A Protected Bike Lane Loop for Bethesda

Provided the Council supports the funding, new protected bike lanes will soon be coming to downtown Bethesda. The County has unveiled a new plan to build a “low stress” bike loop in the downtown, running to the west on Woodmont Ave, to the south on Montgomery Lane/Montgomery Avenue, to the east on Pearl St./Maryland Ave, and to the north on Cheltenham Drive.

The loop will help provide safer connections to Metro, Capital Bikeshare, the interim Georgetown Branch Trail and future Capital Crescent Trail, the Bethesda Trolley Trail, nearby neighborhoods, local businesses, and many activity centers in Bethesda.

Construction could begin as early as Spring 2019.

Protected Bike Lane Loop in Bethesda

The loop is essentially an advance and initial implementation of the plan outlined by the Council in our new vision for Downtown Bethesda. Thanks to projects such as the Silver Spring and White Flint protected bike lane networks, the County has a growing expertise in building this infrastructure and now has the know-how to move quickly from concept to implementation.

The bigger vision we have is to make our roads safe for bicyclists of all ages and all skill levels. We know that more people will choose to ride their bike for trips to work, shopping, recreation, and transit if we provide “low stress” connections to their destinations. Indeed, this message was amplified by the public through hundreds of letters to the Council and their participation at community meetings, public hearings, and our Great Montgomery Bike Summits.

The closing of the Georgetown Branch Trail for Purple Line construction, however, brought great urgency to improving the safety for bicyclists in an around Bethesda. I heard from a number of residents including Anna Irwin,Tom and Barbora Bridle, Andrew Forsyth, and others, about the urgency of acting to improve biking in Bethesda, along with some specific requests to build protected bike lanes on Woodmont Ave among other streets. In response I organized a community meeting on November 1, 2017 where, joined in sponsorship by Councilmember Berliner, we discussed bicycling in and around Bethesda. With over 100 community members in attendance, MCDOT, MNCPPC, and WABA gave presentations and led a discussion on how to improve bicycling in the downtown. MCDOT presented a concept for a Bethesda loop built upon the master plan recommendations and their work on the interim route for the Georgetown Branch Trail. The concept was well-received by the community and bicycle advocate groups.

I followed up the meeting by writing a letter (pdf) with Councilmember Berliner to the County Executive requesting that he include funding for the loop in his recommended Capital Budget. The community followed up by raising a powerful voice. A new group, the Bethesda Bike Now Coalition, organized along with WABA to push for the infrastructure. They even did an awesome video that went viral. See below.

The County Executive agreed with us and included $3 million in new funding for the loop in Bethesda. While we must press on to keep the funding in the budget here at the Council, this is a great step forward, and I salute the County Executive for moving so quickly.

The residents, employees, and visitors of Bethesda will be well-served by building this bicycle loop, and we are all are eager to see tangible benefits from the master plan process.

Appointment to the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee

I am pleased to announce that Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commisison (FCC), has named me to the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee.

Please see the press release below:

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer appointed to FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee

Riemer looks to deepen work promoting competitive markets for high speed Internet

January 5, 2017

ROCKVILLE, Md., January 5, 2017—Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has named Montgomery County Council Vice President Hans Riemer to serve as one of two county officials nationally on the FCC Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC).

The IAC provides guidance, expertise and recommendations to the Commission on a range of telecommunication issues for which local, state and Tribal governments explicitly or inherently share responsibility or administration with the Commission. In the 2017-19 term, the IAC will be focused on the role state and local governments play in broadband deployment and adoption, wireless infrastructure deployment, Universal Service programs, consumer complaints processes and public safety issues.

“I am honored to serve on the FCC advisory committee, and I intend to use this role to advocate for a more competitive and robust marketplace for broadband deployment,” said Council Vice President Riemer. “Local governments have a positive role to play in broadband deployment, and I look forward to bringing Montgomery County’s experience to the Commission.”

Vice President Riemer was nominated to serve by the National Association of Counties (NACo). In his letter recommending that Vice President Riemer serve on the committee, Matthew Chase, the executive director of NACo, wrote: “His experience and background uniquely qualify him to serve on the IAC. He is currently a member of both the Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee, as well as the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, for Montgomery County, Maryland. Through his work on these committees, he is responsible for oversight and the development of Montgomery County’s information technology and telecommunications infrastructure.”

