Friday, January 29, 2016

USPS failure to deliver after blizzard has some in Silver Spring asking, "Where's the mail?!"

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

Not quite. Regular mail deliveries have not resumed for at least some USPS customers in Montgomery County. As of yesterday, mail was not being delivered on a daily basis - or at all since last Friday's blizzard - in parts of North and West Bethesda, and in Silver Spring, to name a few.

Those who have received at least one delivery report the amount of mail was small, entirely inconsistent with what should be a large backlog of nearly a week's worth of deliveries.

The USPS Service Alerts page is showing no specific alerts for Bethesda or Silver Spring. Nor is it citing any particular issue that would impair deliveries. A @USPSHelp Twitter account appears to be of little "help" to those tweeting to it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lost dog in Aspen Hill (Photo)

A black labrador is missing in the Aspen Hill area. Please contact the owner if you find or see the dog pictured. The male dog disappeared early last evening, and is not wearing his collar.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Assessing MoCo's snow response + Silver Spring/Wheaton/Aspen Hill snow/transit/plow update

A Montgomery County voter
is asked if he remembers voting
for the County Council and Executive
who presided over the blizzard fiasco
Here's an update on the current status of transit services, snow plowing, and pedestrian/cycling facilities in Montgomery County. Before scrolling down, let's assess the County's blizzard fiasco and what can be changed to avoid another one. The experience of the last few days has shown there are several areas in which the County needs to improve its storm response capabilities.

One telling sign is that DC had over 600 pieces of equipment to move and clear snow. Montgomery began with over 700, and was up to 800 pieces in the last couple of days. Should a jurisdiction as large as MoCo have not much more equipment than the smaller District of Columbia? That's a clear indication, along with the results and many complaints, that MoCo did not have sufficient assets and personnel in place. Snow operations personnel have been working hard around the clock; there simply weren't enough of them.

Second, we've been told 311 will "get it done". Several residents around the County told me they could not get an answer from that County service line yesterday. Later, the County acknowledged that a record number of calls to 311 were received, and that many did not go through. 311 had more calls in one half-hour period Tuesday than it usually receives in an entire day. This was largely due to the number of unplowed streets residents were calling to complain about.

Third, despite Councilmember Hans Riemer's claims of being an open data guru, the storm fiasco helped bring to light that - five years after Riemer took office - the County's online Plow Tracker map isn't actually a real-time app, and isn't being instantly updated from GPS systems on trucks as we were led to believe. The map should be updated to provide that. Of course, a fancy map won't mean much if the County doesn't have enough personnel and trucks on hand to get the job done.

Fourth, Riemer's sidewalk-clearing law has been a complete bust. It's not being enforced, and we're getting the same dangerous results this time as pedestrians are forced to enter the roadway into oncoming traffic. Riemer took an unwarranted election year victory lap after passage of his law, as local media sycophants cheered him on. According to a Gazette (much missed - not!) report at the time, "the legislation seeks to ensure sidewalks are passable after storms and should improve how the county fulfills the intent of its law requiring snow removal, bill sponsor Councilman Hans Riemer said. 'The goal of this bill is to make our county more walkable in every season,' Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park said."

Are you finding sidewalks around the County "walkable" today? I thought he said "every season." Cost of Riemer's law, the public education component that would magically move property owners to obey it, and the County implementation of it? $6,458,000, according to the Gazette.

We are being governed by some very incompetent people, folks.


Metro has announced that the Silver Line is back in service as of this morning, meaning the entire Metrorail system is now operational 82 hours after the snow stopped falling in the DC-area. Metrobus is operating under a Moderate Snow Schedule. The T2 is back in service today (Friendship Heights-Rockville via River Road). Many of the J routes remain out of service.

MetroAccess will operate on regular hours today.

All Ride On routes will have service on the S-Plan schedule.

Free parking in County public garages and lots has been extended through 9:00 AM tomorrow, January 28.

The Capital Crescent Trail has been plowed, is open, and still slick in spots; caution is advised.

The Bethesda Circulator bus will not operate again today.

A tractor-trailer jacknifed in the southbound lanes of I-270, leaving the local lanes temporarily blocked as rush hour got underway this morning.

