Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hans Riemer: Working Together for a Sustainable Montgomery County

Following is a policy piece released by council at-large candidate Hans Riemer's campaign connecting transit, the environment and agriculture.


As we pursue policy change at the national and global level, we must change how we live in Montgomery County to reduce our environmental impact. Here we have vibrant downtowns, leafy suburbs and rolling farmland, all coexisting symbiotically. A core challenge facing policy makers today is how to make sure that generations from now, families will still have the chance to live here with a high quality of life and make decisions for the future that will benefit people for generations to come.

Our environmental challenge is intertwined with our economic and fiscal challenge. As our tax base shrinks, we cannot support our schools and parks. We must bring new jobs and housing to Montgomery County without degrading our quality of life and environment. The key to the right balance is to focus jobs and housing around mass transit hubs, such as Metro stations. By redeveloping in areas that already are fairly dense, we can provide affordable housing and commercial space to attract new businesses without cutting into the Agricultural Reserve or changing the character of quiet neighborhoods. And by offering our residents the ability to live and work near public transportation, we can reduce the number of cars clogging our roads.

Changing our development strategy to prioritize walking, biking and public transportation:

We need new jobs and housing, but we are maxed out on cars. If every job comes with two parking spots and every house with three cars, no-one will be able to drive anywhere. We must change our plan for the future to prioritize walking, biking and public transportation in our new development projects, with a goal for downtown areas that half of all commuting trips should be walking, biking, or transit.

The goal of this change in strategy is not to force everyone to stop driving. Just the opposite -- it is the only way to make sure that people can still drive around the county. Change future development to reduce the number of new cars on the road while offering real alternatives that are better than driving will benefit everyone. We will get there by supporting Metro as a world class system, bringing new light rail with the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, protecting RideOn bus services, and building rapid transit routes on our commuting corridors county-wide.

Sustainable Agriculture:

Montgomery County is the only county in the region which still has the ability to produce a substantial amount of agricultural output, and increasing demand for locally-grown food, which is more healthy for our families and our environment, makes protecting the Ag Reserve more important than ever. As recently reported in the Washington Post, agriculture “contributes more than $243 million annually to the county economy, and local farms employ more than 10,000 residents.” We must strengthen protections for the Ag Reserve as we create better incentives to re-develop in areas that already have development outside the Ag Reserve.

Environmental Education:

At the volunteer level, the county can organize neighbors to go door to door and educate people about simple efficiency fixes, and even make some of them, such as weather stripping doors, right on the spot. There are also Federal grants to support this kind of work, and we should work harder to leverage that money into the county during tough budget times. We should focus on county educational programs to teach residents how to achieve long-term cost-savings from simple actions, such as insulating and sealing homes and buildings.