Category Archives: Thrive 2050

Yet More Evidence of a Closed Process and that the Fix was In

It’s even worse than I thought.

When the new Thrive chapters were completed, there was no Council press release, no official email notification, and no notice on Council social media. It’s as if they didn’t want anyone to know about it.

Residents had to directly enquire to learn that the chapters were posted to a website. I know of one resident who found out about the chapters this way on September 16. On September 20, the Council staff packet containing the new chapters for the September 22 work session was posted. This was the first opportunity many had to see the new chapters–two days before the meeting.

Yet the Coalition for Smarter Growth letter sent in by Jane Lyons is dated September 16 and the Greater Greater Washington letter sent in by Dan Reed is dated September 19. These two lobbyists are closely allied with Thrive supporters on the both the Planning Board and the Council with both having privileged access throughout the Thrive’s heavily skewed process.

Council staff were not as forthcoming with other residents. When a resident asked Pam Dunn, a Council staffer reviewing the new chapters, when citizens could see them, they were told: “There wont [sic] be a new final draft prior to the first worksession. The new chapters will be included in each staff report for the worksession that will review it (posting 5 days prior to the Council session).” No mention was made of posting them prior to the work session, consistent with radio silence when they were posted—except to CSG and GGW. The packet only appeared two days before the work session.

When the same person asked if there would be a public hearing, Dunn told her: “There will not be another public hearing.” No mention was made that the resident could nevertheless send in comments despite the lack of a formal hearing.

The Department of Environmental Protection letter on the environment chapter was submitted only September 22—the day of the work session and was not even included in the staff packet or addendum—so residents had no advance chance to see it.

It’s clear that the Council had no interest in anyone weighing in on Thrive who was not fully on board with its pre-determined agenda. This included ignoring numerous comments that were submitted previously but never addressed or discussed by the Council. It also included ignoring even recent comments made to the Council, such as the letter sent by 32 Montgomery-based communities and organizations (also embedded below).

This process makes a complete mockery of the ideas of transparency and inclusion that should be at the heart of any public process, let alone one where racial equity and social justice have been placed at the forefront. Expecting clairvoyance about the availability of materials unless you’re an insider and ignoring submissions from all except for two lobbyists is the opposite of an open and equitable process.


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The Fix is In, Part II

Montgomery County Council staff are now claiming that no comments about Thrive’s three new chapters (Environmental Health and Resilience, Economic Competitiveness, and Racial Equity and Social Justice) were received from anyone  besides Jane Lyons, a paid employee of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and Dan Reed, a paid employee of Greater Greater Washington, and the County’s Department of Environmental Protection.

During the Council session on September 22, Council staff stated: “So we only received direct comments on the chapters from Coalition for Smarter Growth, from Greater Greater Washington, and from DEP.”

This is misleading in two senses. First, other organizations, including environmental and civic groups, have recently commented extensively on these issues even if they did not comment on the specific language in these new chapters. Put more bluntly, the staff omitted key information regarding recent comments.

Second, the very first draft of Thrive, proposed by Planning Staff (called the Working Draft Plan) had chapters similar to these three, which received multiple comments. Many comments made on this and subsequent versions of Thrive still apply to the version which the Council is now considering. Must residents resubmit the same comments repeatedly to have them heard?

Moreover, if the Council received no additional comments on these specific and very important chapters, councilmembers should question whether true consultation has actually occurred with either the hired experts or the residents–also known as their constituents. Clearly, either the chapters were not distributed and publicized widely or insufficient time was given to comment. It’s inconceivable in our vocal county that only two paid lobbyists have thoughts on a chapters of a plan supposed to shape Montgomery County for 30 years.

The new racial equity and social justice analysis suggests directly that more engagement is needed. In the Thrive work session this past Tuesday, councilmembers cut the session from two hours to about 70 minutes, and took an inordinate amount of time to congratulate themselves on their awareness of racial equity and social justice.

As a result, they limited the discussion time for the consultant, who had been paid nearly $100,000 for the analysis, and simply dispensed with several of his recommendations for more comprehensive engagement and improvements to Thrive.

In other words, this consultation is largely performative. It’s designed to tick off boxes rather than gain meaningful input. In this most recent work session, the Council spent much time  incorporating comments from two regional organizations that want to make the document more radical, and none from critics in the Montgomery community.

Truth be told, councilmembers don’t seem very engaged with the complex issues and just want to ram through Thrive Montgomery 2050.


