Wendy's question:  This seems a good opportunity to find out how our candidates for city council feel about sidewalks in our neighborhood. I know that I'm always especially anxious about our children and the absence of sidewalks on Halloween night. Many drivers flying down Garland Ave. seem to be completely unaware of the ghosts, goblins and witches roaming the neighborhood and blast right through. My home state of Illinois has just made it mandatory for cities to have a sidewalk on one side of each block. Sadly, the law was passed and named after a little girl who was killed while walking to school on a street with no sidewalks. 

From Tim:

I believe that traffic calming and sidewalks can save lives and prevent injuries and that sidewalks also play a role in social justice by treating disabled friends and neighbors equally with regard to their rights to access and enjoy our city.  That said, there are areas and streets where sidewalks or traffic calming are more important.  In other areas I think a data-driven process with resident input would show that new infrastructure is not a priority.

State Highways (Carroll, 410, New Hampshire, etc.) State highways and intersections are `failing' with regard to traffic in many parts of the City and Montgomery County.  City Council can and should be an advocate for new county/state funding and design improvements for these highways that make them safer and more effective at moving cars and protecting pedestrians.  Its not acceptable for our Council to say `its not our problem' and on Council I would make it a high priority to get the state to fix and improve sidewalks along these highways – they are some of the greatest public safety risks we face.

Traffic Calming  We already bear a cost from our failing state highways and I don't believe we should be adding to those costs by making it easy for `cut through' traffic to use neighborhood streets rather than highways.  Instead, we should be working on solutions that make slight to significant reductions in cut through traffic on a neighborhood scale – we should never be taking cut through traffic from one residential street and sending it down another.  Rather, there are smart ways to use `raised bed' intersections, 4-way stops, narrowed intersections and roundabouts to create reductions in cut through that benefit whole neighborhoods.  Some of my earliest work on City Committees (2003) was on these issues and you can read more ideas from that Committee's report here .  (Report and Committee were chaired by Andy Kelemen).  These measures can make us safer and reduce the quality of life impacts of neighborhood traffic by reducing traffic volume and speed.

Sidewalks        A 2008 study of Takoma Park found that 70 percent of our roads already have sidewalks on one side but 50% of those are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs and are difficult to access by those without a disability.  Fixing this existing infrastructure should be a first priority with Speed Camera and other sidewalk dollars.  The City is already making significant progress in this area.

For streets without sidewalks, I support a data-driven process where the City identifies the highest vehicle and pedestrian traffic streets and among those high vehicle/foot traffic streets fairly evaluates neighborhood (not just block) support.  In neighborhoods with majority support, the City should move forward with design studies as the Council is currently proposing http://www.takomaparkmd.gov/clerk/agenda/items/2011/091211-4.pdf  I also support the City moving forward with sidewalk design on streets where lack of sidewalks creates an access and equity issue for disabled residents in the neighborhood.  Streets like the lower end of Jackson Avenue accessing Sligo Creek are a good example of a high traffic/high pedestrian use street.

On high traffic/pedestrian use streets without majority support, its still important for the City to keep talking to residents.  The City should work with residents in these neighborhoods to create more formal decision making and polling processes and mediation to really figure out what values are being affected by current traffic and infrastructure and determine if there are public safety (including sidewalk, traffic calming and traffic reduction) solutions behind which there is better consensus.  This process does not have to be rushed - we should take the time to try to find a solution. 

Sidewalks are not a worthwhile public expense everywhere and we already have problems keeping up with maintenance costs, but in conjunction with traffic calming measures, infrastructure like this can help make us and our children safer and our community a more equitable place. 

 
 
I love our tree canopy in Takoma Park and there are smart ways we could improve our policy so it helped us increase our total tree canopy while taking away the existing disincentive that discourages people from voluntarily planting and caring for trees.  I’ve worked on incentive-based positive environmental solutions for more than a decade and I know there are win-win ways to achieve an environmental goal while strengthening public support for and commitment to the environment.

EDUCATION: The first is to focus on education - City staff already work with tree companies  but could do more to help homeowners - especially low and fixed income homeowners – better care for trees and help them carry out the assessment needed to determine the health of a tree.  There is also good reason to suspect that tree companies may charge more for tree removal here than other places.  While maintaining neutrality to any individual business, Public Works could play a valuable consumer advocate role by researching tree removal prices in Hyattsville and nearby areas and creating an online price information sharing space that helps us negotiate better deals for tree service.

HIGHER TREE GOAL WITH GREATER INCENTIVES: The second is to establish a City goal of getting greater tree canopy cover and asking the Tree Commission and residents for best ideas on how to get there – there are many good ideas the City should listen to and discuss.  I believe part of an amended approach should focus less on 'process' and punitive measures and more on flexibility with regard to replacement requirements. For example, the City could expand the ability of residents to 'bank' trees (and to better inform everyone about this relatively new flexibility).  How does banking work?  Because of changes made by Council last year, homeowners can now get credit for planting store-bought young trees on their property - credit that they can use in a future year if there is another tree they want to cut down.  This is a great policy change that partly takes away the perverse incentive that previously existed for people to cut down young trees so they would not end up in the future with more expensive trees to maintain.  However, the City should amend policy to allow naturally regenerating native trees to also count for credit.  Further, the City should keep track of trees it plants on its own property and rights of way and bank these trees for use by low and fixed income residents who cannot afford the replacement costs for trees those residents need to remove in the future.  Such changes would create an incentive to encourage residents to allow natural regeneration and to plant trees and would create more equity in our community.

