Saturday, October 31, 2009

SUV - Supermarket Unmotorized Vehicle

This is an essential piece of equipment for any committed pedestrian. The cart folds for carry and storage. For heavy items - or lots of items - a cart like this really does make not having a car possible.

This cart holds enough groceries to last our family of four for a week. It weighs about 20lbs., and can carry up-to 150lbs. It cost about $90. This particular cart has about 100 miles on it. I expect it will last for another 100 miles.

It is also essential that sidewalks in Montgomery County be repaired so that they are not brokem uneven, or poorly-designed. Things like tree boxes with stones, rather than grates, can really cause a problem for a pedestrian trying to get home with a 100lb. cart of groceries. I have retired more than one cart because of a hole in the sidewalk or an asphalt patch that has sunken over time.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Smart Growth Lost

Dr Weast, US Surgeon General David Satcher, and MHTSA Administrator Dr. Sue Bailey at East Silver Spring ES for Walk to School Day. Harriet Tregoning is at the podium in the photo on the lower left.

I was first introduced to Smart Growt back in 2000, when I met Secretary of the Office of Smart Growth, Harriet Tregoning. She came to help celebrate Walk to School Day at East Silver Spring ES. In 2003, she came to speak at a meeting I organized to support Smart Growth in Montgomery County. Many "Slow-Growth" Councilmembers had just lost their seats, and I thought it was mainly because they seemed "anti-everything" to a lot of voters. I beleived that people wanted to vote for candidates who were FOR somet hings, too.

Many of the peoploe who came to the meeting were from Bethesda - the first wave of Smart Growth retro-fit in Montgomery County. These people were skeptical about Smart Growth, saying that it was used as an excuse to circumvent established Mmasterplans, and expedited the process where ordinary citizens couldn't keep-up. They claimed that Smart Growth was not real, but was being used to sell ultra-high density development.

The meeting was strange. I don't know what I was thinking at the time. Still, it informed me - if no one else. I got to spend a lot of time talking with some very smart people - with opposing views, in some case. I heard the stories about sprawl and loss of green space. Impervious surfaces, pollution, loss of habitat for wildlife, etc. I know first-hand how liviable an urban community can be if it is designed well. I thought fighting and losing this war was not an option. I had naive notions of people finding common ground and working together. Even thought I didn't agree with everything that was said, I respected the people who spoke-up. I was especially impressed with Marc Elrich and Jim Humphries. They had REASONS for their positions. They had experience and instincts that I didn't have.

I don't feel that way anymore. This is not to say that I have been won-over by one side or the other. I still beleive what I beleive - that working together is the key. I just don't know if our community can pull it together enough to demand that Smart Growth be Smart, not just Growth. I still beleive, but people have to fight for it. It won't happen by itself. Left unattended by the public, it will tilt towards those who are looking for profit.

Fortunately, Smart Growth came with a set of principles that we can refer to. Again, these were introduced to me by Harriet Tregoning.

Principles of Smart Growth
Create Range of Housing Opportunities and Choices
Providing quality housing for people of all income levels is an integral component in any smart growth strategy.

Create Walkable Neighborhoods
Walkable communities are desirable places to live, work, learn, worship and play, and therefore a key component of smart growth.

Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration
Growth can create great places to live, work and play -- if it responds to a community’s own sense of how and where it wants to grow.

Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place
Smart growth encourages communities to craft a vision and set standards for development and construction which respond to community values of architectural beauty and distinctiveness, as well as expanded choices in housing and transportation.

Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair and Cost Effective
For a community to be successful in implementing smart growth, it must be embraced by the private sector.

Mix Land Uses
Smart growth supports the integration of mixed land uses into communities as a critical component of achieving better places to live.

Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty and Critical Environmental Areas
Open space preservation supports smart growth goals by bolstering local economies, preserving critical environmental areas, improving our communities quality of life, and guiding new growth into existing communities.

Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
Providing people with more choices in housing, shopping, communities, and transportation is a key aim of smart growth.

Strengthen and Direct Development Towards Existing Communities
Smart growth directs development towards existing communities already served by infrastructure, seeking to utilize the resources that existing neighborhoods offer, and conserve open space and irreplaceable natural resources on the urban fringe.

Take Advantage of Compact Building Design
Smart growth provides a means for communities to incorporate more compact building design as an alternative to conventional, land consumptive development.