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When You Know the Fix is In

The staff report to the Montgomery County Council for its next discussion on Thrive includes only two detailed letters from the many submitted by the community. Incredibly, the only two are from Jane Lyons for the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Dan Reed for Greater Greater Washington. Both have been ardent Thrive cheerleaders.

This occurred even after Councilmember Sidney Katz noted back in February:

I believe part of the problem becomes that people believe, rightly or wrongly, that you are only listening to the one side rather than both sides. This is such an important plan. This is such an important document that we need to make certain people are comfortable that they believe—that they know—that we are listening to all sides.

The old saw that “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me” applies well. You’ll recall that Councilmember Hans Riemer touted Jane Lyons for “chairing” the discussion on Thrive. Dan Reed has vociferously criticized anyone who disagrees with his vision for Thrive.

Note also that the closed session to discuss possible discipline for Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, the architect of Thrive, will occur after the Council work session. No one with a contrasting perspective is given any platform before the Council.

Sadly, all the rhetoric about doing better seems just rhetoric. Sure looks like the fix is in.

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More on “If They Zone It, They Will Come”

On March 7, I wrote a post pointing out that Montgomery County has roughly 36,500 approved but unbuilt residential units, which attracted some interesting responses.

WAMU’s Ally Schweitzer tweeted “Residential development pipelines are best understood as a glimpse into the hopes and dreams of developers. They reflect housing applications that have been approved. Much of this housing will never get built, for all kinds of reasons.” She further added: “It’s also important to understand that regional housing targets set by [the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments] emphasize *where* new housing should be built. The targets stress affordably priced homes near jobs and transit.”

Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson liked both tweets, so presumably they reflect his point of view well.

More broadly, thoughtful critics like these argue that (1) these units may not get built, (2) they may not be where housing should be built, and (3) they’re not enough new housing.

I’m surprised that people argue that approved projects may not be where housing should be built. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson liked both tweets, but virtually all these new projects were approved by the Planning Board under his leadership. The Thrive document he authored isn’t terribly constraining on where building should occur. If it’s denser, Anderson seems to like it.

As Schweitzer indicates, projects may not get built for a variety of reasons. At the same time developers will move ahead of there is demand and they perceive a profit. They’ll slow down when there’s a glut or demand isn’t growing fast enough. If these projects don’t get built, there is little reason to expect that either approving tons more projects or changing zoning will magically cause builders to see a gap in the market where one didn’t previously exist.

Some took my statement that we have many unbuilt units as an argument that additional projects should not be approved. That’s not what I meant. My point was merely that there is already quite a bit of housing in the pipeline notwithstanding claims to the contrary even without the heavy upzoning proposed in Thrive.

We have quite a bit more existing capacity for residential development beyond what is already approved. According to the Residential Development Capacity Analysis from January 2021, Montgomery has “capacity for 65,000 housing units on 3,733 parcels” and “most of the capacity is concentrated near transit.” It further explains “The greatest volume of capacity is on sites zoned for high density housing in the Commercial Residential (CR) family of zones.” So existing capacity exceeds even highly ambitious new residential construction targets for the next decade and is overwhelmingly located in high density areas near transit.

Even these numbers don’t consider that each Master Plan review under our existing general plan has inevitably resulted in substantial increases in residential capacity. Though much of the existing capacity remains unused, the current Silver Spring Master Plan review is projected to add much new capacity.

The barrier to new housing construction is not the lack of approved projects, or capacity to approve more projects, but market demand to build them. And if the market demand arrives and more construction occurs, prices are unlikely to decline unless there is a recession leading to a glut—as occurred in the building spate prior to 2007 economic crisis.

Other critiques of my post were doxing or attacking me based on some perceived flaw, such as where I live or the color of my skin. I can’t take these complaints seriously, as they confuse personal attacks with making an argument. One person asserted that I want to keep new development away from my home, which seems odd since I praised a major high-density development planned adjoining my neighborhood as part of post on the good points in Thrive.

Despite the critics, thoughtful and otherwise, I was heartened not to see people arguing against my point that we should protect existing naturally occurring affordable housing. I also didn’t see a hue and cry in favor of bribing developers to build new housing with either tax abatements or other subsidies. No one seemed to suggest, as does Thrive, that housing produces jobs, rather than the reverse. I hope the Council takes these points on board as they review Thrive.

