Presentation to Montgomery County Council A Network of Livable Communities (full text of prepared remarks)

Presentation to Montgomery County Council
A Network of Livable Communities — Transit and Transit-Oriented Development
By Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
June 12, 2012

(full text of prepared remarks — actual presentation was abbreviated from this text)

Good morning. President Berliner and members of the Council, my name is Stewart Schwartz and I am the Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My staff and I have met with all of you in the course of evaluating the RTV proposal. We commend the County Executive, the Transit Task Force, the staffs and the Council for pressing forward with plans for a next generation transit network for Montgomery County.

The region’s leading conservation groups formed the Coalition for Smarter Growth in 1997 to address where and how or region will grow. We work with communities to address the interconnected issues of land use, transportation, housing and the environment.

Smart Growth in Montgomery County:

Of course Montgomery County had begun many years before to implement smart growth policies, earning a national reputation for its early planning initiatives including: wedges/corridors, Agricultural Reserve, TDR’s, downtown Bethesda, Kentlands/King Farm, and of course, MPDU’s

The most significant validation of the importance of MPDU’s to smart growth and the economic integration that they make possible is the Century Foundation report released on Oct 2010 and reported in the Washington Post:

“Low-income students in Montgomery County performed better when they attended affluent elementary schools instead of ones with higher concentrations of poverty, … [suggesting that] economic integration is a powerful but neglected school-reform tool.” (Friday, October 15, 2010)

These early policies and successes were followed by the Silver Spring revival, the expansion of the MPDU program, and the renewed attention to the Ag Reserve and its value to the county.

In the last couple of years we have seen Montgomery County renewing its focus on transit and transit-oriented development (TOD) — I would include the Purple Line, White Flint plan, CR Zone and the RTV proposal in the list of important county initiatives.

One of my main themes today will be that the region and this county have made TOD a top priority for handling growth without increasing regional traffic. We are doing very well now on the development side, but now we need to put more of the “T” into the TOD.

A Network of Livable Communities:

Why are transit and TOD so important? — in their 1996 report, “A Network of Livable Communities,” the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environmental Defense showed that transit and a network of TOD performed better than the regional highway focused plans, reducing per capita vehicle miles traveled, reducing delay on the highways and increasing speeds on the highways. Studies of Montgomery County in the early 2000’s confirmed this, showing that TOD, east-west transit links and addressing the east-west jobs housing balance would be an effective approach to Montgomery County traffic. More recent COG studies (“What Would it Take” scenario and the land use component of the “Aspirations” scenario) demonstrate again that TOD, transit and jobs/housing balance offer the largest reductions in per capita vehicle miles traveled, CO2 emissions, and enhanced accessibility to jobs, even as access to jobs declines for job locations without transit access. The RTV offers the opportunity to improve access to jobs for all members of your workforce and to continue to attract companies to the county.

The leaders of this region, in the Region Forward Compact, have recognized that transit and TOD will be the priority approach to handling growth, addressing traffic, improving equitable access to jobs and housing, and remaining competitive and sustainable as a region.

Economic Competitiveness and Changing Demographics:

We agree with the County Executive that investing in the next generation transit network is a key to economic competitiveness. Transit and TOD — walkable, bikeable communities — are essential to meeting market demand from changing demographics which are increasingly dominated by the younger members of the workforce and downsizing empty nesters/retirees (who turned out to be key supporters of the White Flint Plan). These are the largest cohorts in our population and market demand for mixed-use, walkable communities is already as much as forty percent of the market. The share is expected to grow as more people experience the convenience and livability and health benefits and as the cohort of retiring baby boomers and our immigrant community grow.

Montgomery County has a particular advantage among jurisdictions around the country in that it combines a highly educated workforce, great schools, the potential for an extensive network of walkable, transit communities, a legacy of extensive networks of parks and the Agricultural Reserve, an asset which is unique among counties of this size and proximity to an urban center.

Young, highly educated, technology oriented employees today are highly mobile — they are going to go to communities that offer both vibrant urban centers and nearby green spaces with extensive recreational opportunities. You are competing for these employees with Boulder Colorado, Seattle Washington, Portland Oregon, Austin Texas and more. Increasingly they are more likely to rent than to own, in order to maintain their mobility and access to high paying jobs. Given a choice of tech jobs, they will got to where the hippest neighborhoods and coffee shops can be found and where they can get outside on a bike, a mountain bike or a kayak. I’ve heard numerous times from weekend cyclists that they’ve given up on Loudoun County and its leapfrog sprawl which has shredded its countryside, in favor of biking in the Agricultural Reserve.

