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Author: SethGrimes

Legislation would protect Montgomery County burial sites

Legislation would protect Montgomery County burial sites

Below is my comment on Montgomery County legislation that would protect county burial sites. Redevelopment of Bethesda’s Moses African American cemetery site, near the Macedonia Baptist Church, pushed the need to address burial sites to the forefront. A council bill hearing is scheduled today, September 12, 2017.

Thanks to SURJ MoCo: Showing Up for Racial Justice, Montgomery County MD for their advocacy on this issue. The bullet points in my letter are drawn from SURJ’s materials.

This version of my comment is addressed to the legislation’s lead sponsors:

Councilmembers Rice, Berliner, and Leventhal,

I write in support of Bill 24-17, Land Use Information-Burial Sites, and Subdivision Regulation 17-01. I recognize that you are lead sponsors of the legislation.

I agree with Planning Board staff’s analysis: “Staff finds that the proposed legislation in SRA 17-01 and Bill 24-17 is a beginning but believes that the County Council should more comprehensively address the topic of protection for burial sites and archaeological resources, in part by examining other review processes outside of subdivision review. Staff believes that the County could benefit from establishing a special advisory committee with wide representation to more comprehensively explore legislation surrounding burial sites and archaeological resources.” (

In particular, I call your attention to community advocacy, that further:

  • The County Council and Planning staff must solicit input from affected communities when crafting and evaluating planning documents and legislation.
  • Focus should be not only on preliminary plans, but also on sketch plans, requiring early identification of burial sites in sketch plan applications.
  • Burial sites need to be identified on all official documents and protected during all phases of planning and permitting—such as sector plans, residential and non-residential construction, tax maps, and road configurations.
  • This legislation only pertains to subdivision applications, but almost all of Montgomery County is already subdivided. All development applications should be required to appropriately preserve burial sites.
  • Provisions for discovery of unknown burials and emergency situations, with a requirement for archaeological protocols and additions to the inventory, should be added.
  • Enforcement language needs to be included here, with consequences.
  • To manage and monitor this agenda, plus conducting research and outreach programs, a full-time credentialed staff person is needed.

Thank you for your work on this legislation and for considering these additional points.


Seth Grimes

Bike Parking Where?

Bike Parking Where?

[Also published in Greater Greater Washington, August 22, 2017.]

For me, a light went on after I made a mistake. I had pushed bicycling infrastructure as a member of the Takoma Park City Council, but when we brought Bikeshare stations to the city in 2013, I was too quick to accept staff-recommend station locations. I voted to allow a station to be placed in a community gathering space, 250 feet distant from the center of one of Takoma Park’s business districts, rather than in a much better spot: a couple of sheltered curb car-parking spaces right at a commercial cross-roads. My lack of awareness reflected an outdated attitude toward road space, an attitude that prioritizes preservation of underutilized road-space over much-needed people-space. I now realize that parking matters, as much for bikes as for cars.

The Bicycle Master Plan’s bike facility classification – where “facility” refers exclusively to cycling-surface types and locations.

Another light went on as I read the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit, published last month (July 2017) by the Montgomery County Planning Department. The document, a component of the county’s Bicycle Master Plan, contains 49 instances of the word “parking,” each associated with motor vehicles, describing bikeway positioning in relation to on-street car parking. There’s nothing in the design toolkit about the location of bike parking.

There is a lot to like in the bike plan. It’s a major achievement, a guide to building out the “multi” in our aspired-for “multi-modal” transportation network. As realized in the years to come, it will boost alternatives to car trips, easing congestion, good for the environment, good for public health.

Yet the plan’s disassociation of bike parking from bikeway options seems a glaring omission.

Locating Bike Parking

The master plan’s Framework Report does address bike parking, specifically the quantity and type – capacity in relation to population and floor-area figures; rack specification; availability at public facilities, transit hubs, and new developments; security – but it doesn’t address location.

My view: Bike parking should be convenient to both biking destinations and bikeways. And you shouldn’t have to bike on a sidewalk to get to it, as you do to use the ill-located Takoma Park bike share station I described above and perhaps a majority of Washington DC area bike share stations and bike parking facilities.

In November 2015, the Takoma Park’s Safe Roadways Committee recommended relocating the Old Takoma station. The SRC’s reappraisal noted, “A number of cities, including Washington, D.C., New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston, and others, use some curb parking spaces for bike parking, including Bikeshare. Safety concerns are easily answered: Car drivers already walk unsheltered in the street to enter and exit their vehicles much like a Bikeshare rider would do.” The SRC recommended relocating the city’s Urban Park station from its spot near the edge of the business district to one centered within one block of a majority of businesses, to a spot that is “both highly visible and symbolically important, marking a repurposing of two car-parking spaces to instead house 15 docked bikes.”

How would this work? Consider two now illustrations, from Santa Monica, California and from Washington, DC. Note how these cities have reclaimed vehicle space for bike infrastructure, for bike parking – bike share stations in this case – directly adjacent to on-street bike lanes.

You can find many, many more examples, via a Web search, of curb-lane situated bike share stations. Here are some.

