AAA Mid-Atlantic says cuts in federal government spending are forcing Washington-area residents to cut down on their holiday travel plans this Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the summer travel season.
About 874,000 area residents will travel 50 miles or more during the four-day holiday travel period, AAA Mid-Atlantic said, a 2 percent drop from last year.
The organization thinks a lot of that has to do with sequestration, as workers take a “wait-and-see attitude” to federal spending cuts.
“The wonder is so many area residents are still traveling despite the fact furlough notices are going out June 5, and the reality of workers coping with the payroll tax hike,” AAA Mid-Atlantic’s John Townsend III said in a release. “More than ever before, area travelers are relying on highways for their holiday getaways. Yet the vast majority of vacationers will see increasing gasoline prices along the way.”
AAA projects Washingtonians will spend an average of $867 on their Memorial Day weekend trips, about 16 percent of which will go to fuel and transportation costs. A third of travelers will hit the beach or Chesapeake Bay and more than half will visit friends or family.
AAA’s forecast predicts air travel will decrease by 10 percent over the period, which starts Thursday and ends Monday. The drop in automobile travel is a lot less pronounced, at just 0.7 percent.
The developer of a proposed apartment complex just north of Wall Park and the Shriver Aquatic Center in North Bethesda faces a number of hurdles before construction can begin.
Besides the typical approval process, Atlanta-based developer Gables Residential must wait for Montgomery County to design and fund a new road network and work out an agreement with the Montgomery County Department of Parks on the funding and operation of a parking garage that would serve both apartment residents and Wall Park visitors.
Gables Regional Vice President Jorgen Punda and architects presented the Sketch Plan to community members in a required public meeting on Tuesday. The Sketch Plan envisions three 70-foot-tall apartment buildings that would include 450 to 500 units on top of 30,000 square feet of ground floor retail, courtyards and a parking garage.
That garage is a key part of the developer’s plan and the future of Wall Park, which the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan envisions as the major park and green space for a rapidly developing White Flint. The area today includes a small park, the Shriver Aquatic Center and 250 parking spaces.
Punda said the company has agreed to reserve 250 parking spots in its garage for Montgomery Parks and another 150 spaces to accomodate a future planned recreation center. The existing 250 spaces in the park would be replaced with park functions that are still being designed.
Park planner coordinator Rachel Newhouse took suggestions for possible park features during the meeting.
Attorney Stephen Kaufman, who is representing Gables out of Bethesda-based firm Linowes and Blocher, said the plan is for Gables to provide the land for the garage. It would be up to Montgomery County to pay for its construction. Kaufman suggested the county could use payments Gables will have to make into a general development fund.
Newhouse said Parks hopes to go to the Planning Board at the same time Gables does with a concept plan for the park. The garage will include about 590 spaces reserved for residents and retail use.
It appears neither can go forward without a resolution to the Western Workaround. Gables can only start the project once Executive Boulevard is realigned and Market Street is built, making the existing triangular lot into a bigger rectangular one.
Montgomery County has been negotiating with the State Highway Administration on design aspects of the new street grid’s intersections. The county must also purchase important right-of-way from the vacant car dealerships on the south side of Old Georgetown Road, a process Kaufman said the developer hopes will accelerate when it files its Sketch Plan in June.
Once construction starts, Punda said it should be 18 to 20 months until the apartments are completed. But it’s uncertain when all of the elements — new Wall Park, shared parking garage and new street network — will come together.
“The project can’t be built unless the roads are in place,” Kaufman said. “We’re looking at 2016 or the year after. Either it’s going to happen by then, or White Flint is going to be in big trouble.”
Images via Gables Residential
County Councilmember Roger Berliner told a Citizens Advisory Board on Monday that he sees recent changes in Bethesda’s parking fee structure as a move toward the demand pricing that cities are using to reduce circling and double parking in busier areas.
The County Council approved the County Department of Transportation’s recommendation for the new parking fee structure in the FY14 operating budget. The new system will make on-street meter parking $2 an hour, parking lot spaces $1.25 an hour and parking garage spaces 80 cents an hour starting July 1.
