GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Kay Daniels-Cohen was back – by phone.
The Ward 3 councilmember was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago for an emergency hip replacement. She missed the Feb. 11 Takoma Park city council meeting, at which her fellow councilmembers expressed sympathy and concern for her condition.
She was represented at the Feb 19 meeting by a big gold star on her council dais seat. Each council member wore a gold-star lapel pin in her honor. Daniels-Cohen is known for handing out virtual “gold stars” to people or groups who have done well in her estimation.
She sounded like her old self, enthusiastically joining in on the discussion and vote on the hot topic of the day – Route 410.
The Takoma Park city council made a big mistake. It didn’t directly contact the 200 or so residents who live on Route 410.
It didn’t tell them the city was making a deal with the state to make sure it maintains 410. It didn’t tell them about the bill state delegate Heather Mizeur was championing that would prohibit state funds being spent to widen the road. it didn’t tell them the language of that bill would allow bike lanes. It didn’t explain the ups and down, around and abouts of 4 years negotiating with the State Highway Administration.
Nope. Instead the council left an information vacuum to be filled by interest groups such as Historic Takoma, Inc. and bicycle commuters. Historic Takoma, Inc. is, a local non-profit group that is vigilant against any state efforts to widen State Route 410. Their vigilance is explained by the SHA’s attempt in the 1960s to widen 410. Anyone can observe that 410 is 2 lanes wide in Takoma Park, but has been widened to 4 lanes on either side of the city.
Historic Takoma delivered flyers by hand to Route 410 homes and electronically to neighborhood e-mail lists headlined “CALL TO ACTION,” claiming “PROPOSED STATE LEGISLATION TO ALLOW WIDENING OF MD 410.” It claimed the city council “HAS NOT SCHEDULED A PUBLIC HEARING TO HEAR CITIZEN CONCERNS.”
Seeing these flyers, bike commuters realized that the “widening” Historic Takoma, Inc objected to was for a bike lane, which bike commuters would dearly love to have. So they spoke up in favor of the bill, and against Historic Takoma, Inc’s proposed changes what would disallow the building of bike lanes.
Choose it or lose it
So, the Peety-beeties (PTBT = Pitchfork- and Torch-Bearing Townspeople) swarmed the last two council meetings, raising the already high tension. The legislative bill had to have the council vote of approval before state delegate Mizeur shoved it into the legislative bill-passing machinery. It was technically past the deadline, so the city council HAD to pass it Feb. 19. or lose the opportunity.
The agreement with the state was also on the line. The council and staff were certain they had squeezed every concession out of the State Highway Administration (SHA) they were going to get. Though it was not everything they wanted, it was as good as they are going to get right now – or so they said. They were concerned that the SHA, which has changed its mind, administrator, and negotiators several times since the dealmaking began, would back off parts of the agreement – especially if the city kept tinkering with the language.
As the city attorney Susan Silber put it, “don’t let good be the enemy of perfect.”
The rush was suspicious to the Petty-beeties, especially those who were just getting into the issue. It looked to them as though the council was trying to push the bill and the agreement through, avoiding public discussion. Never mind that the city had been working on this, holding many, many public hearings, and making documents available online for 4 years. So what? They were just finding out about it NOW.
Different this time
Your Gilbert normally rolls his bloodshot eyes at outraged citizens who fail to pay attention – the types who think the city council should show up on their doorsteps to personally explain any issue that might effect them. This case is different, we feel. The council knows the level of anxiety about this issue, and several times they’ve seen similarly alarming fliers turn out crowds of misinformed, angry Peetie-beeties, whose minds are set against the council – and the facts.
What would it have cost the city to send notices and updates to the 200 dwellings on 410 at regular intervals? We can see what it cost them NOT to. Negotiations were made more difficult and at least once had to be abandoned and started over. Council meetings were made more difficult, and longer, having to listen and respond to livid, partially-informed citizens.
Historic Takoma, Inc. and their supporters wanted the phrase that prohibits the construction of “through motor vehicle lanes” to be changed simply to “vehicle lanes,” eliminating possible bike lanes. The council said that the phrase was as carefully written by state delegate Mizeur, tacitly agreed to by the SHA and interested legislators. Any editing would destroy the tacit agreements, they said, dooming it’s prearranged smooth passage.
Anyway, the council and staff didn’t WANT to make those changes. It would prevent building bike lanes and any curb reconfigurations needed for bus stops, storm water drains, or other future considerations. As council member Fred Schultz said last week “There is nothing historical about curbs!”
After the long, loud, and lambasting “exchange of views” with the public, the council approved the legislative bill unanimously.
The vote on the SHA agreement (called an MOU – for memorandum of agreement), was 6 to 1 in favor. Councilmember Terry Seamens was the lone “nay” vote. Councilmember Seth Grimes had misgivings, but voted “aye” he said, to share responsibility for the council decision. He said he also supported it because city staff did.
SHA-MOU the whale
Both Grimes and Seamens felt the MOU was unnecessary. The SHA has seen the error of it’s ways, they said, and is now maintaining the road, as it maintains all state routes. Why do we need an agreement? Maybe, they said, this MOU will have unintended consequences in the future.
They did NOT express any concern that the MOU would lead to road widening. The two council members were not aligning themselves with Historc Takoma, Inc’s positions. The MOU is concerned with road maintenance, traffic signals, signage, and permits to dig holes in the road.
These issues have long been a problem for Takoma Park. Since it is a state road, the city has almost no control over it. So, traffic light timing, for instance, is out of our hands. We have to plead with the SHA to come fix it.
The council majority felt that even though the state is now maintaining the road, the SHA can’t be trusted to keep doing so. This whole business started when SHA ceased maintenance 3-4 years ago – saying it was the city’s responsibility. The council majority said the MOU would prevent that happening again, and though not all the MOU provisions are perfect, future negotiations might get the city more concessions.
Bike lanes forever
As for Historic Takoma, Inc’s concern that bike lanes could be later converted to automobile lanes, Seth Grimes looked up state code on the matter. He reported that state code forbids converting a bike lane to a motor vehicle lane.
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