issue and we are marshalling resources to address the need, step by step. This is what some call “universal incrementalism,” which means having a vision for a universal service but also identifying how to get there one step at a time and actually taking those steps rather than talking about it.

Child care subsidies are also expanding. This year I have highlighted the need for our subsidies to cover a sufficient cost of care such that low income families can actually afford to participate. That has been an issue because with our existing subsidy structure, many families would be required to pay as much as a third or even a half of their income for child care — even with a subsidy. That is not tenable for low income families and as a result they remain without high quality care.

The exciting news is that this year, the state legislature passed a law authored by Senator Nancy King (D39), significantly raising state child care subsidy payments into the County. We are eagerly awaiting news about how those funds will become available.

These are crucial investments because, unfortunately, only about half of all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and only about 25% of low-income children are ready to learn. The achievement gap opens up at the youngest age. In fact, as Jack Smith explained to me when we talked at this event, there is a physical process or impact on a young child’s brain from exposure to language. Neural pathways are created by the brain as words are heard and repeated. Not unlike a network of roads through the brain paved by words. Children that are not sufficiently exposed to words and language at a young age, which is a problem from child care that is not up to standards, will not have that physical conditioning and that is one reason they enter kindergarten behind. Quality pre-k programs can help them catch up.

Located at 10611 Tenbrook Dr., Silver Spring, MD and fully enrolled, it is our hope that the MacDonald Knolls Early Childhood Center will serve as a model for future childhood centers. This landmark achievement is a testament to the Council’s commitment that every child should start kindergarten ready to learn and prepared for a bright future in our public educational system.

For a recent and thorough review of this issue, please read our Council Staff Report.

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People Want and Need To Walk. Let’s Make It Safe.

The last several months have been very busy as the Council navigates complex issues surrounding pedestrian safety in our neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we have had an increase of pedestrian crashes. For example, on Georgia Avenue, there have been three pedestrians deaths and a major accident where a driver hit and injured four high school students who were waiting for their school bus to arrive. I recently wrote about these issues and what we can do to address our state highway challenges.

To bring the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) together to implement solutions, the Council recently wrote Governor Larry Hogan.

SHA administrator Greg Slater responded quickly and met with us. Together, we were able to outline several steps that we could take to address pedestrian collisions, including reducing speed limits, reducing the width of travel lanes to 10 feet and installing flashing beacons in dimly lit intersections. SHA also plans to improve the crosswalks at several intersections along Georgia Avenue, including the intersection with Heathfield Road and the intersection with May Street, which are both in Aspen Hill.

Government is taking overdue action in part because our residents are stepping up their advocacy. For example, a new coalition of civic associations, businesses and individuals called No More Dead Pedestrians has formed to advocate for continued implementation of Vision Zero principles, targeting state highways in Wheaton, Glenmont and Aspen Hill. Bethesda Bike Now is advocating for safe bike/ped infrastructure in Bethesda. The Coalition to Fix 198 is calling on SHA to fix much needed improvements in the Burtonsville area. The Dale Drive Safety Coalition is advocating for safe measures along a frequently used cut through road. And the Friends of Forest Glen and Montgomery Hills are advocating for a Georgia Ave makeover with an emphasis on bike, pedestrian safety and smart growth in the area. Some of the leaders from these groups are also involved with the County’s Pedestrian, Bicycle, Traffic Safety Advisory Committee.

With your help and with coordination with state and local governments, we will work together towards making walking safer for everyone.

#NoMoreDeadPeds

#FixGeorgiaAve

#VisionZero

#Fix198

#DaleDriveSafety

#FriendsofFGMH