Existing rates are $1.25 an hour for any parking space up to four hours and 80 cents an hour for any long-term parking in excess of four hours. Parking garage spaces have been found to be the least desireable, depending on the location and time of day, with empty spaces common in some Bethesda county garages (11 and 35 for instance).
On the other side of the coin, finding a spot in Garage 40 during happy hour on Cordell Avenue or in Garage 35 as residents in Battery Lane apartment buildings return from work can be more difficult. The Lot 31 closure has also put the squeeze on Garage 57, where the bulk of Bethesda Row shop, restaurant and movie-goers park.
“We are inching towards what is called demand pricing,” Berliner told the Western Montgomery Citizens Advisory Board, “higher pricing for parking that is most in demand. So what is most in demand is street parking next to our shops.”
In San Francisco, which many point to as a pioneer of demand pricing, meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6 an hour, all depending on the amount of cars parked in a particular stretch. The city uses sensors to gauge how many parking meters are being used and will raise the rates on busy streets to try to ensure at least one space is open.
The goal is to reduce circling and double parking that leads to traffic. Montgomery County’s goal is to get more drivers parking in its garages instead of its street-metered spaces.
Superintendent Talks Math Exam Failure Rates — MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr spoke about the county’s surprisingly high failure rates on math final exams and what the school system is doing to more effectively teach its students math. [Fox 5]
Josiah Henson Hearing Planned For June 6 — Those who want to testify in front of the Planning Board as it reviews the plan for a museum at the Josiah Henson house should sign up on the Planning Board website. The facility would include a welcome center, 60-seat multi-purpose multimedia room, new displays and the Riley Cabin. The Planning Board will review the plan during its Thursday, June 6 session at a to-be-determined time. [Montgomery Parks]
Bikeway Construction Starts On MacArthur Boulevard — Construction began last week on improvements to a new shared-use bikeway on MacArthur Boulevard from the Beltway to just south of Glen Echo Park. Construction is slated to be completed by early 2015, at which point Montgomery County will start work on improvements south of Glen Echo Park to the D.C. line. [Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center]
UPDATE 6:10 p.m. Some in Bethesda are unhappy with the Maryland Transit Administration’s recent proposal to shut down a commuter bus that delivers people from Columbia, Burtonsville and Olney to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Campus.
The MTA has given notice of three public hearings in which it will propose to shut down three commuter buses that use the ICC because of low ridership. Bus No. 203 delivers people from the Route 29 and upper-Georgia Avenue corridors to Bethesda’s traffic-heavy section of Rockville Pike at the secure Walter Reed base.
Ilaya Hopkins, a civic activist and member of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee, will testify against shutting down the commuter bus at a June 6 hearing in Gaithersburg. Bethesda residents involved in Walter Reed’s BRAC move to the Naval Military Medical Center have long been concerned with added traffic from a large increase in employees traveling to the base.
Phil Alperson, Montgomery County’s BRAC coordinator, said he will also testify against the route cuts. Members of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board agreed to oppose the discontinuation of the route at their meeting on Monday.
Arlington County transportation planner and blogger Dan Malouff called the move a “classic bait and switch from highway builders,” who promise a multimodal road to build political support for a project before cutting those other modes later.
“What we’ve done is simply make some proposals,” said MTA spokesperson Terry Owens. “But we’ve looked at ridership on some of the routes and they have not met expectations, thus the proposal is to consider scaling those back to reallocate those resources.”
If the MTA follows through on the proposals, the 203, 202 and 205 routes would be discontinued on August 1.
Owens said the MTA anticipated having an average of about 20 riders per trip with that number growing to 30 riders per trip over a 24-month period. The 203 route is averaging fewer than 15 riders per trip.
“It’s those kinds of numbers that have us taking a look at this and scheduling these public hearings,” Owens said. “We are talking to elected officials, stakeholders and others about our proposal. Certainly, we want input from a wide cross-section before we make any decision.”
Flickr photo by BeyondDC
Police say a man walked to the back of a house in Chevy Chase and threw rocks at an expensive set of French doors and a window, causing thousands of dollars of damage.