During his six years on the Council, Vice President Riemer has strengthened Montgomery County’s digital infrastructure. The County owns and manages FiberNet, which is a 650-mile fiber optic network that connects more than 500 community anchor institutions, including public schools, the community college, libraries, recreation centers, and government buildings. With an annual budget in excess of $8 million, FiberNet is a critical piece of the County’s ability to efficiently and effectively deliver services to residents.

Council Vice President Riemer has worked to strengthen the County’s investment in FiberNet by successfully funding a 24/7 carrier-class network operations center and putting forward a strategic plan to make the governance and funding of FiberNet more sustainable.

He also has championed the growing deployment of Chromebooks in the County’s public schools and public wifi in urban districts. In addition, he has been a major supporter of the County Government’s ultraMontgomery initiative, which utilizes FiberNet to promote economic development in the County’s strategic industries of life-science, bio-technology and cybersecurity. UltraMontgomery recently facilitated a direct fiber connection from Ashburn, Va., to Montgomery County, strengthening the capacity of the County’s data networks and data centers.

Vice President Riemer is currently working on policies that promote a more competitive market for broadband networks and services. These policies are “Dig Once,” “One Touch Make Ready” and “broadband-ready” building codes.

“Communities need local government officials to put planning for high-speed data networks on the same level as planning for transportation, power and water networks,” said Vice President Riemer. “It is an evolving policy area and I hope by serving on the Committee that I will be able to identify ways for the FCC to support the work of local government. I also look forward to providing a voice for local communities on 5G deployment, an issue with which our County is currently grappling.”

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Development mitigation — schools and transportation

I would not be surprised if you missed news reports about the County Council’s rewrite of our development mitigation policy, called the Subdivision Staging Policy, or SSP.

We have spent several months working on the policy. Because I serve on both committees that deal with the SSP, I have worked particularly hard on it and I am happy that it reflects three key priorities that guided my decisions:

  1. simplicity and transparency
  2. a stricter policy to address school overcrowding, and
  3. ensuring new development invests in public transportation, walking, and biking in order to reduce the number of new cars on the road.

The Washington Post Editorial Board praised our new “smart growth” plan as a “thoughtful framework.” Following are some of the highlights that may be of greatest interest to you.

A transparent policy that people can understand: Perhaps the worst aspect of our existing policy was that very few people could understand it. A needlessly complex policy erodes accountability and discourages public participation. The new policy is much simpler and should be easier for residents and business interests to evaluate. In the future it will be much clearer – for developers, community members, and us managing the County’s budget – how much new development will be required to contribute for new infrastructure.

School-capacity development moratorium: The County Council significantly strengthened the moratorium policy to pause development where schools are overcrowded. The new policy will not allow residential development to move forward if any of the individual schools that serve that area are more than 20% over capacity, unless there is a funded project that will add sufficient capacity. Previously, we used a test that averaged all of the schools in a given high school cluster, so that, for example, if one elementary school was severely over capacity but other schools in the cluster were not, the moratorium would not be in effect.

School impact taxes: As a general rule, we charge an impact tax on new development that ensures that developers cannot free-ride on previous county investments in schools and transportation. I supported significantly raising the school impact tax rate to fully reflect MCPS’s one-time expenses for new students. This position was strongly supported by the Montgomery County PTA, and it was one of my top priorities.

Transportation impact taxes: Transportation impact taxes will now be set according to a geographical sliding scale, with higher rates for development that will generate more automobile traffic. New development that is farther from Metro requires more new infrastructure and will be charged more than new development near Metro, which is consistent with the smart growth principles that I support.

Multi-modal development mitigation: Our localized review process will now measure and require improvements for biking, transit and walking infrastructure — not just driving. In the past, development projects were only required to mitigate their impacts on automobile traffic. This policy was one of many in the county that create an unfortunate loop where people do not take advantage of other transportation options because we do not invest in other options. We need to break that cycle, and requiring new development to improve surrounding transportation infrastructure for all modes or options will help.

Comprehensive mobility plans for urban districts: Previously, new developments in our urban districts were required to research their auto traffic impacts and identify possible solutions. This approach often let developers off the hook or favored solutions that were easy rather than the solutions that were most desired by the community. Under the new policy, the county will take charge of modeling traffic impacts and devising a comprehensive plan for the Metro station districts, then charge each developer proportionately for their contribution to additional use of the networks. The plans will also address and require mitigation for all modes of transportation (public transportation, walking and biking), not just driving.

