Author: Ayesha Amsa

Support the Countywide Map Amendment (aka “CMA”), while preventing displacement

The CMA is critical to building quality, walk- and bike-friendly communities and vibrant, transit-oriented downtowns. That’s why CSG is urging the Council to implement this once-in-a-generation zoning rewrite. We’re close to the end of a process that began in 2014 – putting in place modern zoning regulations to replace 50 year old rules!

Send a message to the Council today!

However, we’re concerned that, in some cases, aging apartments in designated transit centers are proposed for significant upzoning without sufficient protection for residents against displacement. Therefore, while supporting the CMA, we’re asking the County to adopt one of the fixes we’ve proposed to address this problem. We’ve included our suggestions in the sample letter we’re providing to you. You can also read more about our solutions in CSG’s testimony here

RELEASE: COG’s Initiative for Equity, Smart Growth, Climate

RELEASE: COG’s Initiative for Equity, Smart Growth, Climate

PRESS RELEASE 

For Immediate Release: 
September 23, 2021 

Contact: 
Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, 703-599-6437 
Cheryl Cort, Policy Director, 202-251-7516 

CSG Applauds COG’s Initiative for Equity, Smart Growth, Climate 

COG Proposal to Focus Development around DC Region’s High-Capacity Transit Stations Vote Scheduled for October 13 

Today, the Washington Post reported that the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, composed of the region’s local elected officials, some state legislators, and state and federal representatives, are on the verge of agreeing to focus development around the DC region’s high-capacity transit stations. These include Metrorail, Purple Line, VRE and MARC commuter rail, and bus rapid transit stations. At the same time, COG intends to prioritize transportation, housing, trails, and other investments around stations within equity emphasis areas, which have high concentrations of lower income residents and high numbers of Black, Latino, or Asian residents. 

COG also announced preliminary findings that show a combination of smart growth, electric vehicles, and pricing tools will be necessary for the region to slash its greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. Focused growth in transit communities is an essential part of this strategy. 

“We applaud COG’s proposal which is to be voted on at their October 13 meeting,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “COG’s action is the natural outgrowth of the work and long-time advocacy by our organization and COG’s own studies and vision statements over the past two decades. But now this agreement must be followed by action.” 

Founders of the Coalition for Smarter Growth first proposed a “network of livable communities” centered on the region’s transit hubs in reports released in 1992 and 1996, and in CSG’s 2002 Blueprint for a Better Region. It was a vision largely endorsed by the Urban Land Institute’s “Reality Check” conference in 2005, COG’s Region Forward vision of 2010, COG’s follow-on studies and plans, and by many local elected officials who have been approving transit-oriented developments.

“Anyone frustrated by sitting in traffic, or concerned about the growing evidence of climate change including frequent floods in the DC region, should support this COG initiative. Mixed use, mixed-income, walkable, transit-centered communities mean many more people will be able to drive less and reduce the air and climate pollution they generate,” said Schwartz. 

“The region’s east-west economic and racial divide, first highlighted in the 1999 Brookings report ‘A Region Divided,” has persisted for too long. Accelerating investment in transit communities in Prince George’s, eastern Montgomery, and eastern Fairfax and Prince William would shorten commutes, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and improve access to jobs and opportunity,” said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for CSG. “In fact, building out transit-oriented communities on the east side of our region and investing in affordable housing near transit throughout our region are key transportation and climate solutions.” 

“But there was also sobering news from the meeting of COG’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) yesterday,” said Schwartz. “Early findings from their climate scenario study confirm that neither the rate of adoption of electric vehicles, nor land use changes, will be enough to slash our greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently by 2030. We’ll need to move on a number of fronts – much faster adoption of electric vehicles, much stronger action to focus growth and reduce sprawl in order to reduce vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled, increase telecommuting, and use pricing (congestion pricing or vehicle miles traveled fees, and parking pricing), if our region is going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to do our part to address the climate emergency.” 

“Electric vehicles alone can’t save us. We must stop sprawling outward where people have no option but driving, and create inclusive, walkable, transit-centered communities, in order to slash our greenhouse gas emissions. In the process, we will increase access to opportunity and address regional inequity, while improving quality of life for everyone,” concluded Cort. 