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Part II: Thrive’s Failure on Affordable Housing

Thrive Montgomery 2050 fails to protect affordable housing. Ironically, this is being done in the name of building more affordable housing. Well, sort of. Affordable housing means housing for those at the lowest income levels, either regulated by the county or naturally occurring. Thrive has noticeably evolved away from focusing on “affordable” to “attainable”, with the latter meaning more units but not necessarily an increase in affordable units.

Thrive doesn’t worry about protecting existing affordable places to live. The idea is that tearing down currently affordable buildings isn’t a problem because they will be replaced by new buildings that will contain a greater number of affordable units.

There are major problems with this logic. For a start, the new buildings don’t necessarily have to contain more affordable units. In Bethesda, Brown/Aldon is tearing down 477 naturally occurring affordable apartments on Battery Lane. The new set of buildings, planned over the next 15 years, will include 1530 new units but only 306 MPDUs (moderately priced dwelling units). As a result, the project will cause a net loss of 171 affordable units—and that’s generously counting the MPDUs which are geared towards those earning 60-80% of area median income, not the lowest income.

So we’ll experience a net loss in affordable housing—in the middle of an area where everyone agrees we could use more of it. Under this logic, often we will be destroying existing naturally occurring affordable units for very little or no gain in regulated affordable units, and an increased number of more expensive units.

Thrive proponents even want to pay developers with our tax dollars to tear down existing buildings and build denser in the name of affordable housing. If there is sufficient demand, why do we need to bribe them to build it? And why should we financially aid the destruction of existing affordable housing?

Bribing developers to do something the market is telling us doesn’t make sense is a waste of money. It is a one-off “solution” that provides no guarantee that more housing, and especially affordable housing, will follow. Yet that won’t prevent councilmembers who would chuck our taxes away from pointing to the building as a great new accomplishment.

The most inequitable part of all this, however, is the total lack of consideration for the current residents of existing affordable housing. Renters get thrown out of their homes, so the new building can be built. But finding new affordable housing in desirable locations is difficult, and many will experience major dislocation and need to move much further away. In some cases, the County will literally be paying builders to do projects that will throw low-income residents out in the name of affordable housing.

Thrive should be modified to protect existing affordable housing. Let’s encourage new building, including with MPDUs, in areas without it. We shouldn’t cannibalize our existing stock of affordable housing and dislocate people in this chimera of progress.

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Thrive’s Failure on Housing, Part I: If We Zone It, They Will Come

The Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan casts the lack of robust housing growth as a major challenge facing the county, suggesting that it will leave people unhoused. It further suggests that job growth won’t happen unless we have more housing. The proposed solution is to increase allowed residential density in both commercial centers and single-family residential neighborhoods.

This approach wholly misunderstands both the reality of the situation and market economics. Much land is already zoned both for housing and density. According to Montgomery’s Planning Department, there are roughly 36,500 unbuilt residential units. This doesn’t even include Rockville and Gaithersburg.

In 2019, the Council of Governments (COG) released a housing target of 41,000 new units for Montgomery by 2030. We built 4,739 new units in 2019 and 2020, leaving 36,261 to be built by 2030. Even excluding all of the units built in 2021, we have already approved enough new units to meet COG’s housing target.

The ideas that there is no place to build and that insufficient housing is planned to meet expected needs are simply false. The lack of opportunities to build is not the problem, as anyone who has driven past the remains of White Flint Mall knows. Of course, sections of nearby Pike & Rose are also still being built.

But can we get even more housing built through adding density? Proponents envision developers responding to Thrive-enabled upzoning by building massive numbers of new units and thereby depressing the price, whether for rental or sale. New jobs, they say, will come to Montgomery as a result. But that’s not how the market works. Developers build in response to demand. New jobs result in new housing—not the reverse.

Developers also naturally consider many complex factors in deciding when and how much to build, especially land prices, building costs, sales prices, and likely profits. No matter how much we upzone, developers won’t dump more housing on the market. Developers look to make a profit, so they build at a rate that allows them to make money based on demand—not at a rate that results in profit-killing price declines.

This isn’t a nefarious plot to limit housing. It’s just how the economy works and assures that new housing gets built. But zoning for more housing won’t result in more housing unless there is a demand for it in that area and the economics of building it make sense. No one is going to build more if prices are going down and they can’t make money out of it.

Just because you zone it doesn’t mean that they’ll build it. Rampant increases in density may slow building because tall buildings are much more expensive to construct. But builders don’t want to lose the profits off the increased density, so they wait to build until it’s profitable. Indeed, this is the rationale behind the expensive payments to build at Grosvenor Metro even as property taxes rise.