There is another economic advantage to transit and TOD through creating options that reduce our consumption of oil (whether foreign or domestic). Every extra dollar spent on fuel, in an era of higher energy prices, is a dollar not spent on local goods and services, on building a business, or on additional education so essential for keeping our workforce competitive. This past winter and spring, economists attributed a slow-down in non-gasoline related consumer spending to the rising price of filling our gas tanks. The Center for Neighborhood Technologies’ Housing + Transportation Cost calculator shows that mixed-use, transit-oriented centers offer the most affordable combination of housing and transportation, not only saving households money, but helping to attract and keep your workforce.

Tax Base:

I don’t know the figures for Montgomery County but Arlington County has confirmed that its two Metro corridors provide 50% of its tax base on just 11.6% of its land. The net tax benefits are used to invest in neighborhoods across the county — in recreation centers, traffic calming, libraries, schools and parks.

Economist Joe Minocozzi has also shown that the per square foot tax yield of compact, mixed-use development is many times higher than that of traditional strip mall development.

Avoiding Inner Suburban Decline:

Investing in high capacity, frequent and convenient transit service is critical to avoiding inner suburban decline. That’s been one of the great benefits of the Metrorail system as reflected in Bethesda and Silver Spring. It will also be a key benefit of the Purple Line with its multiple stops in Montgomery County. For neighborhoods of smaller, older housing stock to compete against the shiny big, new homes farther out, they have to win on amenities, like attractive convenient transit and the ability to walk to revitalized neighborhood centers. Adding an RTV network to the Metrorail and the Purple Line will help to continue to attract new young families to your older suburban neighborhoods.

Green Solution/Fighting Climate Change:

Montgomery County prides itself on a long record of strong environmental commitments, from the Agricultural Reserve and stream valley parks, to recycling, energy efficient building and green power initiatives. You seek to be a leader in fighting climate change. Well, one of the most effective means to fight climate change is through transit and TOD. Green, energy efficient buildings in walkable/bikeable TOD address the 80 percent of our energy consumption and climate emissions that come from our buildings and transportation. In Smart Growth America’s “Growing Cooler” report and the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s “Cool Communities” report for our own region, we have shown that mixed-use, walkable, transit communities in regionally accessible locations offer significant CO2 reductions. Walkable, mixed-use urban form and efficient, transit accessible location of development can provide reductions in transportation related CO2 emissions of up to forty percent over conventional development. That’s before counting the benefits of energy efficient green buildings. Looking at residential development alone by comparing King Farm’s 3200 homes to the same number in a location like Derwood, shows that transportation related CO2 emissions from King Farm residents are 42 percent less than they would be were those homes located in Derwood with its pattern of suburban streets.

Our Recommendations:

Press forward with implementing TOD and a modern transit network.

Ensure unity of the Council, the County Executive and the Planning Board, while still asking the hard questions and ensuring that you get the details right.

Demand the best of the county’s transportation and planning staffs and hire the best consultants to ensure a relentless focus on implementing well-designed TOD and transit.

Communicate effectively to the community about the stark choice facing the county. Without an investment in dedicated right-of-way, high capacity transit and TOD, the county’s traffic will choke off future economic growth. Older suburbs that lack transit access will decline as those with the ability to do so flee to temporarily less congested environs farther and farther out.

Ensure the commitment of County transportation staff and state SHA to allow for the dedicated transit ROW you need along your road corridors.

Commit to the vision of a full network to inspire but phase it (as has been proposed) so that you can draw lessons from each stage and ensure that you get the details right. Key components in our view are:

Frequent, reliable service

Pre-paid and rapid boarding from level platforms

Real time information and easily understandable maps and service

Dedicated right of way

Strong focus on making the investments in safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access to the stations

Ensuring you meet the county’s stormwater management goals by retrofitting green stormwater management as you construct the corridors

Adding essential links to surrounding jurisdictions, but especially along or near the Beltway corridor to Tysons Corner and the Silver Line. In fact, we urge you to work with Fairfax County to continue to press COG and state transportation officials for this link.

We again commend the County Executive, his staff, and the Transit Task Force for creating a vision for a next generation, high-capacity transit network for Montgomery County. We urge the Council to press forward with well-designed TOD and the transit needed to support sustainable and competitive economic growth. Please put the “T” in the TOD.