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Event: Alternatives to Maglev

Event: Alternatives to Maglev

September 21 – The proposed high speed Maglev train between Baltimore, MD and Washington D.C. would harm a national park, a national wildlife refuge, the Chesapeake Bay and numerous nearby communities.

NPCA, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the West Baltimore Project, Delegate Jared Solomon, and Delegate Robbyn Lewis hosted a conversation about why the proposed Baltimore-Washington Maglev project is wrong for the region and the numerous transit solutions currently being considered.

View the event recording on YouTube.

ACTION ALERT: This coffin is a dramatic illustration of what’s at stake

ACTION ALERT: This coffin is a dramatic illustration of what’s at stake

Image: Sonya Breehey

Last week I joined the Gum Springs community demanding a safer Richmond Highway. The coffin included in the protest is dramatic, but captures just how dangerous our roads are. Fairfax County continues to experience high rates of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries with 10 people killed already this year.

The Washington Post story captures the energy of local community members led by Queenie Cox and the New Gum Springs Civic Association fighting for safer streets. This community is showing that together we can make a difference.

Creating safe and connected ways to walk and bike in Fairfax County will take a strong vision and solid plan to overcome the disconnected and dangerous conditions we face today. That’s why the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan is so important. Let’s make sure Fairfax County knows there is strong support for making active transportation a safe and viable option to get around our communities.  

Email Fairfax County Today

The County is currently seeking public input on the plan’s draft vision, goals, and objectives before it goes to the Board of Supervisors for approval. This is the first part of the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan being developed that will be a road map for a safe and convenient network of sidewalks, bikeways, and trails in the county. 

There is a virtual public meeting tonight, Sept. 15, at 6:30 pm where you can learn more about the plan and ask questions directly to staff. Check out the Active Fairfax Transportation Plan website for information on the plan and how to join one of the meeting. Public comments will be accepted through September 19. 

We need safer streets and better walking and biking now. Remember to ask the county to move quickly from vision and goals to actually funding needed safety improvements!

Action Alert: here’s your chance to tell elected officials how you travel & what to build

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) wants to hear from you as they update their long range transportation plan, TransAction. Take a short survey to let them know about your travel modes and preferences.

Take the survey!

The survey also includes two important questions about the transportation future we want. For Northern Virginia – and for our children and grandchildren – we need one that is more sustainable, healthier, safer, and where we cut the emissions that are fueling climate change. 

NVTA is a regional funding agency for transportation projects. Unfortunately, their long wishlist of road expansion projects included in past TransAction plans won’t get us to our urgent climate targets – even with the important transition to electric vehicles. Northern Virginia needs more walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible communities – and the transportation projects that support this vision.

Thus far, NVTA has not seriously considered the option of improving our transportation network and access to jobs by bringing jobs, housing, and services closer together in walkable communities. So, when they ask about “reducing congestion” or “improving access to jobs”, the agency is generally viewing this through the lens of making traffic faster through more road widening. The science shows widened roads attract more driving and fill up in as little as five years.

Parting thoughts

This time the TransAction plan has to be different, especially if we are going to slash the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation that are contributing to climate change. Studies at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have repeatedly shown that the best performing approach to transportation is a network of walkable, transit-oriented communities. 

Stay tuned as we campaign for a better TransAction plan.

CSG/Sierra Club re: Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update

CSG/Sierra Club re: Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update

September 9, 2021
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
CONVEYED VIA EMAIL

Dear Members of the Board of Supervisors:

The Sierra Club Great Falls Group and Coalition for Smarter Growth are submitting these comments concerning Fairfax County’s candidate projects for the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority 6-year plan update. We appreciate Fairfax County’s increasing focus on concentrating new development in walkable, bike-able communities near transit. For these smart growth plans to succeed, the County must prioritize transit, pedestrian and bicycle improvements in its applications for transportation funds.

