Saturday, April 4, 2015

Corridor Advisory Committee Meeting #2, and thoughts on obstructionism

This past Tuesday, the second meeting of the Route 29 South Corridor Advisory Committee was held at the Silver Spring Civic Center.  The Corridor Advisory Committee (CAC) was formed in February to allow citizens to have input on the planning process of the Route 29 BRT line, a part of the county's broader Rapid Transit System (RTS).

The meeting agenda involved an explanation of the Project Development Process, an Existing Conditions Review, an intro to the Corridor Planning Study, and concluded with an Interactive Exercise.  However, the meeting only roughly followed this schedule and it did not go into much detail, as the facilitators could not effectively progress through the agenda due to frequent questions from the committee members.  While some of these questions were constructive and advanced the positive dialogue, many were simply obstructionist statements meant to hinder the committee process.

I understand that bus rapid transit is a controversial issue, but the tone with which some of my fellow committee members addressed the facilitators (and others on the committee) was unnecessarily rude.  It was odd to me, as the youngest person in the room, to see people of my parents' generation act as if they are back in grade school by making snide and demeaning remarks, and frequently interrupting the facilitators and other committee members.  I'm sure those who were being rude and disrespectful would claim that they are just being assertive, and that their extreme skepticism and purposeful diversion of the agenda was warranted due to past actions on the county's part.  However, at a certain point, this healthy skepticism and sincere quest for answers becomes overt obstructionism, meant only to derail the public process instead of enhance it.  There was far too much obstructionism at the meeting Tuesday night.

That being said, the county and AECOM (contracted by the county to facilitate these sessions) did themselves no favors by setting a rigid agenda, spending more than an hour "presenting" information that was repeated from past meetings, and selecting members of the committee that are not representative of the community. There were very few minorities, renters, or people under age of ~40 selected to participate (there are only two people on the committee in their 20s, one of which is me). The demographics of the committee do not closely align with the demographics of Silver Spring, Four Corners, and White Oak.

The US 29 RTS Corridor.  Image from MCDOT.

In the spirit of obstructionism, multiple people brought up ideas and alternatives that are known to be outside of the scope of the committee, in hopes of hindering or stopping the public process.  Similar to how disruptive kids do a disservice to other students in a classroom, off-topic and wishful diversions such as the ones made on Tuesday night are a detriment to those in the room who actually want to listen to the presentations and participate effectively.  Some members went so far as to bring "evidence" to persuade the committee, in the form of a poorly designed study done by students showing that the New Hampshire Avenue express line (K9), which the obstructionists suggest turning into BRT, brought in 600 extra riders (the Colesville Road lines have 10,000 by comparison). This was not a spontaneous act of simply raising a question for discussion, this was a premeditated act of disruption and an insult to the committee process.

 In my opinion, anyone who believes that the purpose of the committee is invalid enough that it should be derailed to instead discuss New Hampshire Avenue (or whose sole goal is to focus on a no-build option), should be invited by the county to resign from this committee, and have space held for them on the future committee of the same type for the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. If there is consensus in favor of an additional committee, our elected officials will be happy to have MCDOT and the SHA establish a new committee for those currently obstructing the US 29 South Corridor Advisory Committee, so that they can study the New Hampshire Avenue corridor all they want.

If there is not consensus for prioritizing the New Hampshire corridor over the US 29 corridor (and there isn't, otherwise New Hampshire would have been prioritized from the very beginning), then it would appear that these obstructionists hold a minority viewpoint.  In our democracy, those who hold a minority viewpoint can be listened to and respected, but the will of the majority must prevail.  The uncomfortable truth about BRT on Route 29 (uncomfortable for those who oppose it) is that the majority of citizens, and our elected officials, want US 29 BRT to connect to the entertainment, employment, and retail hub known as Silver Spring, and not a desolate Metro Station in Northeast Washington.

Perhaps these obstructionists could divert their energy towards more practical and more important ends, such as the following:

1.  Advocacy for ADA compliant sidewalks along major roads in Four Corners.  Many of the sidewalks along arterial highways like University and Colesville are not even close to being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and they are a detriment to those in our community who are mobility impaired due to age or physical disability.  Most sidewalks are too narrow, and many are impeded by utility poles and other obstacles, making them difficult for those with disabilities to navigate.  If local civic groups approached this issue with the vigor and zeal that they have put towards BRT opposition, we could make serious progress towards a more inclusive and accessible Four Corners for our aging and disabled residents.  