Are these principles being observed in Montgomery County? Some? Most? You tell me. I, for one, can only answer one of these definitively. The Second Principle is , "Create Walkable Communities." We're definately not doing that. People are working hard to make things better, but we need to do more to say we are living-up to that principle in places like Silver Spring. I will be happy to repeat some suggestions in future posts...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Letting go...

For the first time in two years, Montgomery is not online. I just don't have the money to keep it going. I had hoped to find others who might be interested in forming some sort of group, but nothing really developed over the last two years, and I don't see anything forming anytime soon. It would have been nice to form a group that could raise money and direct an effort to change pedestrian infrastructure and policy in Montgomery County.

I have given it a try. I have spent more of my personal money trying to get pedestrian improvements that I care to admit. Hundreds over the last two years - and countless hours. Some of the expenditures produced results and some did not. I am mostly happy with the outcomes. Persisteence is a needed thing, but sometimes a change of direction works just as well. It is going to take me some time to figure-out how to do what I was doing before, only better and cheaper. I still want feedback. Stop reading and thnking and actually write. Too many goose-eggs down there.

It was sad to click on the link and find the Oops! message...

There is a lot of stuff on that site.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Safety in Numbers

Montgomery County Police deployed a device on Sligo Abenue to count vehicles and measure their speeds. I asked for Sligo Avenue to be considered for photo-enforcement in 2007, so I guess this is the result of that - amoung other things. This was done in three locations, for one week each.

I asked Councilmember Ervin's office for a look at the reports, and Sgt. Harmon dropped by my house with two sheets last week. Here is a look at the report for two of the locations.

Wow. What an interesting report. Amazing numbers. Why don't we have anything like this for pedestrians?

In my opinion, it is every bit as important for the County and SHA to have reliable numbers on pedestrians in key areas. They don't. They have only very narrow counts - not serious numbers. The technology exists to count pedestrians now - off-the-shelf. Not even really expensive. The Smart Growth Principles that we embraced when we stareted building all of these high-rises must not be forgotten after the buidling is finished. Studies show that there is safety in numbers - that more pedestrians means fewer collisions, less crime, nad a better bussiness environment. Lets use a constant-study of pedestrian trends to gauge the success of pedestrian programs, not just deaths and injuries.

This is an example of the kind of system used to count pedestrians. Developed for retail - Malls and large department stores, this technology could easily be re-purposed for pedestrian counting on MC sidewalks.

I want MCDOT and SHA to look into this technology - give it a try somewhere. I think the resault will surprise a few people.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Temporary obstructions

This afternoon I took my dog, Opie for a walk down to Sligo Park - at the Piney Branch Rd - end of Sligo Ave. These photos show a few of the conditions that exist along this stretch.

Just like with drivers, conditions for pedestrians change depending upon things like weather, lighting, and - in this case - trash-day. It's not the homeowners' faults, nor is it the fault of the County. It just happens. Temporary obstructions cause a lotof greif for pedestrians. People with service animals
or wheelchairs can have a lot of trouble with things like trash cans, utility poles, and fire hydrants.

I used to think that a passage that had less than 36 inches clearance was not ADA compliant. A few years ago I spoke with a lawyerr who told me that it is really more like 30 inches, but 27 inches would probably pass too. I didn't have my measuring stick with me, but some of the clearances in these photos are awfully close to 27 inches.

I hear from MCDOT that this section of my street is on the list for improvements next summer. I can't wait to see how some of these issues are addressed.

New ADA crosswalks at Fenton and Colesville

I took this video after talking with Sgt. Tom Harmon about this intersection - Colesville and Fenton. SHA recently re-did the crosswalks to be more ADA compliant. Not what I would call a stellar job. Still, Peds and drivers seem to be figuring this confusion out for themselves.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"My plan was approved by the County."

I walked up to the Wachovia on Georgia Ave. this afternoon, and on my way back along Fenton, I came across this worksite. Dispite signs, people were caught off-gaurd by this obstruction, and were walking in the street - inches away from traffic.

When I started taking photos, a guy who looked like he had some authority asked me what I was taking photos of, and why. I told him I wanted to show these conditions to some people. He said, very quickly, the his site plan was approved by the County. I tols him that I was sure it was. He told me that there were signs down on the corner of Cameron and Fenton that warned pedestrians that the sidewalk was closed ahead, and to cross there. "I didn't see that," I said, becuase there were so many other construction signs there.

