Thursday, December 22, 2011

Should We Pursue Traffic Signals at Philadelphia & Holly?

I had a constituent request to explore getting flashing red lights at the intersection of Philadelphia and Holly Avenues. That location is just downhill from Takoma Park Elementary School. Traffic is regulated by stop signs and, during to-/from-school hours, by a crossing guard. The constituent wrote, "There have been so many crashes there with people running the stop signs on Philly. Our neighbors have been hit twice in their car even inching across cautiously."

Police Chief Ron Ricucci provided data on accidents and on enforcement. According to the chief, "of all the intersections in the city, I've seen that one run more than any other." Also, I researched Maryland State Highway Administration standards since Philadelphia Avenue is (for now) a state highway (Route 410).

Start with standards, for a flashing red light. The SHA references the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Section 4L.02 of the manual gives standards for signal installation. It says --
02 Application of Intersection Control Beacon signal indications shall be limited to the following:
...
Red for all approaches (if the warrant described in Section 2B.07 for a multi-way stop is satisfied).

Taking a look at that section --
Section 2B.07 Multi-Way Stop Applications
...
03 The decision to install multi-way stop control should be based on an engineering study.
04 The following criteria should be considered in the engineering study for a multi-way STOP sign installation:
...
B. Five or more reported crashes in a 12-month period that are susceptible to correction by a multi-way stop installation. Such crashes include right-turn and left-turn collisions as well as right-angle collisions.
C. Minimum volumes:
1. The vehicular volume entering the intersection from the major street approaches (total of both approaches) averages at least 300 vehicles per hour for any 8 hours of an average day; and
2. The combined vehicular, pedestrian, and bicycle volume entering the intersection from the minor street approaches (total of both approaches) averages at least 200 units per hour for the same 8 hours, with an average delay to minor-street vehicular traffic of at least 30 seconds per vehicle during the highest hour...
D. Where no single criterion is satisfied, but where Criteria B, C.1, and C.2 are all satisfied to 80 percent of the minimum values. Criterion C.3 is excluded from this condition.
Option:
05 Other criteria that may be considered in an engineering study include...
B. The need to control vehicle/pedestrian conflicts near locations that generate high pedestrian volumes;
Regarding the Philadelphia-Holly intersection, Chief Ricucci reported --
2010: 4 accidents, 14 police traffic details, 8 traffic stops + 8 nearby traffic stops
2011: 7 accidents, 21 police traffic details, 31 traffic stops + 25 nearby traffic stops

Chief Ricucci said this is proportionately a lot of enforcement. He also offered the opinion that he doesn't think we can justify a light -- a flashing red -- at that location, in part because of proximity to the Piney Branch Road intersection, but he's willing to make a request to the State Highway Administration. Because Philadelphia Avenue is a state highway, Route 410, for now, it's the SHA that would measure traffic and pedestrian use of the intersection and install and pay for signals and maintenance.

I thought I'd post this information for residents' reactions. My guess is that residents will support moving ahead with a request for signals. My next step after that would be to consult my city-council colleagues given that there are multiple SHA-related city priorities and the city is in negotiations, supposedly close to wrapping up, to take over Takoma Park Route 410 ownership from the state.

Please let me know any reactions you have to all this. Send me a note at sethg@takomagov.org or phone 301-873-8225.
Addendum: The city-council chartered Safe Roadways Committee (SRC) submitted a recommendation to the council on March 21, 2005:
Install pedestrian-operated traffic lights at the 410/Cedar crosswalk and at 410/Holly, replacing the 4 way stop there. These lights would be very similar to the pedestrian operated light at Tulip/Carroll. The light at Holly /410 would also have a trip mechanism embedded in Holly allowing drivers crossing 410 there to get a green light. The SRC proposes such pedestrian operated lights be reviewed as a model for working with SHA’s goal of maximizing traffic flow and the City’s goal of maximizing pedestrian safety. Consistent use of such pedestrian operated lights on State roads in the City could enhance pedestrian awareness of how /where/when to safely cross streets and also minimize traffic back-up and/or driver confusion caused by regular stop lights and/or stop signs (particularly 4 way stop signs as at Holly and 410).
A February 1, 2005 memorandum presents the SRC's suggestions.

Regarding the stop signs currently in place at Holly & Philadelphia, according to Mayor Bruce Williams, whose remarks at the November 8, 2010 city-council meeting are summarized in the meeting minutes, "When stop signs were installed at Philadelphia and Holly, the City worked with SHA on the design and implementation of the project."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Takoma Junction Storefront Environmental Clean-Up Status, December 19, 2011

A couple of Takoma Junction storefronts -- the former TJ's Market at the corner of Carroll and Grant and the former Glad Rags site a couple of doors down -- have now been vacant for quite some time, unleaseable pending completion of environmental measures to address soil and groundwater contamination with dry-cleaning solvents.