The evidence that “smart” growth results in lower prices is thin on the ground. Neither Portland nor New York is known for affordability. But Houston, the embodiment of sprawl, is. Why? Texas is big so the city can expand outward much more easily than here. They also have no zoning, so development can be densely packed or spread out. It’s an argument for a set of policies very different from smart growth.

In short, Thrive promises a chimera. If only we increase density and allow more housing to be built, housing prices will come down and jobs will increase. Montgomery County has allowed more density repeatedly in recent years and it hasn’t happened. Thrive’s doubling down on the strategy won’t work either.

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Why Thrive Dropped the Ball on Equity

Thrive 2050 has many words about equity. So why didn’t the Office of Legislative Oversight’s (OLO) racial equity and social justice (RESJ) review end up giving it a gold star?

Thrive’s staunchest advocates still can’t believe it. Yesterday’s post outlined how they utterly reject the claims made in the RESJ review. Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Planning Department Director Gwen Wright doubled down on their assertations that Thrive addressed RESJ extremely well in their lengthy response.

But it turns out that these problems with Thrive were not a February surprise but were flagged last August in a memo to Councilmember Hans Riemer by the Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice (ORESJ), an executive agency. Riemer chairs the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee which was in the midst of work sessions on Thrive. So what happened? Where did Thrive go awry?

Both the Council and the Executive have offices to do RESJ analyses. How does the Planning Department do the same? Planning staff in June 2020 outlined an action plan to incorporate RESJ into Master and Functional Plans that was approved by the Planning Board.

But, as far as I can tell, Planning did not follow either the Council or the Executive’s model and identify a staffer or establish an office with the requisite skills. Planning’s website highlights their equity plans going forward, including for Thrive 2050 (emphasis added):

Montgomery Planning is developing an Equity Agenda for Planning to systemically dismantle the institutional racism that exists in our work and prevent it in the future. Developing an Equity Agenda for Planning is ongoing and will require constant attention to the influence of institutional racism on all planning and zoning processes. We’ve begun working on this through some recent master plans and studies and through Thrive Montgomery 2050, the update to the county’s General Plan. . . .

It will take some time to fully develop a new methodology and approach for equity in the planning process, but we cannot delay applying an equity lens to our work.

But nearly two years after approving the action plan, there is no formalized framework, mechanism or staff to ensure that both outreach and Thrive were done in line with intentional RESJ practices. Nor is there evidence that Planning reached out to OLO or ORESJ for their expertise despite the warning back in August.

Instead, the Planning Board has relied on its own interpretation of what constituted an “equity lens”. There was no separate in-house or independent analysis along the lines of what either the Council or the Executive requires.

Many words about equity does not mean that the process was inclusive or that the substance meaningfully addresses the issue. While Anderson and Wright vehemently defend their work product, they would be in a better position to do so if they had such an analysis. Instead of deciding that they know what constitutes equity, they would have an informed and impartial analysis to buttress their claims that they had done this the right way and addressed all RESJ issues.

In short, this appears to have been handled sloppily, much like the Planning Board’s repeated ethics problems. As I explained yesterday, I think that at least part of this stems from a firm urbanist belief that their ideas will assure racial and economic equity. This makes it all too easy for the Planning Board to misguidedly define their own preferences as “equity”.

But hewing to a particular school of thought and relying on one’s own judgment of what constitutes equity is not the same as genuine outreach to people in the community, let alone communities of color and low-income residents, or incorporation of their ideas and desires into the plan.

That Thrive reflects the nexus of suppositions by Anderson, Wright, Riemer—all very successful Whites—and outside support groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth—whatever their intentions—so perfectly indicates that the process and the result were more performative than inclusive.

Many may question the entire enterprise of RESJ reports and such an intense focus on issues related to it. But the centrality of claims regarding equity to arguments made by Thrive’s advocates only make Planning’s failure more stunning and acute.

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Thrive Proponents Push Back on Racial Equity & Social Justice Review

Thrive 2050, the proposed general plan for Montgomery County, has been touted by advocates as vital to promote economic and racial equity. So it’s interesting to see their reaction to the racial equity and social justice (RESJ) review prepared for the County Council by Dr. Elaine Bonner-Tompkins. Many of the same people who rush to label others who have concerns about Thrive as racists or classist aren’t coping well.

Former Action Committee for Transit (ACT) President Ben Ross attacked the review as handing “a few unelected bureaucrats a veto over the actions of our elected representatives.” The irony that Thrive 2050 was authored by a few unelected bureaucrats over at the Planning Board seems to have escaped him.

