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Community Meeting on Bicycling in Bethesda – Nov. 1

ROCKVILLE, Md., October 25, 2017—Montgomery County Council Vice President Hans Riemer and Council President Roger Berliner, the County Planning Department, the County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) will host a community meeting on Wednesday, November 1 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. to discuss bicycling issues in and around Bethesda. The meeting will be held at the Jane E. Lawton Community Center, which is located at 4301 Willow Lane in Chevy Chase, MD 20815. RSVP Here »

County officials will update the community on alternate routes to the Georgetown Branch Trail and the latest plans for a low-stress bicycle infrastructure in and around Bethesda. Officials will be available to answer questions from the public.

The County Council recently adopted a bold new vision for Downtown Bethesda that includes many transformational changes to the area’s bicycle infrastructure. The plan supports the development of “low-stress bike networks” that are safer for bicyclists of all ages and skill levels as well as a new development mitigation policy that requires developer payments for all modes of transportation, including biking. In addition, the nearly complete Bicycle Master Plan will be making recommendations on bicycle infrastructure, routes, and parking in Bethesda.

The County also is working closely with stakeholders to identify alternate bicycle connections between Silver Spring and Bethesda in the wake of the closure of the Georgetown Branch Trail for the construction of the Purple Line. The County invites residents to learn more about these opportunities and challenges and to share their perspectives at the meeting.

“I am committed to creating the safest environment for cyclists of all ages and all skill levels,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “With the recent closure of the Capital Crescent Trail, this is an important time for a community discussion about the future of biking infrastructure in the affected areas. The changes recommended in the Bethesda Sector Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan, and the ongoing discussions about alternative routes to the Georgetown Branch Trail all are pushing the County in the right direction. But we need to get it right. That is why I am looking forward to hearing from the public, as the County considers ways to make bicycling a real option for more residents.”

Council President Berliner explained that, “When the Council passed the Downtown Bethesda Plan, we did so with the aim of creating a truly walkable and bikeable community – one that embraces a multimodal approach that encourages people to get out of their cars, reducing congestion and our carbon footprint. The closure of the Georgetown Branch Trail to allow for construction of the Purple Line and the completion of the Capital Crescent Trail has made it clear that we need the bike infrastructure recommended in the Downtown Bethesda Plan more than ever. I look forward to hearing from the County Department of Transportation, the County Planning Department, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the community on November 1 as to how we can make our bicycle network the best it can be.”

To RSVP for this community meeting, visit:
http://councilmemberriemer.com/bethesda-bike-meeting

To read more about the Downtown Bethesda Plan, visit:
http://councilmemberriemer.com/2017/08/a-bold-new-vision-for-bethesda.html

To see the Bicycle Master Plan, visit:
http://montgomeryplanning.org/planning/functional-planning/bicycle-master-plan/

For futher information or questions, please contact Tommy Heyboer at the Office of Council Vice President Riemer, at 240-777-7948 or Tommy.Heyboer@montgomerycountymd.gov , or Aaron Kraut in the Office of Council President Berliner, at 240-777-7962 or Aaron.Kraut@montgomerycountymd.gov .

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A bold new vision for Bethesda

For decades, suburban communities like Montgomery County reaped the gains from choices made by executives to locate their companies outside of cities. But times have changed. Now, many entrepreneurs and workers want access to an urban lifestyle. Communities that cannot provide it are losing ground.

The good news: Montgomery County can compete in this new environment. Our beautiful neighborhoods and great schools and parks are still powerful assets. But we need to boost our urban areas for this new economy.

With this purpose in mind, I set to work on the Bethesda Downtown Plan, which we just completed. Here are some of the highlights:

New people, new life in Bethesda. The plan adds 4 million square feet of new development in the downtown area and raises heights for most buildings by 20%, reaching as high as 290 feet in certain locations. More people living in the downtown will mean better restaurants, retail and entertainment options for everyone — and the vibrancy that we enjoy will attract workers and companies to locate here.

A higher standard for affordable housing. Montgomery County continues to lead on affordable housing as the Bethesda Plan raises the requirement for new development to set aside 15% of all units for the county’s affordable housing program. Formerly the standard was 12.5% of units; I made the motion to raise that to 15% in Westbard and made sure it continued forward in Bethesda, another community that lacks affordable housing. With 4 million more square feet of development at a 15% MPDU mandate, the plan is aggressive on affordable housing.

Walkability and bikeability. New standards to promote walkability will mean more investment in safe crossings and bigger sidewalks. Continuing my efforts to champion bike lanes that are protected from traffic, the new Bethesda plan has a comprehensive new vision for biking. Thanks to a new development mitigation policy that requires developer payments for all modes of transportation including biking, we will have more resources to build this infrastructure.

Turning parking lots into parks. To be great, a downtown must have great parks and civic gathering spaces. Recognizing that Bethesda lacks them, I worked with the community and colleagues to champion a vision to turn existing surface parking lots into energetic urban parks. Where parking is still needed, we will have to put it underground. That’s expensive, but with a new park impact payment for new development, we also will have some of the resources needed to build them.