"I am going to hear about it when you send those photos out' he said. I replied that I imagined he would, but reminded him that people were actually walking in the road with the traffic in front of his worksite.. He told me that it was a phased plan, and that they would be building a walkway soon.
It wasn't a hostile discussion. I told him that - even if the County had approved it - it was not right to have a worksite where civilians are put in danger.

I let him know that I am blind, and that this kind of thing happerns all over Silver Spring. One detour leads to another. I'll put-up some video later...

Why Are You Stopped In The Middle Of The Crosswalk?

I used to silently sneer at people who did what this person did to me two days ago. While walking home from Downtown Silver Spring - we ate at Panera and stopped in at Office Depot - We came across this person stopped in the crosswalk at Bonifant Ave. Recently, I have noticed that more people back out of the crosswalk if they have room - or signal throough the windsheild that they're sorry if they don't. This person just sat there, with plenty of room to back-up. As we walked around the front of the vehicle, I stopped and pointed to the stop line and said, " You're supposed to be stopped back there. You are blocking the crosswalk. There is no turn on red here anyway." No response, except maybe a sneer. So, when I got to the other side of the intersection, I turned around and took a photo. I took another to prove that the vehicle was stationary.

Mundane? Yes. Illegal? also, YES. More than just being illegal - it's also very rude and inconsiderate. This happens one-out-of-four times I cross this intersection. I have almost been struck at least twice by vehicles turning right against the NTOR sign. I think this is an enforcement issue, but who in their right mind would ask the Police to spend time on something as insignificant as this?

I keep hearing about "Pedestrian Education" as part of MC's Ped Safety initiative. I remember the "Street Smart" campaign from several years ago. I wonder - is there any evidence that any of this worked? What the heckk does "Pedestrian Education" mean anyway? It seems that we have plenty of "Driver edjacaten" atill left to do. I always thought getting a ticket was a pretty-good education. Isn't Education really a function of enforcement?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How I see it.

If you stare at the center of this photo you can get a vague idea of what my eyesight is like. Of course, it's much more complicated than that. I think it looks somewhat like something from the old TV Star Trek - the one with Shatner. Flashing and swirling purple and yellow lights.

When faced with a pattern, my brain draws in the missing peices - and almost never gets it right. I can stand a few yards awayin front of a person with their back to a brick wall, and all I will see is a brick wall. The same is true for the pattern of words. Reading long words is a chore because my brain is constantly filling in what it thinks the next letter should be. Traffic signals and ped signals are visible only i the periphery.

For me, one of the most frustrating things is not being able to recognize faces, even up-close. I have said things to people that I shouldn't have because I thought they were someone else. Now I mostly do what everyone else does - keep my mouth shut and keep moving. That seems to suit everyone just fine.

You can see why I can't drive a car. It has been a blessing in desguise, for sure. Brought me here - was the basis for so many descisions in my life that turned out well. Now I am just looking to Montgomery County and Maryland to keep their promise to make Places like Silver Spring ESPECIALLY PEDESTRIAN FRIENDLY. I am here to tell you that things are bad, and likely to get worse before they get better. More on "SMART GROWTH" later...

Thayer Canyon

These are photos of a tree box along Thayer Avenue in Silver Spring - outside the Safeway. Several of these may also be found along Fenton Street, and elsewhere in Silver Spring and Montgomery County. I don't know the official name for the blocks in this tree box, but why don't we just call them trip-hazards-in-a-box? Or, how about ADA Violation?

Montgomery County Officials in the Regional Services Center and MCDOT have known about these problem areas for years - even replacing some of them with metal grates- and yet, here they are still...

Monday, October 19, 2009

A sign is not enough!

You will find this kind of sign in use all over Montgomery County. While I understand that there are times when access to the ROW needs to be disrupted, I also know that putting-up this sign doesn't solve the many problems that arise from obstructed ROWs.

More thought is needed. Project managers and property owners need to be aware of the serous problems such an inadequate approach causes. Simply shutting down the sidewalk and directing people to the other side doesn't work if - for examle - the other side is obstructed as well. Throwing up a sign is substitute for thoughful executing of a project. Wearing a sign around your neck warning people that you're a jerk doesn't make BEING a jerk OK, does it?

I have found two problems when it comes to worksite safety in Montgomery County - 1. the emphasis from the contractor's point of veiw is access to the worksite, and 2. Montgomery County doesn't do the best job ensuring that sidewalk closure is done with safety and accessibility in mind. Finally, Complaints are how Montgomery County finds out about most pedestrian infrastructure problems. They have only recently become even mildly proactyive about this.