Thursday, October 01, 2015

MoCo residents on ITA at public hearing: "This is a lunatic idea"

Residents opposing the proposed Independent Transit Authority at last night's Transit Task Force public hearing again heavily outnumbered proponents of the unelected taxing authority, and Bus Rapid Transit.

What stands out is how the Montgomery County political machine is starting to sound more desperate as the ITA battle rages on. As Silver Spring resident Larry Dickter noted in his testimony, the ITA has "little if any public support." Even County Council President George Leventhal has suggested that the ITA bill not be submitted to the state legislature at this time. It's unclear what support the ITA has on the County Council or among Montgomery County legislators at this point, following 3 public hearings at which said public has overwhelmingly slammed the idea.

How desperate are ITA proponents? They're criticizing opponents for being white. You can't make this stuff up folks. Tom Liderto of Takoma Park, an ITA and BRT proponent, said that whites now make up less than half of the population in the county, but were the vast majority of the citizens testifying. He advised the task force that they might be hearing "a lot of loud voices from a minority."

A sure sign of desperation is when you have to pull out the race card. Your initiative has no public support, and a majority turns out to oppose it? Start attacking the crowd on the basis of race, age, etc. "I wanted to testify. But I'm white. So, I'd better do the right thing and stay home."

Likewise, it's intriguing to hear a particular faction of the County's Democratic Party adopt the talking points of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. The so-called silent majority Liderto was referring to is gaining popularity as a talking point among that group. County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson and former Leventhal staff member and blogger Dan Reed are among those who have cited a silent majority, who they say fervently favor the urban density, urbanization of the suburbs and war-on-cars transportation policies Anderson and Reed are advocating for.

Perhaps in the same county where Councilmember Hans Riemer takes a $500 campaign check from Mitt Romney's Bain Capital and $4000 from Mitch Rales, two Wall Street pioneers in outsourcing American jobs to China, this shouldn't be all that surprising, I guess.

Does a millennial telling older residents in the room that they should stop opposing BRT because he'll be alive in the coming decades and they won't sound kind of desperate? Yep. Cold, but desperate.

You'd be pretty desperate, too, if you were in their position.

The hearing wasn't all that far along, when task force Chair Mark Winston felt compelled to engage Montgomery County Civic Federation President Paula Bienenfeld in a back-and-forth exchange over how she should testify. Bienenfeld had already shown up the task force for its hypocrisy when asking who among them took transit to the hearing. Only Delegate Marc Korman (D-District 16) raised his hand. Do as we say, not as we do.

"We're not here to respond to questions," Winston advised Bienenfeld. "I believe you can answer questions," Bienenfeld responded, noting that taxpayers are funding the task force.

Do as we say, not as we do. It was a bit of a theme last night. Another proponent of BRT recalled that he and wife quit working at Montgomery College's Rockville campus "twenty years ago," because the drive from Takoma Park each morning was too stressful. Wait a minute. The Red Line runs from Takoma Park to Rockville. Even in 1995. If they didn't use transit then, why would they use an even-slower kind of transit now?

A very expensive kind of transit, in fact, especially when you break the cost down per rider and there's no indication there will be many.

Resident Kevin Harris, who is also a former planner with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, said there has been "no data presented to show that BRT would solve the problems we're facing. We still have not been presented with the most basic traffic data" to justify BRT. The economic development numbers cited by Sage Consulting were "completely implausible," Harris said, terming Sage's work "wildly irresponsible modeling."

Harris questioned the task force's objectivity and and accuracy, "if you've already made your recommendations without data." "Performance metrics have never been established," Michael Pfetsch of Pinewood said.

Jerry Garson, resident and MCCF Treasurer, also questioned the task force's numbers. "I'm a CPA," Garson marveled, and "I can't figure it out." He pointed out that the task force calculations show "no administrative costs in the first five years of operation," an impossibility.

Silver Spring resident Carole Ann Barth took a creative approach in skewering the ITA's political and developer allies, casting them as "greedy piggies" in a fable-style tale, whose grand plan for pulling one over on residents doesn't end well.

Another resident, Harold McDougall, said he and his neighbors are "afraid of losing our homes" to an eminent domain grab by a future ITA for BRT. "We're tired. We're just depressed," he said. He noted that BRT was ginned up by a small interest group of developers and "Rockefeller-funded advocacy groups. There's big shots on one side, and little people on the other."

Many felt the task force has failed to consider any other solution but BRT and the ITA. Harriet Quinn of Silver Spring said the task force approach "excludes a comprehensive look at our overall transportation needs." Dickter argued the County would be better off improving existing roads and Ride On, "instead of obsessing over [BRT]."

