Inclusion | Opportunity | Innovation

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.

I-270 expansion and transit to Tysons/Dulles

Dear resident,

The Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Pete Rahn, is coming to talk with the Council on Tuesday about plans to expand I-270 and I-495. We have a lot to discuss.

Thousands of Montgomery County residents commute to jobs in the Tysons / Dulles corridor and vise versa, and our local economies are intertwined. To promote a more reliable connection, the Council has long supported adding HOV lanes on I-270 across the bridge to Virginia.

But a cars-only project is wrong for the environment and social equity, and won’t do enough to enhance mobility in the region. We need high quality transit connections to the Tysons / Dulles corridor.

The good news is that there’s a way to do that in the context of the I-270 plan. A solution is for the state to build bus-only ramps onto new managed lanes (toll/HOV/bus lanes) and operate a high-quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

We must hold firm against taking any homes or businesses in an expansion and the County firmly opposes any effort to expand the Beltway beyond the existing right-of-way. But we absolutely support the opportunity to add an important transit connection to NoVa.

With dedicated ramps and lanes, BRT vehicles could bypass other traffic, quickly enter and exit the highway, and provide a rapid commute from major destinations in Montgomery County such as Clarksburg, Gaithersburg, Rockville, and North Bethesda.

This new idea is gaining support. Last week Transportation Committee Chair Tom Hucker joined me to organize a letter to Secretary Rahn, signed by the full Council and County Executive Marc Elrich, that details many problems with the State’s approach and outlines our alternative vision.

We do not want to become a bedroom community to Northern Virginia. We need to build our own economic base so that our residents do not have to commute outside of the County for good jobs.

At the same time, in a regional economy, we need a high-quality transit connection from Montgomery County to the job centers in Northern Virginia. While Metro takes one hour and 15 minutes from Shady Grove to Tysons, a BRT trip could take just 30.

In addition to new BRT ramps on I-270, the letter calls for more service on the MARC Brunswick Line. MARC will be a better connection for many residents to the Amazon tech economy in Crystal City, if we can invest and get MARC trains running through to National Landing.

There is also an interesting new idea for a monorail in the I-270 corridor, which we should study, along with extending Metro’s Red Line.

All of this should be essential to the corridor expansion plan. But Hogan and Rahn are arguing that they don’t need to make any new transit investments now. That’s just wrong. Fortunately, our County’s state elected officials are raising strong criticisms of the plans.

We are also concerned that the State doesn’t intend to keep their promise to stick to existing rights of way on the Beltway from I-270 to Silver Spring. There, the right of way is frequently only 200 feet. Widening could require taking land in Rock Creek Park, homes, or businesses. That is unworkable and frankly unthinkable.

We have a better way forward, and the Governor should work collaboratively with State and County officials to get it done.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

RideOn adds new service from Clarksburg to Germantown MARC Station at Councilmember Riemer’s request

Council allocated $90,000 in this year’s budget to fund the service, which Clarksburg residents requested

ROCKVILLE, Md., January 8, 2019—Montgomery County RideOn began new service from Clarksburg to the Germantown MARC Station on January 6. RideOn Route 75 will now provide service to the Germantown MARC Station during peak periods. At the request of Councilmember Hans Riemer (At-Large), the Council added almost $90,000 in the fiscal year 2019 operating budget to fund the new service.

“Last year Clarksburg residents approached me asking for a reinstatement of bus service to the Germantown MARC Station,” said Councilmember Riemer, who is chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee and a member of the Transportation and Environment Committee. “Previous service had regrettably been ended due to low ridership, which itself was a product of suboptimal alignment with the MARC schedule. Bus service from this part of Clarksburg to Germantown MARC Station is critically important because there is not nearly enough parking at the station.

“Working with these residents, my colleagues on the Council, and RideOn, we were able to fund and design changes to an existing route that will better connect these residents to the MARC system. I am committed to providing reliable and efficient transit options for all residents, from making incremental improvements to RideOn and supporting WMATA to forging ahead on Bus Rapid Transit.”

RideOn Route 75 now makes stops at the Germantown MARC Station from the Germantown Transit Center via Germantown Road (MD 118) during rush hours. It also provides new service along Sycamore Farm Drive and Seneca Meadows Parkway. View the new route and timetable.

The Council Connection — transportation and parks budgets

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council’s meeting this week was productive. We took up a number of substantial items, including changes to the County’s stormwater program and legislation that makes it easier for seniors who have lived in their homes for 40 years to get a property tax credit. You can view the Council’s full agenda here. More information about the senior property tax credit is here.

Now, I’d like to continue our exploration of this year’s budget, reviewing transportation and parks.

Budget Update: Transportation
Transportation funding was a high priority for the Council in this year’s budget. The Council funded the Department of Transportation’s budget at more than $217 million. This includes funding for items like road maintenance, leaf collection, Ride On and the parking lot districts. Despite the challenging fiscal climate, the Council was able to make the following important additions to the County’s transportation budget:

  • New pilot bus service on Route 52 between Glenmont Metro Station and Rockville. This new service will use microbuses to broaden the service area.
  • New bus service between several points in Clarksburg and the Germantown MARC station starting in January 2019
  • $100,000 to restore signal timing optimization to help keep traffic moving
  • Creation of a Vision Zero Coordinator position within the County Executive’s Office
  • Addition of $2 million for residential resurfacing in FY20
  • New funding to design and build pedestrian underpasses at the White Flint and Forest Glen Metro Stations
  • $2.8 million in additional funding to accelerate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects in the Wheaton, Veirs Mill, Takoma-Langley, Long Branch and Piney Branch Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA)

Budget Update: Parks
The Council funded $153.6 million for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Included in this amount is more than $107 million to maintain the County’s park system, which includes 419 parks and more than 36,800 acres of land. The Council added $200,000 to create urban parks through placemaking and $343,995 to provide service for new and expanded parks across the County. Some of the high priorities have been trails, including natural surface trails, and athletic fields.

  • Added $2 million for Parks to increase their stream protection efforts
  • Increased funding by $750K to support the renovation of school ballfields
  • $1.5 million in funding to support Vision Zero improvements Trail – Road intersections
  • Kept the Hillandale Local Park renovation on schedule to be completed in FY22

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President