Councilmember Hans Riemer also dismissed the review’s concerns, stating “Thrive focuses on racial equity and social justice throughout.” He wants to see Thrive approved by the County Council by the end of next month.

The Planning Board’s response to the RESJ, posted on Facebook by its Chair Casey Anderson, denied there is a problem and claimed that Thrive 2050 is “based on best practices for advancing racial and socioeconomic equity.” Anderson’s response argued the RESJ review is wrong, rather than figure out how to do better.

Like Riemer, Anderson wants the Council to speed through its review. During the recent Thrive 2050 worksession, Senior Legislative Analyst Pam Dunn pushed back against legal information put out by Anderson designed to force the Council to move more quickly.

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The reaction by the forces behind Thrive 2050 isn’t surprising. Thrive is the product of a nexus between the Planning Board led by Anderson, the PHED Committee led by Riemer, and advocacy groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and ACT that draw from the same small overlapping circles. This closely aligned group is determined to fight any changes to a document that reflects their very particular set of views.

Equally important, this group is extremely invested in urbanism as a worldview. They genuinely believe that urbanism provides the right answers to whole set of problems, including racial and economic equity. The leads to a misguided belief Thrive is inherently equitable. But others may have different opinions on what promotes greater equity, and it’s not at all clear that urbanism delivers the goods.

Consequently, it’s important that the Council examine ideas thoughtfully and not accept the framing from a single lens. Even if Thrive is on the right track in many areas, it would benefit from incorporation of meaningful community input. An inclusive document would not mirror a single perspective so exactly.

There is a real difference between conducting outreach and gaining meaningful input. This is why the RESJ review emphasized the need to “elicit the meaningful input of residents of color from communities of color and low-income residents to co-create and update Thrive.” It’s also why Councilmember Nancy Navarro cautioned that ticking off a list of groups was no longer good enough.

Many of the outreach sessions consisted of Planning explaining the positives of Thrive 2050, rather than soliciting and incorporating feedback. Instead of building consensus, Planning and Thrive 2050 advocates took an approach that excluded different viewpoints.

In a similar vein, using lots of equity verbiage is not the same as having a proper and thoughtful analysis of these issues. As it indicated during the work session, the Council is going to have to take the lead in addressing these concerns. The inability of Planning and others to read the room in their vehement reactions to the RESJ review and the Council worksession shows its necessity.

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Council Reflects Growing Concern on Thrive 2050

Yesterday, the County Council held a work session on Thrive 2050. Council President Gabe Albornoz set a thoughtful tone by explaining that he doesn’t have an “arbitrary date” for getting Thrive done but hopes and expects that it can be completed by this Council. In other words, he wants to do it right but also wants to move forward.

Dr. Elaine Bonner-Thompson presented in a straightforward manner the initial Racial Equity and Social Justice (RESJ) review for the Office of Legislative Oversight. The RESJ review calls for better consultation of people of color and low-income residents. It also voices concern that the policies proposed would worsen racial and economic disparities.

Representatives from Planning, including Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and Planning Department Director Gwen Wright presented a PowerPoint in an effort to rebut these claims. But this defensive effort to show proper consultation and support may have backfired. They faced pushback, for example, from Councilmember Nancy Navarro who championed the law requiring a RESJ review and opposed sweeping these concerns aside.

Councilmember Sidney Katz, shown in the clip at the top of this post, crystalized community and Council concerns in his comments. For a start, discussions around Thrive need to be much more upfront about the likely impact on zoning:

I’ve said all along that part of my concern on this is that we don’t always tell the complete story. And I understand that it is a foundational document. But there again, it’s because of that, and we say, well, there’s we’re not changing the zoning. In order for it to happen, zoning will need to be changed. So I think we need, when we discuss it, I’ve said this before, I believe we need to include the entire story. We need to say this doesn’t change zoning but in order for it to happen we need to have zoning changes.

Katz also explained why Planning’s presentation unintentionally validated concerns regarding consultation and inclusion:

As an example of what I think people are going through, for this, and I believe it was Gwen Wright, that had a slide up that showed the organizations that were supportive of the plan. (Am I right?) Well, part of the problem, I believe, is that you didn’t have a slide up that said you had organizations that had issues with the plan. And I believe part of the problem becomes that people believe, rightly or wrongly, that you are only listening to the one side rather than both sides. This is such an important plan. This is such an important document that we need to make certain people are comfortable that they believe—that they know—that we are listening to all sides.

