Budget Part 3: Transportation and Climate

Dear Resident:

The latest report from the U.N. panel on climate change delivered a stark warning, but also a pragmatic path forward. We need to act, now, at all levels of government and society to reduce and eventually eliminate our emissions.

The task ahead of us is enormous, but it is achievable. We know what we need to do, and we have all the tools we need. One of those tools is to generate much more clean energy. We need to electrify our buildings and make them more efficient. We need to transition the transportation sector to electric and invest heavily in transit, biking, and walking.

Fortunately, doing these things needn’t mean living with less and paying more for it. Done smartly and deliberately, greening our homes and vehicles presents enormous upside for jobs and economic growth as we invest in new technologies and upgrading buildings, appliances, and machinery. As President Biden has said, “When I think about climate change, I think about jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation ready to be fired up.”

It is in that spirit that I approached this year’s budget. I am happy to report that we took major steps forward this year as a result of initiatives that I championed.

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What is Thrive 2050?

Dear Resident:

By now you may have seen email traffic on your local listserv about Thrive Montgomery 2050. Perhaps some of it is alarming.

I’d like to provide some context and clarification for your consideration. I support moving forward with Thrive because I believe we need to be more creative and think differently about housing.

So, what is Thrive anyway?

Thrive is a guide for our community planning process. It is a policy document that is at the “vision and strategy” level.

You’re already living with the policy vision embodied in Thrive. That’s because what Thrive does is update a 1950s “general plan” with the modern planning principles that we have been using for years now.

If you like the changes in development that we are making on Rockville Pike — you can see them in action at Pike & Rose — then you’re valuing the kinds of ideas that Thrive articulates.

So while broadly Thrive is already in use, there are a few important shifts that Thrive also calls for. They don’t happen directly as a result of Thrive, but Planners and the Council will have guidance to consider them in the future.

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Thrive 2050: planning for our future

Dear residents,

In the coming months, the Council is expected to finalize a vision document to guide the future growth of our community.

It is called “Thrive Montgomery 2050” and you may have heard something about it.

It is not a rezoning nor does it allow anyone to do anything with their property that they cannot do already. Instead, it is a broad vision with objectives and strategies that can be implemented with future community-driven plans.

Some opponents, including the County Executive, are calling on the Council to stop working on this initiative, despite the fact that it has been underway for nearly two years and we have received public testimony and input from hundreds of residents.

While I don’t support delay, I certainly think we can improve on the draft that we received and I am reading through the feedback I am receiving.

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Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

MEMORANDUM

To: Council President Hucker and Councilmember Glass
From: Hans Riemer
Date: April 22, 2021
Re: Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

When the Transportation and Environment Committee takes up the RideOn operating and capital budgets on April 30, I request your thoughtful consideration of the following two proposals I will offer at the worksession.

First, I propose that we include funding in the FY23 Ride On Bus Fleet (P500821) to purchase an additional 10 electric buses instead of diesel buses. Importantly, these new electric buses would be earmarked for the mid and upcounty and stationed at the Gaithersburg Depot. To that end, I ask that the Department of General Services and RideOn begin work to build out charging and electrical capacity at the Gaithersburg Depot. Based on cost estimates provided by MCDOT, the fiscal impact would be approximately $3,860,000.

Combined with a proposed microgrid and other electrical upgrades at the Brookeville Depot, the County Executive recently proposed a schedule of 50 new electric buses over the next 4 years. These are smart investments, but they are geographically-bounded to the down county. My proposal would bring the benefits of electric buses to our mid and upcounty residents.

Second, I’d like to propose that we make RideOn and Metrobus free 24/7 for seniors and people with disabilities. Notwithstanding the current—and temporary—pause on all fare collection for RideOn, seniors and people with disabilities would normally ride free on RideOn and MetroBus Monday-Friday, between the hours of 9am – 3pm, Saturday, between the hours of 8:30am – 4pm, and half fares the rest of the time. Building on previous Council actions to make the bus access more equitable and affordable, I believe now is the time to make RideOn and Metrobus free for our residents most in need. MCDOT has estimated that this targeted expansion would require an additional $949,720 in funding for FY22: $705,620 in RideOn revenue loss and $244,100 in WMATA reimbursement.

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Why I voted “no”

When I introduced the “farm + solar” zoning change with Council President Tom Hucker back in January 2020, my goal was to build a cornerstone of Montgomery County’s climate action policy.

By allowing less than 2% of the land in the County zoned “Agricultural Reserve” (which is itself one-third of all land in the County) to be used for privately funded community solar projects, the proposal would have generated enough clean energy to power more than 50,000 homes, while continuing agricultural practices on that land.

Regrettably, with opposition fueled by the County Executive, a majority of Councilmembers adopted two amendments to ZTA 20-01 that are so restrictive that the proposal may result in very little if any solar.

As a result, I voted “no,” because I am concerned that rather than a small step forward for Montgomery County, it may be a large step backward for Maryland. Consider these words from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which along with the Sierra Club and Poolesville Green strongly supported the original plan:

Clean energy has to go somewhere. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway.

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