A final but crucial piece of policymaking in this area will be a new Transportation Demand Management Ordinance. I advocated that the County adopt such a policy and as a result a DOT work group is in the final stages of formulating a proposal for council consideration. A TDM Ordinance will require new development to reduce the number of drivers on the road by investing in and managing other transportation options. For example, building owners will work with their tenants’ employees or residents to increase use of public transportation, biking, or carpooling. The County Council will take up this plan in 2017 and I think it will become a crucial component of our transportation strategy.

The Subdivision Staging Policy, which might be better called the Development Mitigation Policy, is intended to be reviewed and updated every four years, although it can be amended at any time.

Putting progressive values in action with new county budget

I am pleased to share highlights from the county’s new budget for Fiscal Year 2016 (video), which will begin July 1st.

This year was a “same services” budget, with lower revenues due to a regional economic slowdown. The Council’s total budget of $5.07 billion increases spending by a modest 1.7% over last year’s budget.

There were, however, many bright spots. Some of the best news:

Education: The Council was able to supplement the Executive’s recommended education funding by adding $2 million for technology investments in MCPS and $7.9 million to reduce tuition increases at Montgomery College. Overall, MCPS received $31.9 million over last year’s budget, to support higher enrollment. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan has withheld $17 million in budgeted state education funding for MCPS, so MCPS still faces difficult choices this year.

Clean elections: The Council added $1 million as a down payment on the small donor matching system we established in law last year. Candidates for Council and Executive who refuse large contributions will be eligible for small donor matches for the first time in the 2018 election; we are projected to need $8 million in public matching funds for that election.

I am especially pleased and humbled that the final budget included funds for a number of my initiatives:

Child Care: The Council added funds to implement the recently passed Bill 13-15, including provisions I authoredcreate a new Child Care and Early Education Officer and to develop a Child Care Strategic Plan. We also added over $500,000 for additional child care subsidies for low income families.

Transportation: The Council added funding I championed to improve pedestrian and bike infrastructure (BiPPA’s), add five new RideOn buses to expand service, and improve sidewalk snow removal.

Fighting poverty: The budget increases our Earned Income Tax Credit, as required by Bill 8-13, which I introduced to restore the EITC after it was cut during the Great Recession. Montgomery County is the only County in the nation to offer an EITC match, which has been widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools.

Other initiatives I championed, within a responsible budget framework:

I hope these initiatives give you a clearer sense of my work to meet our ever changing community needs.

On the question of taxes, county taxes as a share of personal income are virtually unchanged from last year. In order to keep property tax collections under the charter limit, property tax rates will be slightly reduced. As a result, for the two-thirds of property owners who do not have a revision in their assessed value this year, property tax bills will decline slightly. The average tax burden in real terms will be lower this year than in 6 of the last 9 years, and it is considerably lower than it was in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Finally, as you may have heard, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the county on an issue relating to our income tax collections. The issue, which affects those who earn income outside of Maryland, will reduce county revenue by more than $50 million next year. Significant budget challenges are ahead of us.

As always, I welcome hearing from you.

Rolling on at the “First Great MoCo Bicycle Summit”

The “First Great Montgomery County Bicycle Summit” was a tremendous success. But, it is just one more step towards a much larger vision for the County: the creation of a vibrant bicycle culture along with a next-gen and best-in-class bicycle infrastructure. Once implemented, this vision will not only help the fearless riders (or advanced cyclists), but it will also make cycling less scary and more accessible for your average rider. The event left me and other County officials with a renewed sense of urgency for accomplishing these twin goals. I want to thank Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Nancy Flooreen for their participation in the event and, along with many other council members, their strong support for cycling. There is strong support at the County Council to move forward on these challenges.

I was thrilled by the interest and enthusiasm the community brought to the event. Indeed, over 35 people joined us for the bike ride from Silver Spring to Chevy Chase. The weather cooperated and gave us a beautiful (and precipitation-free) morning. Check all of us out in the photo below.