Local civic groups should aggressively advocate for wider buffered sidewalks along roads like University Boulevard.  The sidewalks we have now are narrow and dangerous relics dating to 1958.  Photo by the author.

2.  Advocacy for increased staffing on our local ladder truck, Truck 716.  This ladder truck, which runs out of station 16 in Four Corners, has been understaffed (by industry standards) since it was moved here in 2010, having just 3 MCFRS personnel assigned to it.  The NFPA recommends at least 4 personnel be assigned to a ladder truck in order for it to be effective.  This ladder truck gets dispatched on all fire calls and car accidents in Four Corners and surrounding areas, and its crew is responsible for search & rescue, extraction, and ventilation duties at said calls.  Needless to say, it is critical to the protection of life and property in our community.  If local civic groups approached this issue with the vigor and zeal that they have put towards BRT opposition, we could make serious progress towards a safer Four Corners.

3. Advocacy for lower speed limits and narrower lane widths on our arterial highways.  Both Colesville and University have 40 MPH speed limits through our commercial district and residential areas.  Speed limits this high are absurd for this kind of setting, as motorists can drive up to 50 MPH past a school and local businesses.  11 and 12 foot wide travel lines also provide motorists with more horizontal space, allowing them to feel more comfortable at higher speeds.  A 30 MPH speed limit and 10 foot wide travel lanes would encourage drivers to respect their surroundings, making our roads safer while marginally impacting traffic flow (if at all, due to average speed vs segment speed).  If local civic groups approached this issue with the vigor and zeal that they have put towards BRT opposition, we could make serious progress towards a safer Four Corners with fewer speeding cars and fewer serious accidents.

I wish this blog post could have been about an informative and productive meeting of the Route 29 South Corridor Advisory Committee.  Unfortunately, there were people present who had no interest in constructive civic dialogue, and they only wanted to ignore the scope of the committee to push their own agenda.  I must give props to those in the room who were listening attentively and asking constructive questions, such as my two of my Woodmoor neighbors who sat at the table with me.  They both represented my neighborhood well, by asking helpful questions about the features of BRT and suggesting ways to make the project better during our group exercise.  I wish more committee members had approached the meeting with the same attitude.

For those who want to read about what the meeting tried to achieve, there is some information on the county's RTS website detailing the meeting agenda.

I hope the next meeting is more civil and more constructive, and I for one will be approaching it with a positive attitude.


  1. Ben, on Sutherland RdApril 5, 2015 at 8:19 PM

    Thanks for your report, and thanks for your positive, constructive approach to looking at these issues.

  2. Your post reminds me an awful lot of the neighborhood list serve.

    "That house is too big! Those birds are too loud! This water is too wet! Change is weird and scary!"

    1. When I say "your post" I mean the references to the obstructionists. You, on the other hand, are doing a great job of representing the neighborhood, and it is appreciated.

  3. I am under 40 (yes!). I bought a home in early 2014 in the "greater" Four Corners area. I bought here out of faith in new transportation options, including BRT. If these changes are not coming, I will be happy to sell my home in a few years to someone who is happy to live in where it's not safe for their children to walk to school or the store or to leave their neighborhood without a car.

  4. Unfortunately, your experience Tuesday night doesn't surprise me. I've had similar experiences all over the county on a variety of issues for years. Your specific suggestions for more productive use of some folks' energies are spot-on. Hang in there! You are not alone.

  5. Sometimes people are just anxious and need more information. I wonder what information was presented with respect to current ridership. who pays for the project and how much? how much is developer funded, Are there other options or routes that either should be reviewed or is this the best route and what criteria was used in developing this route. I am sure as the process progresses people will come together on major dynamics. I have participated in several studies for Roads and Intersection and it takes time for the the group to jell. I suggest patience, just my take on the process. Good Luck

    1. BTW I also participated on the Georgia Avenue Bus-Way study and I know its all in the details and with time and proper guidance from the facilitators people will come together on specific recomendations, we did.

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