A large number of speakers promoted similar alternatives: free Ride On service (which would cost a fraction of what is proposed to be spent on BRT, has none of the administrative or personnel costs BRT and the ITA would add, and has proven successful on Metro, where diehard riders are those who receive free or heavily-subsized fare on the system), completing unbuilt master plan highways like the M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended (and shamefully tabled recently by the Leggett administration), car sharing services like Uber and Lyft, Bridj, Express Metrobus and RideOn Plus services (these are existing proposals), autonomous vehicles (in the future), and using technology to make roads and transit systems more efficient as Houston has done successfully, without spending billions or even millions.

Robert Nelson of the Goshen area said, "I see very little benefit to our area" in the Upcounty, noting that the M-83 would be far faster for Goshen residents trying to reach the Shady Grove Metro station than the BRT system.

Jean Cavanaugh of Silver Spring was one of many who cited residents' "rapidly-rising tax burden." That burden is increasingly a regressive one, and four of the five task force report's revenue proposals would tax residents.

Do we need four new taxes to pay?

The League of Women Voters thinks we need five. Barbara Ditzler, representing the LWV, argued for new income, property, vehicle, development and fuel taxes.

This, on top of an already-looming property tax increase warned of by Leggett for next year.

Putting the ITA on the ballot to be decided by voters was suggested by several speakers, including James Williamson of Silver Spring. "Doesn't he trust the voters," Williamson asked of Leggett.

Eric Hensal termed the ITA debacle "red light district politics" by developer-funded elected officials who "cannot build a parking deck in Silver Spring." The ultimate goal of the ITA scheme, Hensal predicted, is to "socialize cost and privatize gains for the developer community."

Cherrywood HOA President Paul Jarosinski similarly described the ITA and BRT as a "bonanza for developers." The ITA sounds like "a good script for a crime movie," Jarosinski observed. "A parallel shadow government agency where you handpick five stooges."

Robin Ficker of Boyds, the man most responsible for the successful passage of the charter limit on property taxes approved by voters on the 2008 ballot, testified as well. "The Council is made up of a group of scaredy cats," Ficker said, delivering his remarks standing at the table as he does in court as a prominent attorney. "They're scaredy cats, because they know they can unanimously vote to exceed the charter limit," Ficker said, and would prefer an elected ITA take the heat from taxpayers instead. "They can never get enough money. That's all this is about."

Ficker also ripped the county's delegation to the state legislature for their failure to return sufficient transportation dollars to the County. "They're not doing their job in Annapolis," Ficker declared.

Stephen Poor summed up the feelings of most in the room, telling the task force, "You should just stop."

Pinning the future on BRT ignores the reality that cars are, and will continue to be, the dominant mode of transportation well into the future. Todd Solomon, who actually favors BRT, noted that - according to the Federal Highway Administration - a record number of vehicle miles were traveled by Americans in the first 6 months of 2015. And that a monthly record was just set this summer.

It doesn't sound like mass numbers of Americans will be "getting out of their cars" anytime soon. But will Montgomery County's elected officials be getting their hands out of our wallets?

Same answer.

The next move by the task force will be to begin their final review of the public draft report at their October 7 meeting.


Anonymous said...

Not just white, but old, too. Look at those gray and bald heads.

Anonymous said...

Since you were there can you give us a breakdown of the demographics those who were speaking out against? We can compare it to the census figures. Please provide an N size.

From wikipedia:

The United States Census Bureau estimates the county's population as 1,030,447 as of 2014.

The racial makeup of the county was estimated to be the following in 2013

62.6% White (47.0% Non-Hispanic White)
18.6% Black
14.9% Asian
0.7% Native American
0.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
3.1% Two or more races

In addition, 18.3% were Hispanic or Latino, of any race.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting someone take the Red Line from Takoma Park to Rockville everyday and then take a bus from Rockville station to MC? With traffic and crap red line service that would be 2 hours. Do you have any sense of time and space?

Nope, that is a perfect example where our transit system fails and fails hard. Free Ride-on wouldn't even help that trip. You'd think we'd want an affordable higher education be accessible to all our residents.

Anonymous said...

How would a Takoma Park resident get to Rockville on the BRT? The proposal from the Report for a $5 billion system doesn't even come close to Takoma Park. So obviously they didn't even read the Report just someone's talking points.

Anonymous said...

One line of the BRT is proposed to run along University Boulevard, starting at New Hampshire, to Wheaton, and from there, along Veirs Mill Road to Rockville. That would give a more direct connection than what exists now, and it would be faster, given the bus-only lanes and limited stops.

And another route is proposed along New Hampshire Avenue.

Anonymous said...

"Oooh, Mr. Ficker, I'm your number-one fan!" gushes Dyer.