In Fairfax’s current 6-year Transportation Priorities Plan, more than 59% of the anticipated available funds ($1.8 billion) are for road widenings, interchanges, extensions and spot improvements. Only 27.6% ($837.2 million) is programmed for transit capital and operations, and 7.2% ($219.5 million) for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. (Source: Transportation Status Report, Feb. 2021, p. 13) Most of the bicycle and pedestrian improvements are being funded by local sources such as the Commercial and Industrial Tax and a transportation bond. While the county may be able to design and implement individual projects more quickly through using local funding sources, local funds alone are not enough to shift the county toward a cleaner and healthier transportation future within the next 10 years. Fairfax County has a long list of missing pedestrian and bike connections and should seek to fill these gaps in our active transportation network through all available funding sources.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority allocates $200 million a year in regional transportation funds, as well as more than $80 million in 30% local-share funds. Fairfax County was awarded more than $700 million in NVTA regional funds for the 2018-23 six-year plan and 2020-25 update, in addition to receiving more than $30 million annually in local-share funds. However, most of Fairfax County’s NVTA projects have been narrowly focused on expanding road capacity for private vehicles. Among Fairfax County’s eight submissions for the NVTA
2020-25 update, for example, seven were road projects, with only one transit project (Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit).

Fairfax County has many bicycle, pedestrian and transit projects that are in the current NVTA Transaction Plan, that need additional funding, and that could be implemented by the 2027 “out” year for the Six-Year Plan update. Moreover, each of these is a regional transportation solution, including Metrorail station access improvements. Fairfax County should make a priority of completing the plans and seeking construction funding to complete these projects within the next six years. These projects include:

  • Herndon Metrorail Station Area access improvements: The Herndon Metrorail Station Access Management Study has identified numerous infrastructure improvements so that people can more easily walk, bicycle, and roll to the future Herndon Metrorail station. These include a pedestrian bridge over the Dulles Toll Road to Monroe Street; trail improvements and new trail links; and design improvements to make Herndon Parkway more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. These improvements should be funded and implemented as soon as possible to maximize the benefits of Metro and transit-oriented development.
  • High-capacity transit on Annandale and Gallows Road from Annandale to Tysons: Compact, walkable, mixed-use development is emerging all along Gallows Road, especially at INOVA, Mosaic, Dunn Loring and Tysons. The county should accelerate plans to improve transit through priority bus lanes, improved bus stations and other enhancements that will make this area even more walkable and reduce congestion and pollution.
  • Route 7 enhanced bus service from Baileys Crossroads to Tysons: Route 7 is the second-busiest bus corridor in northern Virginia. While the overall Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit project from Alexandria to Tysons is still being developed, the county should take steps now to better connect residents in Baileys Crossroads, Seven Corners and other areas to Tysons and other commercial centers in the corridor through enhanced bus service. Bus enhancements could include signal priority and enclosed stations with real-time schedule information, and ultimately transition to full Bus Rapid Transit on dedicated lanes with pre-boarding fare collection.
  • Fairfax County express bus service, Herndon Metrorail station to Fort Belvoir: Fairfax County has developed plans for improving transportation on Fairfax County Parkway. These include bus service improvements such as queue jumps and the planned Route 496 bus from Herndon to Franconia Springfield. Fairfax County should expedite key transit improvements and seek regional funding to implement them in the near term. At the same time, any new travel lanes on the Fairfax County Parkway should be dedicated bus and HOV3 lanes.
  • South County feeder bus service: Improve service levels on bus routes serving Richmond Highway, Kingstowne, and Springfield.

Thank you for considering our comments.

Sincerely yours,
Susan Bonney, Chair Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Sierra Club Great Falls Group Coalition for Smarter Growth

Cc: Tom Biesiadny

Take Action: How should we live in 2050?

Do you want to be able to easily walk, bike, or hop on a bus? Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy to find a great place to live that doesn’t stretch your budget? How can we make sure our neighborhoods are resilient in the face of climate change?

For nearly two years, Montgomery County has been working on a new general plan called Thrive Montgomery 2050, a blueprint for how and where the county will grow over the next 30+ years. Now, it’s up to the County Council whether or not to maintain and strengthen the Planning Board’s bold vision.

Send an email to your councilmembers to support Thrive 2050!

