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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The First GREAT Montgomery County BIKE SUMMIT

Montgomery County is home to some of the region's most avid bikers and biking is a growing form of transportation for residents here. Montgomery County recently launched Capital Bikeshare and there are a number of regionally significant bike paths under construction or in design.

But more needs to be done. Montgomery County will never enjoy a strong bike culture until the planning and infrastructure comes together to meet the needs of the bike community.

Help us get there by participating in the first Great MoCo Bike Summit. Organized by Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, WABA and MoBike, this discussion will be a great chance for you to interact directly with county elected and transportation planning leaders to help shape the future of biking in Montgomery County.

Saturday, April 5
9:15am - Noon
Jane Lawton Rec Center
4301 Willow Lane
Chevy Chase, MD 20815
RSVP Here »
The Great MoCo Bicycle Summit
A focus for the event will be how Montgomery County should incorporate next-gen bicycle facilities and how to make Capital Bikeshare a success. Topics for the next Summit will be requested.

Please bring your questions and thoughts to this conversation that is sure to shape the bicycle landscape in the County for the years to come.

Meet us outside the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring at 9:15am for a family-friendly ride to the Summit location in Bethesda!


9:15am - 10:00am
Family Bike Ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda along the Capital Crescent Trail

10:00am - 10:10am
Introductory Remarks from Councilmember Hans Riemer

What are the most urgent needs to improve biking generally in Montgomery County?

10:10am - 10:30am
Presentations from Shane Farthing (WABA) and Dave Anspacher (M-NCPPC)

10:30am - 11:00am
Moderated Panel Discussion
Shane Farthing (WABA)
Dave Anspacher (M-NCPPC)
Fred Lees (MCDOT)
Pat Shepherd (MCDOT)
Jack Cochrane (MoBike)

11:00am - 11:10am
Coffee Break

How can we best ensure the success of Bikeshare in Montgomery County?

11:10am - 11:30am
Presentations from Anne Root (MCDOT) and Paul DeMaio (Metrobike LLC)

11:30am - 12:00pm
Moderated Panel Discussion
Shane Farthing (WABA)
Anne Root (MCDOT)
Paul DeMaio (Metrobike LLC)

Closing remarks from Councilmember Roger Berliner

Friday, March 21, 2014

Local Food Initiatives

I want Montgomery County to be a place where we grow more of our food locally. I believe in the power of the local food movement to raise consciousness about health and environmental issues.

Urban farming: backyard chickens and bees
Many residents of Montgomery County have contacted me to express their desire to raise chickens and bees in their backyard as a food source and/or hobby, among other reasons. Like with any pet, if the owner is responsible, then these practices are perfectly compatible with our neighborhood quality of life. I know because my neighbors have both chickens and bees, which are a delight for my children.

However, some zoning regulations have made it overly onerous to raise backyard chickens and bees in many of the County’s suburban and urban areas. This is why I worked with local urban farming advocates, including activists from to protect their ability to raise chickens and bees during the council’s process of making changes to the zoning code.

Preserving our farm-land Ag Reserve for future generations
About 40% of our county’s land has been protected from development by reserving it for farming through the creation of the Agricultural Reserve. It is one of our county’s great resources, and I oppose development there. I also worked hard to allow our farmers to create educational uses on their farms, to help make farming an experience that more of our residents can share.

Putting healthy (and local) food in our schools
As a parent of two young boys, one of whom just began kindergarten, making sure that healthy food is served by MCPS is a priority for me. That is why I am supporting Real Food for Kids Montgomery (a project of the Chesapeake Institute for Local Sustainable Food and Agriculture) to promote greater wellness in our schools. I sent a letter of support for these goals to Dr. Joshua Starr, the superintendent of MCPS, earlier in 2013. You may read more about this important effort here.

These are some of the initiatives I have focused on to strengthen the cause of local food in Montgomery County. I welcome hearing from you about these issues, and I am here to work with you in the future.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan

Watch the AB7 report on my plan above!

Responding to large storm events is a challenge for our county government and our residents. We have a very robust snow plow operation that clears the roads very efficiently, and our superb highway team is always working to improve its performance. However, we do not have a sufficient plan or policies in place to meet the challenge of removing snow from sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.

I have seen or heard reports of pedestrians walking in the street on major roads, mothers pushing strollers over sidewalks that have not been cleared, seniors and individuals with mobility challenges unable to enter a street crossing because it is blocked by snow, and even motorized wheelchairs moving in traffic lanes on state highways (in this case, University Blvd) because sidewalks are impassable.

We know that the county considers its snow removal work complete long before these problems have been resolved.

I am requesting Council staff to draft legislation requiring Montgomery County DOT to create a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan.

The plan would require elements including:
  1. A digital map of the county showing who is responsible for clearing snow on all sidewalks in the county
  2. A "major storm event" communications plan addressing a range of preparation efforts that residents need to understand, and including sidewalk snow removal, to be implemented in advance of major storm events
  3. A targeted public education campaign for property owners to make them aware where they are responsible for clearing sidewalks from snow
  4. Establishing pedestrian priority routes where additional education, enforcement and county services will be applied
  5. A public education campaign to educate residents about how to request enforcement of sidewalk clearing rules, and enhanced process for residents to request enforcement by 311
  6. Policies for keeping 311 in operation late during snow events
  7. Increased enforcement for property owners who fail to clear their sidewalks
  8. Plan for county-provided snow removal at bus-stops and around Metro stations
  9. Plan for county-provided snow removal near schools
  10. Plan for county-provided snow removal along state highways
  11. Plan for county-provided snow removal along highest priority pedestrian routes
  12. Plan for snow removal in urban districts, funded by urban districts
  13. Pedestrian access requirements provided to snow removal contractors and performance assessment based on fulfilling the plan
  14. Plan for clearing hiker biker trails on a prioritized basis
  15. Plan for trash removal if snow cancels collection
I recognize that we have limited resources and storm events are already a massive expense for the county -- we spend over $1 million per day during snow events, according to the county executive.

Clearing the roads is a critical mission, but ensuring that all residents have mobility after storm events is the real goal. We should not be satisfied with finishing part of the job.