Anonymous said...

"Another resident, Harold McDougall, said... 'We're tired. We're just depressed,' he said. He noted that BRT was ginned up by a small interest group of developers and 'Rockefeller-funded advocacy groups'."

Sounds like a kook.

Anonymous said...

A resident of Takoma Park is not so likely to go to Rockville to attend Montgomery College, as there's an MC campus in Silver Spring.

But if they did, then either:
Takoma Park red line to Rockville, then Ride-On Bus to MC.
Takoma Park red line to Silver Spring, Purple Line to Bethesda, Red Line to Rockville, Ride-on to MC.

I attended MC and took the red line to Rockville, then the Ride-on bus to campus. The bus was frequent and timely. We don't need to put a BRT in places where buses and rail work perfectly fine.

Anonymous said...

It was a white middle and wealthy demographic last night to be sure. Those supporting the ITA and BRT (no doubt for "others" to ride it) were predominantly white; those opposed were predominantly white. Bottom line is, the CE sees BRT as a way to "unleash master plans," according to Tom Street, and NOT solve our transportation crisis. More development = net more cars on the road. The County has had plenty of opportunity and $$ over the last 20 years to improve transit, but they haven't.

Anonymous said...

"no doubt for 'others' to ride it"

So you think that Dyer plans to drive on the M-83 on a regular basis, if that road gets built?

Anonymous said...

@7:18 PM Obviously you and they didn't read the report. There are no other lines that will be looked at before the year 2046 when they will have paid off the $5 billion for the 4 routes in the report. In 2046 the transportation world will be completely different. But if MC sinks this much money into this, they will be stuck in the past for a very long time. This is a total loser.

Peter said...

re: Anon @7:28 AM: I would normally agree but the only hitch is that not every MCC campus offers the full slate of classes that MCC has available. For example...some time ago I looked at the landscape architecture program, but it's only taught at the Gaithersburg campus (I live near the Rockville campus). That could be a major problem for someone in Takoma Park that has limited transportation available.

The major failure I see here actually is that the councils in the 60s through the 80s did not take a more aggressive stance to promote more concentrated development along Metro as it was being built and existing major traffic corridors, and ensure adequate public transportation along said. IMHO the problems we are dealing with now are more of a result of said short-sighted planning.

Anonymous said...

@11:31 Fair enought -- it's true that not all MC classes are offered at all campuses. That said, I don't think we should spend $5 billion to address that. The Ride-On service to the main MC campus from Rockville Metro works perfectly well in my experience. How much time would BRT save per trip compared to it? 2 minutes? Hardly worth it.

Anonymous said...

Everybody will be able to afford a robot car service in the future? Just like everyone can afford to take Uber every where now?

Anonymous said...

The real estate developer interests who are now claiming that minority riders want the BRT system, are also counting on people not reading the reports. According to the reports, many local buses would be eliminated (in order to pay for the BRT), making it harder for those in between the few BRT stops to catch a ride or forcing them to pay for 2 bus rides. In fact, local routes are already being cut back. Also, they are essentially advocating for a 2 tier divided public bus system. Those on the local buses would be assigned to a separate lane than the higher tier BRT buses. So when one travel lane is taken over for the BRT, the local affordable service gets to ride in one of the 2 lanes that are leftover. We already have a 2 tiered system with Metrorail and bus so really this would now be a 3 tier divided public transit system.
If the advocates really cared about transit riders and equity issues, they'd advocate for the free and upgraded Ride On service which would help those dependent on public transit, attract new riders, reduce congestion and help the environment. We can't afford a free BRT system (or even a paying one, given the numbers) but we can afford to make the Ride On system fare free. That's doable NOW. But the developer "campaign managers" (seriously, there was a campaign manager who testified) won't advocate for it. You've never heard them advocate for it because as most of those following this know, the BRT is transit project for developers, not riders. And the ITA is a scheme to get residents to continue to pay for developer projects while other County resources grow more scarce. They would rather advocate for a 2 tier divided bus system than look at what those of us who ride transit actually want and what other jurisdictions are doing.
Anyone who saw the developer stacked Task Force knows that less than 5% of the 38 members actually use transit regularly. This is not about transit riders. Please educate yourselves with facts beyond the propaganda and marketing.

Anonymous said...

Anyone arguing for a more or free Ride On will stop as soon as the BRT is canceled. Look at what happened in Arlington after they canceled the street car. They don't really care about transit.

Anonymous said...

@12:19 We'll only stop when free Ride On which we've been requesting for more than 15 years actually happens. If you lived here and were involved with the community instead of just developers, you'd know that. BRT was requested by developers, not us. If you want to get more people to ride transit, while speeding up the buses make Ride On free. The BRT will actually reduce bus ridership, is more expensive and the County can't afford it.

