April 15, 2020
Montgomery Planning Board
8787 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Re: Montgomery Thrive 2050 Draft Vision and Goals
Dear Chair Anderson and Planning Commisioners:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide written comments on the draft vision and goals for Thrive Montgomery 2050. We understand that this is a challenging time due to the coronavirus crisis. The Planning Department’s quick shift to virtual meetings, community engagement, and public testimony is commendable, and we are pleased to see the department’s work plan continue on. We hope that this is an opportunity for the department to experiment with more inclusive, transparent community engagement strategies, which can then be incorporated into outreach going forward.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth strongly supports the draft vision and goals. The concept – a web of complete, mixed-use communities connected by vibrant transit and green corridors – is strong and builds off of the revolutionary “wedges and corridors” idea. We especially support the strong language around housing, including on ensuring affordability, diversifying the housing stock, and considering housing a right. We are also pleased with the vision of a county no longer developed around the automobile.
One significant critique of the draft is the language used in reference to transportation. We need to be firm about our commitment to public transit, walking, and biking as the future of transportation in Montgomery County. In recent years, the term “multi-modal” has come to be used as an excuse for continuing car-centric planning standards. If we’re going to significantly alter mode share over the next 30 years, it’s not enough to be multi-modal – we must be transit first.
As a component of our advocacy for Thrive, we have worked with the community to organize Montgomery for All, a grassroots group committed to ensuring that Thrive paves the way for an equitable, sustainable, prosperous future grounded in the principles of smart growth. We have created a platform with ten goals that we would like to see fully included and built upon in Thrive. Many of our goals are included in this draft, but could be stated more explicitly and expanded upon. Please see our specific feedback below, which addresses these concerns:
Thrive 2050 Vision:
• Convenient: We urge you to be stronger and more specific in the goals. “Most” or “many” does not create a bold vision for the future and can be ignored.
• Healthy: If we can set a goal that every resident lives within a 15 minute walk to a park, then we should also be able to set the same goal for the other components of complete communities, especially healthy food and frequent transit.
1. Complete Communities:
• Goal #1: The idea that makes the concept of “complete communities” work is a time constraint on how long it takes to access certain amenities without a car. This has been done by all other communities which have adopted this planning goal, including Paris (15 minutes), Portland (20 minutes), and Copenhagen (5 minutes). We recommend that Thrive adopt 20 minutes as a goal for accessing the required amenities of a complete community. This should become a guiding principle for all future master plans.
• Goal #4: Equal treatment does not necessarily mean equal outcomes or opportunity. The focus should be on equal outcomes, such as socioeconomic mobility and quality of life measurements, rather than on equal treatment.
• Goal #2: We commend the goal of making government planning and decision-making processes accessible, transparent, and easy for all to understand and participate in. In addition, we’d like to see this goal explicitly state the importance of government actively going out into the community for engagement on major actions, rather than expecting the community to come to government.
3. Diverse Economies:
• Goal #5: One of Montgomery for All’s goals is to minimize the displacement of small businesses. Thus, we would like this goal to include the protection of small businesses in addition to identifying and removing barriers to establishment and expansion.
4. Safe and Efficient Travel:
o The vision should state that in 2050 heavy reliance on private vehicle “has shifted” rather than “is shifting.” It is essential to shift well before 2050 if the county is to meet its net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals by 2035.
o The frequency of transit is not mentioned in this vision. We know that the two major factors that drive transit use are frequency and reliability.
o We would like to see more about how to county envisions micromobility, autonomous vehicles, and ridesharing playing into the transportation system in 2050. These technologies, especially autonomous vehicles, have both potential positive and negative impacts. Thrive is the place to start thinking through how the county will manage those impacts.
o We urge that the vision include language stating that no new highways will be built, especially during our climate emergency or in the current and likely longer-term challenging budgetary environment.
o Goal #1: In addition to shifting mode share, we should also establish goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Both goals should be specific and measurable.
o Goal #4: “Multiple travel options” is often repeated throughout this document. However, we would argue that this vision is no different that our current transportation system. Residents may have the option to choose between a private vehicle and local bus service, but because of planning and policy decisions, the private vehicle options is much more attractive than Ride On. Well before 2050, public transit, walking, and biking not only need to be a competitive choices, but also need to be the modes of choice.
5. Affordability and Attainability:
• Goal #1: The safety of housing should also be a goal, in addition to type, size, affordability, and location.
• Goal #2: We would like to see stronger language than “most new housing,” and not only should new housing be in mixed-use locations, but locations that are complete communities.
• Goal #3: If the county is going to consider housing a right, then we need to set bolder goals than continuing our existing programs. Housing as a right should fundamentally alter how the county approaches housing.
6. Healthy and Sustainable Environment:
o By 2050, all vehicles owned and operated by the county should be zero-emissions. Similarly, biking, walking, and public transit should be the most common modes of travel.
o We would like to see more about net-zero energy buildings in the vision statement. Will all new buildings be net-zero? Were we able to retrofit existing buildings in an equitable way?
• Goals: We believe that more than three goals are necessary, given the complexity, ambition, and number of topics addressed in the vision statement.
7. Diverse and Adaptable Growth:
• Vision: We support the vision that regulatory mechanisms to support development should be nimble, focused on design excellence, and achieve measurable, equitable outcomes. However, we’d like to see equity in diverse and adaptable growth explored further and defined in this context.
• Goal #3: We strongly support this goal and ask that the adequate public facilities ordinance, capital improvements program, taxes and fees, and review and permitting processes all be reviewed and considered when developing policies and actions for Thrive.
8. Culture and Design: No comments.
Maryland Advocacy Manager
Coalition for Smarter Growth