The Chevy Chase Village Police Department said the incident happened at about 1 p.m. on April 29 in the 5500 block of Montgomery Street. The Department is hoping photos of the suspect captured by Village security cameras lead to his arrest.
The suspect, a black male about six-feet tall and 230 pounds with a red-hooded sweatshirt and blue backpack, apparently never made it into the house. Chevy Chase Village Police said he is a suspect for vandalism only.
Police said the man threw “several large rocks,” at the doors and a rear window.
Anyone with information can contact the Chevy Chase Village Police Department at 301-654-7300. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-8477. Crime Solvers will pay a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information provided that leads to an arrest in this crime.
Photos via Chevy Chase Village Police Department
The rational choice was obvious.
A group of Italian researchers gave participants in an experiment two scenarios: Take the metro for a fixed cost or take the car for an uncertain cost determined by construction delays, traffic congestion or weather. Take a bus, with costs determined by a different combination of chance and traffic congestion, or take the car with the same uncertain costs present in the metro scenario.
The researchers gave participants feedback on the actual travel times of both modes in each scenario. The more participants chose cars, the more congestion would be factored into the travel cost.
Still, they chose cars over metro and bus by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, despite a clear demonstration that the average cost of a car trip would be almost 50 percent more.
The study, published earlier this year and highlighted by The Atlantic Cities, demonstrates a concept Montgomery County planners are grappling with as they contemplate a Bus Rapid Transit system that would take away a general traffic lane in each direction of Rockville Pike/MD 355 and dedicate lanes inside the Beltway exclusively to a bus transitway.
The study shows people prefer their cars and are inclined to stick with them even when given a mass transit option that is, in psychological terms, more rational.
“BRT does not have the data to support ridership. It turns out the forecasting model is simply that we think people will ride a fast bus,” said Bethesda resident Robert Dyer, who got a decent amount of media attention last week after his testimony deriding the BRT proposal at a Planning Board public hearing. “This is really junk science.”
Crucial details of the proposed 79-mile, 10-corridor Bus Rapid Transit network remain to be planned. As the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan heads to the Planning Board for deliberation and a recommendation slated for June, critics question whether BRT will be convenient enough to entice drivers out of their vehicles.
It’s a hard sell to make.
“We have the worst congestion in the United States. To suggest now that we’re going to have people just flocking to Bus Rapid Transit and therefore you won’t have as many cars makes one wonder if they’re smoking something funny,” AAA Mid Atlantic spokesperson Lon Anderson said. “Because the history clearly demonstrates that yes, you may stop the rate of growth of vehicle miles traveled, but vehicle miles traveled will continue to grow as the population grows.”
A pair of events celebrating area businesses are set for this week, with The Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce’s Business Forum & Showcase on Wednesday and Montgomery County’s first ever Small Business Awards Luncheon on Friday.
The Showcase will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda (7400 Wisconsin Ave.) and includes more than 65 area businesses displaying their products and services.
The event also includes two educational presentations and a networking luncheon. For more information and to register, visit the event website.
Andy Stern, owner of Andy Stern’s Office Furniture in Rockville and the chair of the Chamber Board, sat down with Comcast Newsmakers to discuss the event and challenges facing local businesses.
On Friday in North Bethesda/White Flint, Montgomery County will put on its inaugural Small Business Awards Luncheon from noon to 2 p.m. at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center (5701 Marinelli Rd.)
The ceremony will honor winners in eight award categories: Bioscience Company of the Year, Information Technology Company of the Year, Montgomery County Innovation Network Company of the Year, Small Business Award for a company with one to 10 employees, Small Business Award for a company with 51 to 200 employees, Small Business Award for a company with 51 to 200 employees, Start-up Business of the Year and Workforce Award.
The county’s Department of Economic Development initiated the event and will present the awards, chosen from more than 60 entries.
Video via Comcast Newsmakers
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club owner Rick Brown and a host of local dignitaries gathered on Friday for a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration of the historic Bethesda Theatre’s 75th anniversary.
