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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting plastic foam out of our waterways

I am happy to share news that in a unanimous vote of my colleagues, the Montgomery County Council passed my bill that bans certain expanded polystyrene or plastic foam products. The focus of the bill is on stopping the harm caused by these food service products when they become litter. Watch a short video on the passage of the bill below.
Passage of the Montgomery County Polystyrene Ban Bill
This bill is needed because plastic foam breaks into pieces and ends up in our rivers, streams, and watersheds. Numerous studies have found that polystyrene foam is a significant source of litter in our waterways, and one study of an Anacostia River tributary found that 22% of the trash collected in a trash trap was polystyrene foam.
With passage of this bill, Montgomery County joins a growing list of progressive communities to ban polystyrene foam, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and New York City. My bill tracks closely with DC’s recently passed ban, but it goes further by banning the sale of consumer foam products in grocery and convenience stores.
Finally, the bill requires that in 2017, all food service products used in the county must be recyclable or compostable. I hope this will strengthen our county's recycling program.
Specifically, my bill does the following three things
1. Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
2. Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam foodservice products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
3. Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.
What makes polystyrene foam a particularly pernicious form of litter is that the petroleum-based plastic breaks down into small pieces, but it does not completely dissolve. This makes it incredibly difficult and costly to clean up. It also ends up in the food supply, as fish and oysters eat the bits of foam. The National Research Council has recently "upheld the listing of styrene as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.'"
Fortunately, there are competitively priced alternatives to polystyrene foam that are much better for the environment. By joining with Washington, DC, we will strengthen the regional market for alternative products.
I want to specifically thank Councilmembers George Leventhal and Marc Elrich as well as County Executive Isiah Leggett for being early supporters of this important legislation. I would also like to thank the coalition of environmental groups, particularly Trash Free Maryland and the Anacostia Watershed society, for their effective activism, and the many residents who spoke out in favor of the bill. We couldn’t have done it without your help.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board

See the following press release about my work with the Planning Department on our Silver Spring Placemaking initiative.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer Presents Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board
by Bridget Schwiesow on January 16th, 2015

Silver Spring, MD – At its latest meeting, the Montgomery County  Planning Board, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission  (M-NCPPC), learned about the ideas generated at three Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops held in October and November 2014. County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who led the public placemaking effort, opened the presentation to the Board along with Parks and Planning staff and representatives of the Silver Spring Urban District on Thursday, January 15. The purpose of the workshops was to enhance the identity of the Downtown Silver Spring area and improve opportunities in key locations, while building on the 2000 Silver Spring Sector Plan.

“The whole process was fantastic and we had such a positive reaction from the community,” said Riemer. “Now we want to make sure the workshops contribute to meaningful change in Downtown Silver Spring.”

Councilmember Tom Hucker, whose Council district includes Silver Spring, said “I was very excited to participate in the Placemaking series. We identified some great ideas to enhance Silver Spring and I look forward to seeing them realized.”

Learn more about the Silver Spring Placemaking project.

What is placemaking?
This approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces involves listening to the people who live, work and play in a particular area about their needs and aspirations. The information from the community is then used to create a common vision for a specific place.
The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops were initiated by Councilmember Riemer in collaboration with the Montgomery County Planning and Parks Departments, and the Silver Spring Urban District. County planners joined Riemer, community residents and other participants to explore the brainstorming sessions and brought in creative ways of enhancing three downtown locations.

Three workshops for three places
The first workshop, held at the Planning Department’s headquarters on October 15, explored the creation of civic space in the vicinity of the Transit Center.  Enhancements to Gene Lynch Urban Park and ways to improve the pedestrian experience from the Transit Center to Downtown Silver Spring via Wayne Avenue were examined, along with looking for temporary green spaces and bike service facilities in this location.

The second workshop, held at the Denizens Brewing Company on October 29, focused on the urban character of the Ripley District and enhancing pedestrian experiences in the area to heighten community identity.

The third workshop at the Silver Spring Civic Building on November 5 examined the areas immediately surrounding the proposed Purple Line station in Downtown Silver Spring that are slated for high-density development. Participants weighed design options, including pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, surrounding the Metro Plaza site (located on the northeast corner of East-West Highway and Colesville Road), a prominent gateway to Downtown Silver Spring from the District of Columbia. Ways to improve  the pedestrian connectivity from the Transit Center to South Silver Spring and the Blairs was also studied.