G. Money said...

1:51: Are there any plans or studies (link if possible) regarding making Ride-On free?

Anonymous said...

"they are essentially advocating for a 2 tier divided public bus system. Those on the local buses would be assigned to a separate lane than the higher tier BRT buses."

And this is a bad thing because...?

Cary Lamari said...

The Civic Federation has advocated for a redrawn grid transit system since 2002, Houston has recently gone to this new Bus System and it is working, They realized that their old antiquated bus system like ours in Montgomery County was not Data driven, meaning it wasn’t designed to go where transit users were going and it wasn’t available to many who desperately need a transit option. What the Civic Federation is advocating is this, a Data driven system, redesign our bus system to accommodate people who need, want and use Transit. Make it free, today Bus travel is subsidized, only 5% of people over 16 use buses, today our fair-box only costs the County 20 million dollars a year, If the County fully funded the fair box our Buses will be full, our roads would have fewer vehicles traveling on them and there would logically be more capacity for growth if that is the agenda of our County Government. It is logical, comprehensive and dynamic. Why our County Executive does not see this is amazement to me. Also, Developers are required to pay for their transportation impact in the APFO(adequate public facilities Ordinance) If developers contributed to fair-box funding and the County Government used this money wisely they could potentially fund the fair-box on the backs of Developers and Developers would go forward with their projects, it theoretically would be a win win situation! It is past time for change and clearly time for new thinking in County Government. I say Thank You to the Montgomery County Civic Federation and hope reasoned people listen to their guidance. The Civic Federation has only one agenda and that agenda is to promote the health safety and welfare for the residents of our County. Thank You for your long standing Good Work!

Anonymous said...

@3:48 A two tier separate bus system is a bad thing if you're a low income bus rider which is what you said you cared about, or a local bus rider, because when the road capacity is reduced by a third, it means your trip on the local bus is increased by a third. We don't want and we don't need to let developers divide our communities like that.

Anonymous said...

@ 6:50 PM - You seem to have the very strange niton that the poor only ride the bus within short distances of their homes, and will not benefit from faster service along longer routes from one end of the county to the other. Really, from where did you get this notion?

Peter said...

re: Anon @11:31 -- Yes, indeed. Maybe a "super shuttle" directly to/from each campus would be better? I don't know and maybe the traffic situation would not merit that.

And no I don't necessarily think BRT is the appropriate solution either but at least the debate is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Encouraging development along the length of I-270 rather than within a specific radius of downtown Washington was a huge mistake.

However, the failure of the 1970s-era office parks in that corridor gives us an opportunity to re-focus development in closer-in areas.

Anonymous said...

@5:50 AM - Nice try but no I did not say that low income riders only ride the bus within short distances. You obviously are not familiar with the Ride On System which is the local bus system or WMATA regional system, Metrobus, and it sounds like you've never ridden it. You might want to check out their service map.
What others have pointed out is that those riding the most affordable and highest coverage transit mode (Ride On)or Metrobus will not benefit from having their service cut. There will be route and service cuts (there already have been) all over the County to help pay for a BRT that would run parallel to current services on 4 roads but does not reach most of those currently riding because it only includes certain stops. And those service cut decisions will not be made by officials accountable to residents. They'd be made by the developer-centric ITA currently masquerading as a Task Force. Second, pushing Ride On and Metrobus aside to run in the reduced lane environment (general travel lanes reduced from 3 to 2 or 2 to 1) so that limited stop for new development expensive BRT can run parallel to Ride On routes in its own lane, will penalize those who ride the most affordable, highest coverage mode. Third, those who are already in a one seat ride may be forced to take and pay for 2 or 3 buses to get to where they are currently going in one. Who benefits from free Ride On? Everyone including developers. Who benefits from downgrading Ride On and Metrobus to a lower tier for a $6 billion BRT on 4 roads? Developers. Who pays for BRT under the proposal? Not developers. If you really are concerned about low income riders who are dependent on transit, you would not be supporting this BRT proposal or the ITA.

Anonymous said...

@8:19am Your imagery is comical and sad at the same time. I can see it now on 355/Rockville Pike. The Red line train, then a BRT bus, then a Ride-On bus, then normal cars all running along side each other.

Comical if it wasn't so pitiful :(

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 6:16 And don't forget school buses and bicycles. Imagine being a pedestrian trying to navigate that whole mess. Hard to believe we pay planners for this.

Anonymous said...

Shorter @ 8:19 AM - "If you are really concerned about low income riders who are dependent on transit, you would not support any upgrades to transit."