We believe the Planning Board has done a great job embracing smart growth as the most sustainable and equitable way for Montgomery County to grow and provide opportunities for everyone. On its own, Thrive doesn’t change any laws, but it will set the policy agenda for the County Council, influence the Planning Department’s work program, and impact all future master plans. It’s absolutely critical for the future! 

Use this form to tell your councilmembers that you support a vision for Montgomery County that is more affordable, equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous. You can read the Planning Board’s draft of Thrive and learn more about the plan here, and learn about CSG’s Thrive 2050 campaign here.

Take Action: Support a stronger Climate Action Plan in Prince George’s County

Given the urgency of the recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, we know we don’t have time to neglect key solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, you can help Prince George’s County adopt smart growth climate solutions that are a win-win for people, the economy, and the climate. 

Here are two ways to help: (1) send an email to the County Climate Action Commission (if you haven’t already), and (2) attend the upcoming virtual Climate Action Plan community meeting on August 19th.

TAKE ACTION: Voice your support for stronger County climate actions

Transportation (mostly from cars and trucks) makes up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions at 48%, but the County’s draft plan misses opportunities to reduce emissions with smarter land use and transportation policies. Electric vehicles (EVs) and telecommuting are important but not enough. Smart growth solutions — transit-oriented development (TOD), affordable housing options close to jobs and services, better transit, and safe walking and biking, are effective and equitable strategies to reduce transportation-related climate pollution AND improve livability and prosperity in the county. 

We commend the County Climate Action Commission for including three recommendations to reduce emissions through smarter land use and transportation. But to make an impact, these must be strengthened, including by:

  • Prioritizing walkable, transit-oriented development and affordable housing
  • Expanding employee transit benefits and implementing free fares
  • Expanding transit service
  • Making streets safer for people walking and biking

Want to get more involved? Join the upcoming Prince George’s community meeting on the Climate Action Plan on August 19 evening. 

RSVP: Climate Action Plan Virtual Community Meeting Thursday, August 19th, 6:30 – 8:30 PM

Get more background by reading CSG’s climate recommendations for Prince George’s.

Take Action: Will Maryland’s Board of Public Works vote to expand highways during a climate crisis?

On Wednesday, the three-person Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on the contract to widen I-495 and I-270 with four private toll lanes. This vote is happening before critical financial and risk analyses and a final environmental impact statement are complete. We are calling on the Board to delay the vote.

Good government demands that members of the Board of Public Works and the public should know the full fiscal, environmental, and social risks of this project by completing the environmental impact study before the Board of Public Works votes — certainly before locking Maryland into a long-term, exclusive contract. 

To be clear, we agree that we need to address the Beltway and I-270, but the process has been distorted from the beginning because of the power of the toll road companies and Governor Hogan starting with the conclusion first and failing to objectively consider alternatives.

Evaluation of alternatives is particularly important because the highway expansion will harm hundreds of acres of parkland, wetlands, and waterways, as well as lead to more noise, air pollution, stormwater runoff, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Join the rally Wednesday morning! At 8:45am on August 11, join us and our environmental and community partners at a rally/press conference tomorrow morning. The plan is to gather at 8:45am at the Treasury Building at 80 Calvert St. in Annapolis. More info about speaker to come. Directions and parking options here.
  2. Call Comptroller Peter Franchot: Before 10am on August 11, call Board of Public Works member and State Comptroller Peter Franchot at 410-260-7801. Here’s what to say: My name is X, and I am a resident of (insert city). I’m calling to urge Comptroller Franchot to delay a vote on the I-495 & I-270 initial contract until after the final Environmental Impact Statement is complete and we know the risks. Talking points can be found here.
  3. Testify or submit written comments as soon as possible:
    1. Submit written testimony to email.bpw@maryland.gov, mdcomptroller@marylandtaxes.gov, and Treasurer@treasurer.state.md.us
    2. You can testify in-person at the Treasurer’s Office in Annapolis or virtually. Send request to email.bpw@maryland.gov and specify you want to testify in opposition on item 11-GM. 

This project isn’t worth the high cost to parks, streams, neighborhoods, taxpayers, and drivers. Instead of investing in transit-oriented communities — especially in Prince George’s County — it condemns residents of the east side of our region to forever having more costly, long commutes. Read more in CSG’s executive director’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.