Brown and veteran D.C. club manager Ralph Camilli reopened the venue in late February, investing millions to make the building a regional music destination with no financial help from the county.
Councilmembers Roger Berliner and George Leventhal attended the Friday ceremony, as did County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Director of Economic Development Steve Silverman. The ribbon-cutting was followed by a performance from jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
The hotel (8120 Wisconsin Ave.) is adding Friday night pool parties to its Thursday night and Sunday parties, which will make room for a more subdued atmosphere on Thursdays:
“Thursdays 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., this year you will find Thursdays to be a relaxing sophisticated evening with light jazz, crafted cocktails, single malt selections and cigar smokers welcome. The chef will have a Tapas menu available from the grill.”
Fridays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. will be back to margaritas and burgers from the grill. DJs, drink specials and grill food will return on Sundays starting at 1 p.m., in an event that can reach capacity by mid-afternoon. A recently created map of D.C. area rooftop bars found the DoubleTree was the only one in Montgomery County.
The 2013 rooftop pool party season will start Thursday, May 30. For more information about specials and weather, visit the Facebook page.
County Executive Isiah Leggett said there are many complex issues at play when he addressed the 20-plus member group during its first ever meeting on Monday in Silver Spring.
Leggett, who assembled the Task Force to deliver recommendations for improving the county’s nightlife, offered a sobering political reality he said must be considered when talking looser alcohol laws, later bar closing times or higher density development around Metro stations.
“Most people in this county, when you ask them the question about, ‘Should we improve the nighttime economy,’ intellectually, on-paper they’ll probably say, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea,’” Leggett said. “But their view of what that means is we can generate the economic benefits of that all in isolation, that it’s totally removed from their lives. People say, ‘I like the benefits of that, but I don’t want to deal with the practical effects of that.’”
In suburban Montgomery, long associated with wealthy single-family home neighborhoods, a prized school system and an older population, that’s a tough line to cross. But county leaders, seeing young tax-paying professionals flock to the District and Arlington, want in on the action.
“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, well now we’re going to have 23-year-olds driving down the streets of Bethesda at 70 miles an hour and screaming out their windows and kicking over trash cans,’” Task Force Chair and Bethesda land use attorney Heather Dlholopolsky told the group. “That’s not what it means. The key thing to remember is that nighttime economy is so many things and don’t be too exclusive in terms of the things that you’re looking for.”
That means activities for empty-nesters, middle-aged residents and the young urban professionals Leggett said he’s tired of seeing get away.
“We pay a huge investment in our school system, one of the best in the entire country. Many of them go off to college and once they’ve completed college and they are now thinking about settling down, they’re more likely to go to Adams Morgan, other locations in the District, Arlington or, god forbid, Fairfax,” Leggett said. “They’ve taken that investment that we made, that education that we started and they are utilizing that in some other location. We’re not going to capture 100 percent of the people, but there’s a reason as to why they’re not thinking of us as a first choice.”
Tiger Talks Future Of Congressional Tournament — Tiger Woods was at Congressional Country Club on Monday for an annual press gathering ahead of his AT&T National PGA event (June 24-30) and discussed the possibility of moving the tournament to another course in 2015. Congressional’s membership will vote later this year on whether to bring the tournament back from 2015-2017. The Tiger Woods Foundation, which hosts the event, must also re-up with AT&T or find another sponsor. [Washington Post]
Suburban Hospital Breast Cancer Experts Discuss Risk-Reducing Mastectomies — After actress Angelina Jolie revealed she had a preventive double mastectomy because of a BRCA gene mutation known to raise the risk of breast cancer, two doctors at Suburban Hospital answered questions about the procedure and in what circumstances to pursue the operation. [Suburban Hospital]
Congressman John Delaney Backs Doug Duncan For County Exec — First-term Sixth District Congressman John Delaney (D) endorsed former County Executive Doug Duncan for the same job in next year’s Democratic Primary. Duncan has announced his intention to run for his old job and it’s expected County Executive Isiah Leggett will run against him. The only candidate to have officially filed paperwork is Councilmember Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg). Duncan endorsed Delaney in his Congressional race last year. [Maryland Juice]
MCFRS Celebrates National EMS Week — The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service is celebrating National Emergency Medical Services Week by recognizing its dual role firefighters/EMTs and firefighters/paramedics. [MCFRS]
Flickr pool photo by diarmaid20814
All indoor and outdoor aquatic facilities will be open and county liquor stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some Montgomery Parks will be open, but check the Montgomery Parks website for specific schedules.