FLEXIBILITY:  The City needs to treat residents even more like customers and give them a little more flexibility in tree removal permit decisions including how and what tree removals are allowed and in replacement requirements.  For example, homeowners undertaking the environmentally beneficial action of installing solar panels should be given more flexibility to remove canopy trees and replace them with smaller stature trees that will not shade roofs.  Smaller trees provide many of the same benefits of larger trees - carbon sequestration, cooling effects, wildlife habitat, stormwater interception and should be given fairer treatment in City policy. 

COUNCIL COURAGE:  The fourth concerns the need for the City Council to 'walk the walk.'  Right now there is no option for a homeowner to appeal denial of a permit to the level of City Council.  The result is that all the blame for tree decisions falls squarely on the City arborist and manager.  Regardless of whether individual decisions are right or wrong, this is not fair to City staff who face all the heat for tree removal decisions.  If an appeal process were established it would need to be carefully crafted so every decision does not face appeal and consume all of the Council’s limited time.  However, such an appeal process would force our elected City Council to defend its own tree policy.  If they believe in it, they should be willing to defend the policy and City staff in the face of such appeals.  At minimum, we need a neutral citizen committee to serve as an appeal board.

The truth is that the City's tree policy is not preserving our tree canopy through the solely punitive and regulatory approach now in place and risks turning many residents against the City - a lose-lose outcome.  I have extensive experience negotiating agreements with landowners and government and I believe its possible to create a win-win outcome that gets Takoma Park a healthier, bigger urban forest in the long run and more satisfied residents through smart changes in tree policy and strengthened faith in the power and effectiveness of local government.  Tree policy is one of the 'third rails' of Takoma Park local government and there is the risk that any discussion of it will bring an impassioned few out who will silence a dissatisfied majority - it shouldn't be like that in Takoma Park.  We should be comfortable discussing this and other issues, respectfully and thoughtfully with our neighbors and friends.  In life there are often multiple, good paths to get achieve a goal we all share, even if it might be along a road we have not yet travelled.
 
 
There has been recent discussion about solar panels and City tree policy on local listservs and some of my past positions on our tree policy.  

 In 2010, the issue at hand concerned a specific homeowner who wanted to put solar panels on his house and needed to remove an old silver maple to do so.  In exchange for permission to remove the tree, the landowner was being asked to plant 23 trees or pay $4,000 into the City's tree fund.  The Washington Post talks about the story in more detail 

The conflict involved at least two issues - should solar panels count for any kind of credit when offsetting the impact of a removed tree and whether - if there is a disagreement between the arborist and a homeowner - the homeowner should have a clear option to appeal a decision.  

I supported (and still support) giving some sort of credit to homeowners who are requesting a tree permit for the purposes of doing something else for the environment as beneficial as solar panels are.  I also support having a better appeal process so that a homeowner who disagrees with the arborist has additional recourse.  

In addition, the City really only gives credit for tall canopy trees but studies show that the cooling effects of trees on houses are most important on the walls – not well-insulated roof – of houses.  Thus, in 2010 I also talked in testimony to City Council about whether there were ways to allow removal of a 60-80 foot tree and replacement with (native) trees that would only grow to 40 feet (maples for example) – that outcome would be a win because a homeowner would be getting cheaper, greener energy, maturing new trees would eventually shade and cool house walls, trees would still catch storm runoff and more wildlife habitat would be created.

I've dedicated my life to environmental work, earning a PhD in Conservation Biology and serving as senior ecologist for a national environmental group with half a million members - I love Takoma Park in part for its trees and believe we should set a goal for the City of trying to get from our current 59% tree cover to 60 or 65 percent.  But I believe we can only do so by building a little more public support for tree policies by being slightly more flexible in how the City interacts with homeowners and through more education.  If we focus only on punitive process requirements and lose sight of the goal of protecting and growing our urban forest, we all lose.  


 
 
In 2007, Congress was in the midst of passing new farm and food assistance - the Farm Bill.  At the time I was helping direct Environmental Defense Fund's campaign around U.S. food policy.  You can read an op-ed I published in the Philadelphia Inquirer about some of this work here.  I was also working to advocate smarter food policy in Montgomery County schools.  The Washington Post ran a story about the effort to get 200, mostly Takoma Park, parents, to send a letter to the County urging them to reduce fat and sugar in the school menu, expand local and organic food purchasing, and build more school gardens. I helped lead this drive to gather these 200 signatures which you can read about here.  This is one of the ways that I hope to show you that I have been working on local issues and advocating on behalf of Ward 2 for a long time. 
 
 
Many things are going well in Takoma Park but in other areas, we need both short-term and long-term changes in City policy to improve residents' quality of life.  I'm excited to work on longer term changes that will take more than a year or two years to make progress on but the following short-term priorities are actions that, if elected, I would focus on.
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