Property owner Thomas L. Oliff enrolled the properties in the State of Maryland's Volunteer Clean-up Program back in 2008. Progress has been slow, but there's good news: Mr. Oliff's response action plan (RAP) was approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) on November 21, 2011 -- to cover underslab venting that would intercept vapors emanating from the soil and ground water -- with plan implementation slated to begin within 60 days of the November 22 date on which approval was transmitted to the applicant, Mr. Oliff.

Thanks to Barbara Brown, section head with the MDE's Voluntary Cleanup Program, for providing a status update and a copy of Mr. Oliff's filing.

Once venting is in place, the property owner would take periodic samples to measure vapors in the property. (I note that the Implementation Schedule on page 9 says monitoring would start 30 days after Subslab Depressurization (SSD) system installation.) According to Ms Brown, he time it would take to reach acceptable levels depends on solvent levels under the slab and on the effectiveness of the venting. A month would be usual, at which time the properties could be rented for commercial use.

According to Ms Brown, the property owner will also need to do off-site investigation to ensure that the solvents aren't creating an off-site problem. The investigation would not affect the usability of the properties. (Per page 3 of the RAP, "Off-site groundwater investigation is being conducted as required by the MDE, and is not part of the VCP RAP.")

I'm sure we're all hoping for quick progress so the storefronts can be renovated as needed and leased.

What's Up at 36 Philadelphia Avenue?

The house at 36 Philadelphia Avenue in Takoma Park is abandoned and has deteriorated severely in the last several years.  The City of Takoma Park obtained a first court Order of Abatement on June 27, 2007, requiring the owner to "either repair the condemned and unsafe structure... or apply for a demolition permit."  The owner, John R. Garrison, did neither, preferring to serve two jail stints rather than obey court orders.

The city and the community would like to see the property rebuilt or, if reconstruction is infeasible, demolished.  The road to resolution has been tortuous.

What is current status?  Information below is drawn from conversations with city Housing and Community Development Director Sara Daines and material provided by Assistant City Attorney Linda Perlman --

The city opened 36 Philadelphia for inspection on Friday, December 9. Representatives of three engineering firms were there, also two individuals who have experience restoring historic properties.

The city has asked the engineering firms to bid on production of a structural report.  Their bids are expected later next week.

The house is full of stuff; you can't even get far into it.  After the holidays, the city will see about options for cleaning out the building in order to do a fair assessment.

Both the engineers and the renovators noted that any building can be restored given enough money; however, the sense in this case is that restoration will not be feasible.  If the building and property were donated -- as had been asked in the past, receiving no positive response from the property owner -- it might make financial sense to restore.

The city would need a historic-area work permit to tear the building down. The permit-application process requires the assessment described above.

If the building was torn down, the rubble would be removed including the foundation.  The lot would be graded and seeded.  The cost would be billed to the property owner, who would have 30 days to pay.  If he doesn't pay, the cost would be added to his property tax bill.  If not paid, the property could be put up for tax sale after June 2012.  If purchased, the buyer would have as long as 2 years to act.  Information on tax-lien sales is online at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/taxliensale/ .

The whereabouts of the property owner, John R. Garrison (who had deeded the property to an apparently fictitious entity, "Maryland Mental Health Care"), are unknown.

Further, the District Court of Maryland for Montgomery County issued, on November 2, 2011, an order that allows the city to proceed with steps toward demolition and cost recovery.  See http://takotra.org/ABATEMENTORDER_County_demolish36Phil_rev102611.doc A next step would be application for a historic-area work permit and a demolition permit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Walt Rave: An Appreciation

I note with sadness the death, early Saturday morning, December 10, of Takoma Park resident Walt Rave, the result of severe burns he suffered in a December 7 fire at his house at 29 Holt Place.

According to the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, "The fire is ruled accidental." MCFRS also stated, on Saturday December 10, that the service's "Fire and Explosive Investigations Section along with Takoma Park City Police are continuing the investigation." I contacted section head Kenneth Korenblatt to ask that findings be reported to the City of Takoma Park.

Walt was a Takoma Park fixture, tall and hard to miss, often carrying a dead fox dangling from the jaws of a steel trap. Walt was a quiet provocateur. The fox was like an anglerfish's lure, conversation bait, designed to get you talking and thinking about abuse of animals.

A sign sometimes displayed on the tailgate of Walt's pickup truck said, "Only people have a right to exist. Animals don't! You, eating meat, make it so."

Another of Walt's truck signs said, "Selfish? Have Babies": Similarly provocative.

Walt stood outside the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring in the wake of the September 1, 2010 shooting there of James Lee, who entered the building with metal canisters strapped to his body and armed with what turned out to be starter pistols. James Lee, post the incident, was characterized in the press as an "environmental militant." Walt held a sign that said "James Lee was right." He was quoted in the Gazette newspaper as saying, "if you look closely, he had very noble beliefs. Sometime, people will wake up and realize we are breeding ourselves extinct."