MoCo Bike Summit Ride

Over double the number in the group bike ride joined us for the panel discussions. We heard insightful presentations from a variety of cycling advocates and transportation experts, including Shane Farthing from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), Dave Anspacher from Montgomery Park and Planning (M-NCPPC), and Pat Sheperd, Fred Lees, and Anne Root from Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT). Here we all are.

MoCo Bike Summit Group Photo

One theme consistently emerged from the discussion: we need to plan, design, and engineer bicycle facilities for the rider is who is “interested, but concerned.” That is, according to research, most residents would be willing to use a bicycle more if they felt safe doing so. But they don’t feel safe, and so they choose other forms of transportation.

Traffic calming, buffered bike lanes, and cycle-tracks all are steps in the right direction, but it’s not simply about infrastructure itself. Here is where the education, planning, and infrastructure must all come together to meet the needs of this diverse and growing bike community. Public education campaigns and master plans that place a higher priority on cycling are just as important.

Among the many ideas that came forward at the summit is the need to update the Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan. The field has advanced considerably since the last update to this plan, and I agree that we need to take this on now. Updating the master plan will provide a great opportunity for the community to come together and make the kind of policy changes that we all know are needed.

We are already looking ahead to next year for our Second Great Montgomery County Bicycle Summit. We will have loads more data on Bikeshare and the experience of another year to inform the conversation. I am about the business of making Montgomery County a first class bicycling community, and I hope you will join me in this great endeavor.

See the presentations from this year’s summit below

Shane Farthing (WABA)
Dave Anspacher (M-NCPPC)
Pat Shepherd and Fred Lees (MCDOT)
Anne Root and Paul DeMaio (MCDOT)

Below is the write up that WABA did on the event.

I wanted to send a quick note to let you know what WABA is doing in Montgomery County and tell you how you can join us in making the county better for biking.

This past Saturday, I had the chance to speak at the first Great MoCo Bike Summit. It was led and hosted by Councilmember Hans Riemer and attended by every member of the Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee, key staff from the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and Montgomery County Planning Department, and nearly 100 local bicyclists. In my remarks, I noted that while the county has made big steps in the right direction with the installation of Capital Bikeshare, by providing education and signage, and by putting in low-budget bikeways, the real tests are soon to come.

Multiple speakers touched on the fact that when asked, 60 percent of people say they are interested in riding a bike. But a few of those people actually do ride a bike because they need a combination of better infrastructure, better education, and better enforcement; they’re too concerned to give it a try. Montgomery County has over a million people, so that’s about 540,000 people who are interested in biking, but don’t ride because of some barrier.

WABA’s challenge in Montgomery County is to overcome those barriers and get those 540,000 people to join us on bikes.

First, we need people to consider biking. WABA’s outreach team has been in the county talking up the benefits of cycling, handing out flyers and lights, and answering questions. Second, we need people to feel safe biking. For this, we offer City Cycling courses, designed to cover the basics and a few critical tips to keep you safe riding the region’s roads and trails. (For those who want the classroom version, we also offer Everyday Biking Seminars for groups of 15 or more.)

And finally, we need you to support our ongoing efforts to get the infrastructure that supports cycling—the Purple Line, the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A protected bike lane on Woodmont, among others. Our advocacy coordinator is working hard on those projects, and has recently formed an action group, led by WABA board member and longtime advocate Peter Gray, to keep the pressure on for specific improvements within the county.

How can you make all those things become reality?

  1. Invite a friend to take one of our classes. There’s one on Saturday in Bethesda, in fact, and we need to fill it—both because we’re providing valuable information, and because we need to show the county that its investments in bicycling education are worthwhile.
  2. Ask your employer to host an Everyday Cycling Seminar. The link to request a seminar is here.
  3. Sign up for Bike to Work Day and encourage your friends to do so. BTWD is one of the best sources of biking data for the region. Signing up is a show of support for biking and ensures that you’re included in our ridership data.

WABA is a member-supported organization. The majority of people reading this email are already bicyclists and WABA members (and if you aren’t, join today). But we need your help reaching the next group of people who are interested in considering biking, but haven’t given it a try.

That’s it! I’m not asking for your money or your vote. I am asking you to tell a friend about what WABA does and urge them to get involved, too. Thank you so much for your support, and I hope we’ll see some of you on Saturday at our City Cycling class in Bethesda.

Shane Farthing
Executive Director