Transportation management. The Plan calls for aggressive use of another policy I have worked hard to advance: Transportation Demand Management. For a location like Bethesda, expanding auto capacity is not realistic or desirable, but growth in traffic can be reduced if we work aggressively with employers to promote public transportation, carpooling, walking and biking. The plan calls for the county to moving 50% of all trips to Bethesda to non-auto modes. We will soon get a concrete plan to achieve that.

Building community consensus. Thanks to careful attention to building heights and school capacity, the plan passed by the County Council had substantial community support while promoting strong policy goals. While surely not everyone is pleased, by working closely and inclusively with residents we achieved more than we could have otherwise.

Energy efficiency and great architecture. The new plan includes a groundbreaking requirement for energy efficiency in new buildings — one of the most important steps a local government can take to combat climate change. It also includes a new approach to sparking better architecture, something that has been lacking in the county generally.

I have no doubt that our progress on a new Bethesda is why Marriott’s leaders decided to move their company to one of Montgomery County’s urban centers, rather than DC or NoVA. And while there is good news to share, we have a lot of work ahead of us to build on our momentum.

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Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan

The County Council recently approved a dynamic new master plan for the Bethesda Downtown – one that clearly defines goals for the future and seeks to create options for accomplishing those goals. This vision for the future was the result of a two year planning process, including a major community outreach effort led by the Planning Department at MNCPPC, then continued through the Council public hearings, bus and walking tours, meetings with property owners, residents and advocacy groups, lengthy PHED Committee worksessions, Council deliberations and, finally, County Council approval.

This was no simple debate about building heights and architectural styles, as some news accounts may have implied. The complexities of planning for a future one cannot accurately predict but hopes to influence anyway are enormous. Our work is not yet done. The plan relies on the completion and approval of other fairly sophisticated legislative and policy elements such as:

  • The Bethesda Overlay Zone which will, among other things, define the point system available to developers who must earn their way to the maximum zoning height by providing priority elements such as affordable housing, dedicated parkland or monetary contributions for public benefits;
  • Development of a Unified Transportation Mobility Plan for Downtown Bethesda (to replace the Local Area Traffic Review) which identifies all costs associated with transportation facilities (including roads, sidewalks, bikeways, transit) needed to support the development potential prescribed in the master plan; and, to formulate a pro rata share to be charged each developer at time of development; and,
  • Development and adoption of a Countywide Transportation Demand Management Ordinance to replace the individual Transportation Management Agreements DOT currently negotiates for any development plan that cannot meet APFO standards without using measures to reduce traffic generated by their use.

These supportive components are being developed by DOT and County Council staff and will be brought to the County Council within the year. They are the linchpins on which the Downtown Plan hinges; and, these will be in place by the time any new development plans based on the new Downtown Master Plan are reviewed and approved.

I am proud to have worked diligently with the community, the planners and all others involved in this effort to find and fix potential challenges to implementing the Plan; and, I have great confidence that the ambitious goals defined in the Bethesda Downtown Master Plan will be completely achievable.

Here are the goals:

  • Preserve, create and expand housing opportunities to meet a growing population of diverse ages, household size, income level, and unit types;
  • Transform the urban district to provide safe bike routes and a better pedestrian environment
  • Change the transportation policy focus to include all modes, like walking, biking, and public transportation, that reflect the healthier, smarter, more environmentally sensitive preferences of our community; over time this will be our best approach to reducing the growth of traffic
  • Transform county-owned surface parking lots into urban parks and recreation spaces. Exchange concrete for plants and fresh air by converting surface parking lots into parks and concentrating parking under and in buildings in appropriate locations to meet the essential needs of both residents and businesses.
  • Improve collaboration and cooperation between MCPS and the County agencies involved in planning and development to ensure schools that are adequate and efficient and meet our standards of excellence in education for ALL students.
  • Identify, create or generate new ways to finance those elements of the master plan without dedicated sources of funding to ensure implementation of the priority goals defined in the plan. This point is particularly important for our plan to turn parking lots into parks; without a new source of funding, existing county budgets can provide only a small fraction of the money that is needed to bring the ambitious and transformative vision to reality.

Thank you for participating in this process. I am pleased that we got a much better Bethesda Downtown Plan as a result of the community’s effective engagement.

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Daily journal, 10-25-11

Today’s council session featured a presentation by the new Montgomery
County Business Development Corporation. This group of CEO level execs
are working to make recommendations for how we can create more jobs
here. I observed that according to our most recent economic report we
have fewer private sector jobs in the county than we did 10 years ago.
We need to get moving on building new economic development tools and
creating the infrastructure to grow our economy, particularly
transportation.

Then this evening I joined my colleague Roger Berliner, chair of the
transportation committee, at a committee session in Bethesda about the
escalator problems and the proposal for a new entrance to the Bethesda
Metro. We heard a range of suggestions for how we can improve access
there and manage the crisis when the escalators all go out of
operation. WMATA said that current plans are for replacement of the
escalators to begin in January of 2014. We will look into what it
would take to accelerate that timeline.

The picture is my view at the Bethesda Metro hearing. The gentleman in
front on the right side is Art Holmes, Director of the county
department of transportation.