The curb lane can be a suitable place for personal bike parking too. Witness shots I took in Denver and Salt Lake City, again with on-street bike lanes.

What do we actually see, here in Montgomery County? A couple of snaps I took in downtown Silver Spring and tweeted – and yes, I drink a lot of coffee…

These snaps show business-district bike parking. Forget adaptive reuse of street parking space. Urbanized downtown Silver Spring doesn’t even have bike racks, not even on the recently-redone Georgia Avenue!

Of course, many county locations do offer bike parking, although too few. That judgment applies both to streets and to private parking lots including, I’ll report anecdotally, most shopping centers. And when there are shopping-center racks, they’re typically off in a distant corner.

The Bicycle Master Plan public comment deadline was July 15. I missed it by a month. Nonetheless, I ask the Planning Board to direct staff to cover bike-parking location in the Bicycle Facility Design Toolkit. As a bicyclist, I know that safely and conveniently located bike parking is an essential bike-infrastructure element. And as an urbanist, I know that public spaces should be for people and not for vehicles. Let’s repurpose existing parking, including curb parking spaces, for designed-for-safety bike share stations and bike parking.

Let’s get bike parking right and not make an avoidable mistake we’ll later regret.

NEPA and the “strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project”

NEPA and the “strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project”

Excerpting from am article in Governing, “What Judges Don’t Understand About Transportation”:

“NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] was enacted in 1970, at a moment when environmental activists were giddily enthusiastic about their ability to produce a cleaner planet through federal regulation… It wasn’t meant to be a statement of transportation policy, and for most of its early history it wasn’t that… And so we come to 2017, and the strange case of Maryland’s Purple Line project…

“The whole case provides glaring evidence of how years and millions of dollars can be wasted arguing about projections that can’t possibly be made with even a shred of confidence… Whether or not to build the Purple Line is a question for the democratic process — for the citizens we elect as legislators and appoint as managers. Reasonable people will differ on it. But when a judge hijacks the whole issue and issues rulings on spurious legal grounds, he undermines public trust in the judicial system.”

Read the full article at

P.S. Author Alan Ehrenhalt’s analysis in Governing could equally apply to Judge Terrance McGann’s ruling striking down Montgomery County’s Healthy Lawns Act restrictions on cosmetic lawncare pesticide application.

On women in tech and leadership

On women in tech and leadership

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki writes, “Yesterday, after reading the news, my daughter asked me a question. ‘Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?'”

The news: Yet another instance of a pernicious and frequent allegation – this time from a now-fired Google engineer – that denies women’s abilities and contributions.

Wojcicki’s simple answer: “No, it’s not true.”

We should all be so clear and outspoken. And we should work to right the balance, via educational and employment opportunity for all, without bias and with special attention to encouraging and enabling girls and women and those who don’t fit traditional categories, via STEM programs, via paid parental leave, via access to affordable, reliable, safe child care. Those are examples. Your thoughts?

Click here for Wojcicki’s article.

Let’s add two Montgomery County district council seats

Let’s add two Montgomery County district council seats

Sharing testimony that I submitted:

Montgomery County Charter Review Commission
July 29, 2017

Chair Bessel and Commission members:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on possible changes to council representation.

The current council-representation arrangement, with a mix of district seats and at-large seats, ensures both locally-focused representation and the election of councilmembers who answer to all the county’s voters. That’s good. The county should continue to have both at-large and district council seats.

The minutes of the May 10, 2017 commission meeting record, “Commissioners discussed different models for the composition of the Council, including all district (no at-large) membership, fewer at-large members than currently, and all district members elected by countywide vote.”

Should district members be elected by countywide vote? I see little appeal in that approach and won’t address it beyond saying that if geographic disparities are feared now, this scheme would magnify them. In the 2014 Democratic primary, 7,626 District 2 votes were cast for a county-executive candidate, and 19,450 votes in District 1.

Should the number of at-large seats be reduced? Again no, at least not because three of four at-large council seats are held by residents of one corner of the county. This current situation is the result of voter choice within a democratic and transparent process. It is a temporary situation that does not reflect an historic pattern ( and will end on December 3, 2018.

I would counter calls for reduction in the number of at-large seats with the argument that each Montgomery County voter is advantaged by being represented by multiple at-large councilmembers in addition to that person’s district member.

By contrast, I see underrepresentation issues that the county can and should address. Please consider two steps:

1) Addition of two district council seats, to bring the number of district seats to seven. Hold the number of at-large seats at four. Currently each council district has over 200,000 residents. Adding two districts will reduce this number to under 150,000, presumably boosting district councilmember responsiveness.

2) Institution of Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), also known as Instant-Runoff Voting, for county offices. I do not see that the Maryland Constitution or code would preclude Montgomery County’s counting votes however it wishes, so long as the counting approach stands up to judicial scrutiny, which RCV would and has. RCV would magnify minority voices in our majority-minority county, per advocacy by FairVote ( and other organizations. (The commission might consider other “fair representation” approaches described by FairVote.)

I would like to see Montgomery County pursue steps that mimic Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), to address registration disparities, although that investigation would be outside the purview of the Charter Review Commission.

Thank you for considering this comment.


Seth Grimes