Plan to implement workshop concepts
As part of the January 15 presentation to the Planning Board, the Silver Spring Placemaking team recommended specific improvements to the three areas as a result of the workshops. These action items range from enhanced crosswalks, clearer signage and new bike lanes to outdoor movies, public art and food trucks. For each recommendation, the team suggested a “champion” was needed including public agencies and corporate sponsors, to implement the change.

“One of the reasons we held the workshops was to enhance the Silver Spring Master Plan so we have a head start when that master planning effort comes back around for updating,” says Robert Kronenberg, the Planning Department’s Chief of Area 1, who helped organize the events. “The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops are the first of many we will be doing in the County. They set the stage of what is to come.”

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Increased service for Silver Spring circulator bus

ROCKVILLE, Md., January 15, 2015—Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer today lauded Montgomery County's dramatically increased free bus service in downtown Silver Spring. The Silver Spring circulator, also known as "VanGo," will now run later into the evening and on Saturdays.

The new VanGo schedule is the following: Monday-Thursday: 7 a.m.-12 midnight; Friday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Buses will run every 12 minutes. Previously, VanGo service ran only from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays.

Circulator stops are located at the Silver Spring Metro Station; 13thand Kennet Street; East-West Highway and Colesville Road; and Cameron Street and Georgia Avenue.

The new schedule for the Silver Spring VanGo Circulator will complement the existing circulator in Bethesda to provide improved transportation options in two of the County's urban nodes.

"The Silver Spring VanGo Circulator service forms an important part of the urban area's transportation fabric," said Councilmember Riemer, who led the fight to secure additional funding for VanGo. "It supports Silver Spring's growing residential population, efforts to get individuals out of automobiles and the burgeoning night-time economy there."

Councilmember Riemer said the extended service will help people with different needs and purposes than were served by the previous weekday daytime hours.

"While VanGo's old schedule helped individuals get to and from the Metro and parking facilities for their morning and evening commutes, it failed to meet the needs of a residential population who wants to use it in the evenings and on the weekends," he said. "That demand is now met."

Councilmember Riemer is also working closely with the County's Department of Transportation, the Silver Spring Urban District and residents to explore rebranding and rerouting the circulator.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Montgomery County Shows Value of Open Data with SpendingMontgomery Initiative

Rockville, Md., December 19, 2014---The Montgomery County Government has taken another giant step forward in financial transparency by releasing spendingMontgomery. Using open data, the new initiative will allow taxpayers to see like never before how the county spends money, who spends it, what it is spent on and with whom the county does business.

The link to spendingMontgomery is:

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, the Council's lead member for digital government and the chief sponsor of the legislation that created a County open data policy, praised spendingMontgomery.

"The new spendingMontgomery initiative is a groundbreaking application of the open data vision, and I applaud the County Executive and his team for bringing it forward," said Councilmember Riemer. "This is the kind of innovation in government services that I hoped would result from establishing both an open data policy and a strong collaboration with the Executive Branch to implement the vision. Budget and spending data is complex, but Montgomery County, in partnership with our vendor, Socrata, has managed to take the raw data and make it accessible, understandable and meaningful. This level of financial transparency will set a new standard for government organizations."

Some of the key highlights of spendingMontgomery include:
  • Guided view of all the payments made by the County
  • Ability to search payments based on category, amount, recipient and more
  • Graphs, charts and other visuals that make help make sense of data

"Every single check cut by the Department of Finance, save those omitted for safety and privacy concerns, is now at the public's fingertips," said Councilmember Riemer. "For example, if a resident wants to know how much money is being spent on office supplies, they can find it easily. Likewise, spendingMontgomery allows access to the raw data for more robust analysis by residents, budget analysts, advocacy groups and other interested parties. I couldn't be more pleased with the results of our open data initiative."

The tool is powered by raw data from dataMontgomery, an initiative called for Open Data Act of 2012, which was authored by Councilmember Riemer and approved unanimously by the County Council. The law requires all County departments to catalogue and publish their data sets on the County's open data web site, and the implementation plan describes the schedule for publishing.

Montgomery County has a $5 billion operating budget and a $4.45 billion capital budget for Fiscal Years 2015-20. The county recently launched an Open Budget tool, also piloted with Socrata, that revolutionizes how the government provides budget data, by moving entirely away from paper based budget documents and fully utilizing the power of open data and visualizations to present valuable information.

Councilmember Riemer's work on open data has been described by Open Innovation Magazine, published by Socrata, as "a model for county council members across the country."

The next step in the County's quest for greater financial transparency is contractsMontgomery, which will further reveal the County's financial relationships with contractors. ContractsMontgomery will likely be released in 2015.