Walt Rave served the world, and our community, in his own, distinctive way. The Gazette quotes him: "Since the day I got back from Vietnam in 1970, I decided I was going to try to make a difference wherever I was, however I could."

One way was as a part-time Takoma Park city employee. Walt staffed the city's tool library for 17 or so years until it closed in 2005. An April, 1994 Baltimore Sun article about Walt and the tool library quotes him, regarding tool borrowers but stating what was clearly a core belief for him, "I guess that anything you don't sweat for isn't valued."

Frankly, Walt made me sweat (figuratively), given the challenge to act posed by the elements of truth in his strongly stated views. I am among the many who valued him for that challenge and for his contributions to our community, even though I rarely spoke to him.

He did earn for himself a group of close, loyal, admiring friends. Zoe Kyriakos posted on Saturday to our neighborhood e-mail list --

"Walt passed away at 1:30 this morning. The room was standing room only with about 15 people there for support. Walt was responsive and able to answer a few yes/no questions with nods of the head. Everyone talked to him about their good times together and it was clear that he heard them. It took him several hours to pass after life support was removed. The doctor thought it would happen much more quickly, but Walt was an incredibly strong man right to the end."

I understand that Compassion Over Killing, an organization that works to end animal abuse, is planning a memorial service for Walt Rave, to be held on January 8th at the Silver Spring Regional Center building. I hope our memories of Walt will spur us all, in our own ways, to try to make a difference, wherever we are, however we can.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Getting to Know You

The figurative trumpet sounded retreat, that is, a non-meeting meeting of the the Takoma Park City Council. Council members got together for dinner and discussion this last Monday evening, December 5, at the Ward 5 home of Council Member Reuben Snipper.  Picture Deborah Kerr and crew, Getting to Know You, albeit without the singing and dancing.

(The council non-met met despite being in December recess, as voted at the November 28 council meeting.  This non-hiatus hiatus in formal, scheduled meetings will also be interrupted by a December 12 special meeting that had been planned even before the council recess vote. The council, on December 12, will consider a contract award and will vote on appointments to the Council Compensation Committee and to the Redistricting Task Force. The city charter requires 2011 establishment of a compensation committee; in all likelihood, given financial conditions that led to reduction in city staff by 7 full-time-equivalents in the last couple of years, council salaries will not be changed.)

So council members met at Reuben's -- good food from Samantha's -- discussion of topics that I would characterize as focusing on opportunity: How to create and nurture it -- for instance, via committee work on behalf of organizations such as the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) -- and certain types of personal opportunity to avoid, drawing from the ethical travails of Washington DC city council member Harry Thomas Jr. and corrupt former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson.

No, we didn't talk about you, gentle residents (with just a few exceptions including a couple of state officials who have clear moving-up aspirations), nor about city issues.  Our retreat was about relationships and not about city policy, else the council would have conducted the meeting in open session.

Relationships are of key importance to effective local government, relationships with state and county officials, with city staff and committees, and with residents and other city stakeholders who have high expectations and, sometimes, conflicting needs and agendas.  They're where I'll be spending the bulk of my city time during the council recess, an investment in the people part of my job as council rep that's enjoyable and should pay off in my ability to look out for constituent and city interests.  On which topic, do get in touch (301-873-8225, sethg@takomagov.org) if there are city issues you'd like to discuss.

And do stay tuned for more on particular issues I'm working on, which I'll aim to cover in a later posting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

City council -- what's on (November 28, 2011)

My first full city-council meeting as Ward 1 rep is tomorrow evening, Monday, November 28. I'm looking forward to it!

The city will honor Nalini Jeevaraj, who is retiring after 21 years as director of the Takoma Park Child Development Center (TPCDC). (Both my sons went to TPCDC -- Raphael,
now 17, and Ezra, now 12 -- during Nalini's tenure there!) Mayor Bruce Williams will read and present a proclamation at 7:30 pm at the community center, text at

The council, tomorrow evening, will then review the independent audit of the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. (I don't see anything alarming in the report or audit.) The council will also discuss pending Takoma Park-relevant state and county legislation in preparation for up-coming public hearings. For the full November 28 council agenda, please visit http://takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/index.html .

The mayor has proposed a council recess for December. This is regular council practice. The mayor has also scheduled a council-member retreat for December 5.

Otherwise, I'm planning a number of get-acquainted (or re-acquainted) meetings for December, in order to open lines of communications. I'll be meeting with Muriel Bowser, Washington DC Ward 4 council member and DC representative on WMATA's board, and have reached out to a number of other local officials.

I'm happy to help with constituent issues and city-service requests at any time, so just get in touch if you have anything you'd like to discuss.

Have a good week!