The evidence continues to mount that the process was designed to produce a specific outcome rather than gain and include community input. Councilmembers pushed back on efforts to force them to move full steam ahead notwithstanding these problems as part of an effort to pass Thrive in its current form. Council Vice President Evan Glass, for example, expressed that he’s ready to take a “deep dive” into the document and to engage fully with the community about it.

At this point, the Council laudably wants to take time to improve a troubled process even as they rightly also want to bring it to a conclusion. The question now becomes how they will go about accomplishing this goal. Beyond facing an array of ethical challenges, Planning showed once again that they believe all is well and that it’s fine to include only one side.

The Council is going to have to take an active role.

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Thrive 2050: The Good

The county’s proposed general plan for the next thirty years is a long document that not only takes time to read but can be hard to decode if you’re not hip to the lingo. Today, I draw out what I see as some of the positives contained in the plan.

Mixed-Use Density on Commercial Land

Thrive 2050 continues with existing practice of promoting high density mixed-use commercial and residential development in commercial districts near transit. The planned developments along Wisconsin Ave. north and south of the Bethesda Metro and west of Chevy Chase provide good examples of this type of development.

Converting current office parks into mixed-use and more pedestrian friendly areas is also a positive idea. The integration of housing into the array of office building towers near the old Marriott Headquarters just east of Montgomery Mall is one good example that should continue. It provides an opportunity to make the area more welcoming as well as to add residential units. Though served by bus, the area’s prime transportation attraction is ts proximity to both I-495 and I-270 as well as major road arteries.

Other aging commercial shopping centers provide similar opportunities. They cannot accommodate the same levels of density if they aren’t located near transit–a bus stop or two doesn’t count–but nonetheless provide good locations to add residential components while reinvigorating and better designing existing retail centers. The mostly completed Cabin John Shopping Center redevelopment provides a good example of better use and design.

Bus-Rapid Transit

Thrive 2050 give further impetus to moving forward with the bus-rapid transit network originally proposed and developed by County Executive Marc Elrich. The Flash BRT is now up and running on Colesville Rd. The advantages of BRT are manifest. Unlike traditional buses, it provides fast transit. It will enable Montgomery to develop the full lungs of a transit system separate from constantly troubled Metro.

It can be built relatively quickly and adjusted over time to accommodate unanticipated developments. Critically, BRT provides fast transit at a fraction of the cost of Metro or light rail. Consider that the unfinished Purple Line, which has now ballooned to billions more than the original cost, could have been built as a BRT line at one-half of the original cost. It would also already be up and running—like the Flash line which started being planned much later.

One key missing element that Thrive 2050 needs to incorporate is a cost-benefit analysis in terms of how to best use our transit dollars. It needs to add evaluation as a principle for infrastructure improvements. Not all transit lines, bike lanes etc. provide equal bang for the buck.

BRT also expands development opportunities by placing more locations within transit nodes. Even with tight definitions of what is walkable to a BRT line, one could develop properties to house a lot more people as well as new locally focused retail. All of this would expand transit, housing and retail opportunities far beyond those who live on pricey land near Metro. It’s smarter smart growth.

More Development in the East County

I don’t know nearly enough to say how it should be done or where it should be done but the idea of creating additional residential, commercial and retail opportunities in East County is a fine one. The Racial Equity and Social Justice (RESJ) review has raised questions about how to do this in a way that protects and enhances the interests of existing low-income residents.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the basic idea is bad. It just suggests that Thrive 2050 needs fewer gauzy good intentions and more concrete strategies to implement to achieve this end. Towards that end, the RESJ review suggests conducting more meaningful consultations, hopefully ones that listen to their concerns rather than implicitly direct people to or recruit people who will give the “right” answers.

Removing River Road as a Growth Corridor

One bizarre moment during the 2018 election was when the Greater Greater Washington blog attacked Marc Elrich in a candidate interview for not wanting to concentrate large amounts of density on River Road. Except that even the most grandiose transit plans did not envision a transit line on River Rd., so Elrich argued instead for concentrating density near existing transit in line with smart growth planning. Thrive 2050 acknowledges the sense of that approach and removes River Rd. from the Beltway through Potomac Village as a growth corridor.

It should probably be extended to the DC line. The major expansion and redevelopment at Westbard shopping center has already added significant density at the one location with major potential to combine residential and retail. It has already taxed what that area can accommodate, suggesting steering additional density elsewhere.

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