County offices, libraries, senior centers and community recreation centers will be closed. So will the Gaithersburg Transfer Station, TRiPS Commuter Stores in Silver Spring and Friendship Heights, MCPS and State offices and courts.
Trash and recycling collection will be provided one day later than regularly scheduled for the rest of the week. Parking at public garages, lots and curbside meters will be free.
Ride On, Metrobus and Metrorail will all run on Sunday schedules.
Flickr photo by davidyuweb
Montgomery County Police say the removal of a Bethesda speed camera that a District Court judge ruled was improperly placed was not a result of that January court decision.
MCP Traffic Division program manager Dan McNickle said the department still believes the camera was properly placed in the 4300 block of Jones Bridge Road, though it was moved in December to another location.
There are six Portable Camera Unit (PCU) locations on Jones Bridge Road between Connecticut Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue — four on the eastbound side and two on the westbound side. McNickle said the cameras are regularly moved.
In January, District Court Judge John Moffett ruled in favor of attorney, political activist and famous sports heckler Robin Ficker, who challenged a $40 citation he received from the camera on Sept. 5, 2012.
Ficker successfully argued that the camera, at the bottom of a hill near the secure entrance to the Uniformed Services University, wasn’t legally placed because it was not within 300 feet of a residence.
Moffett agreed, rescinding Ficker’s $40 fine.
Montgomery County Police issued a press release saying the department would not review other tickets from the camera and that Moffett misinterpreted the law:
According to § 21-809(vi) of Maryland Transportation Article, a speed-monitoring system may be placed:
- On a highway in a residential district, as defined in § 21-101 of this title, with a maximum posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, which speed limit was established using generally accepted traffic-engineering practices; or
- In a school zone established under § 21-803.1 of this subtitle.
Maryland Transportation Article § 21-101 defines a residential district as:
- Not a business district; or
- An area that adjoins and includes a highway where the property along the highway, for a distance of at least 300 feet, is improved mainly with residences or residences and buildings used for business.
Montgomery County Police said the speed camera was properly placed because it was placed on a roadway that contains at least 300 feet of residences and that the law does not say a speed camera must be placed within 300 feet of a residence.
A speed camera in the 4300 block of eastbound Jones Bridge Road that was still there after the court decision has also been moved. That camera at question in Ficker’s case was on the westbound side of the road.
Construction crews will need to blast through rock to build the underground parking garage slated for a 359-unit apartment building and Harris Teeter grocery store at Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane.
Developer StonebridgeCarras, the same company doing the Lot 31 excavation and blasting at Bethesda Avenue, said last week that crews have completed underground utility work around the 8300 Wisconsin site and are ready to start excavation.
Donohoe Construction Company crews are now on the site, which is being prepared with sediment and erosion control measures, according to a release. Workers are also building foundation piles that will be drilled along the property line.
Drilling is scheduled to begin this week and will last five to six weeks. Dump trucks will also begin to haul material off the site this week. StonebridgeCarras said preliminary tests indicate there will be about five months of periodic blasting to get through dense rock. That blasting is scheduled to begin in late July.
StonebridgeCarras said notice to the community will be sent out. Some near the Lot 31 parking garage and apartment project said they were caught off guard when Clark Construction crews began blasting there in December.
The utility work over the last six months that led to detours and bumpy patches in the Battery Lane and Woodmont Avenue intersection was to allow Pepco to replace the overhead power lines with underground ones. Pepco is planning to transfer poer from the overhead electric lines to the underground lines in late June.
StonebridgeCarras hopes to have the excavation done in January. Then, crews will erect construction cranes and start to pour concrete. The building is expected to top out at the end of 2014 and the entire project is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2015.
Photo via StonebridgeCarras