Montgomery County's plow tracker map indicates that all streets that hadn't been reached yesterday in Springfield, Green Acres, Wood Acres, Spring Hill, Mohican Hills, Randolph Hills, Rock Creek Palisades, Stoneybrook Estates, and Aspen Hill have now been completed.

Most residents' assessment of Montgomery County's response to the storm is decidedly less positive than that expressed by County Executive Ike Leggett yesterday at a press conference. Leggett was not pressed to apologize by media, unlike DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, who did issue an apology.

Leggett promised every street in the County would have at least one lane cleared by 7:00 AM this morning. I've located only one complaint so far after the deadline passed, from a service road resident on Connecticut Avenue in Silver Spring. If your street has not been plowed yet, send me an email at robert [at] robertdyer [dot] net and call 311 to report it.

Bobcat loaders and plows worked all through the night to remove and move snow in downtown Bethesda and in neighborhoods along the River Road corridor.

In the Springfield neighborhood, one resident with an unplowed street flagged down a passing pickup truck with a snowplow attached to the front. After some negotiations, the pickup's driver began to plow part of the street for a cash payment. The private sector had provided service before the taxpayer-funded public sector in a classic free-market exchange.

Sidewalks remain snowdrifts in many places, including along River Road in Bethesda, and in front of the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase. Leggett acknowledged the widespread problem for pedestrians at his news conference, but has not yet produced a plan of action to address it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

MoCo, WMATA, Ride On struggle to recover from blizzard

Grey lines indicate streets
where plowing has yet
to begin; map image from
7:20 AM today
A snow emergency remains in effect as Montgomery County and WMATA continue to struggle in recovering from Winter Storm Jonas. Montgomery County Public Schools are closed again today, and County snow plow crews are now tackling neighborhood streets.

According to the County snow operations map, some neighborhoods' streets remain untouched 59 hours after the snow ended. Spring Hill, Green Acres, Springfield, Wood Acres, Rock Creek Palisades, Randolph Hills, Stoneybrook Estates, and parts of Aspen Hill are among the "children of a lesser god."

The crews are working hard, but it appears the County did not procure enough of them in advance, despite the unusual advance notice of this weather event.

The other gaffe today is the County's Ride On bus service. Only Routes 1, 5, 8, 15, 16, 17, 23, 30, 34, 43, 46, 47, 55, 56, 59, 83, 100 will operate today, and - get this - only from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM. What is this, just for senior citizens or something?! Unplowed neighborhood roads + no rush hour Ride On feeder buses = residents unable to get to work today.

Apparently, just because elected officials can declare themselves closed for a day off, they've lost touch with the fact that most of their constituents lack such authority. At last check, janitors can't telework. The failure to get the basic emergency transit service up and running is costing people pay, and possibly their jobs.

Unbelievably, once again there is no T2 Metrobus service along the River Road corridor. When you need transit in Montgomery County, it's just not there for you, folks. You can't rely on it.

Metrorail is operating with service on all lines except the Orange Line between Vienna & Ballston, and the Silver Line.

The Bethesda Circulator will not run today.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Water main break at University Blvd. and Piney Branch Rd.

Another water main break on University Boulevard is causing traffic problems this morning. This one is at Piney Branch Road. Two eastbound lanes of University are closed. The WSSC says it is on scene, but that there is a lot of snow and ice to clear before they can locate the break in the pipe.

Water main break closes University Blvd. at New Hampshire Ave.

A water main break has closed a heavily-traveled intersection as the morning commute begins. University Boulevard (MD 193) is currently closed at New Hampshire Avenue (MD 650). WSSC crews are on-scene, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Storm Jonas update for Silver Spring/Wheaton/Burtonsville

East MoCo Storm Center

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has declared a State of Emergency, as Winter Storm Jonas approaches the D.C. metro area. The temperature is currently 21 degrees F. A Blizzard Warning will be in effect beginning at 3:00 PM this afternoon.

Expect the snow to begin between noon and 1:00 PM today, and to intensify by mid-afternoon. Blizzard conditions are predicted to start around mid-evening, and winds will increase dramatically to 25-35 MPH, with dangerous gusts up to 60 MPH. That almost guarantees power outages in the area.

Accumulations of at least 2 feet are expected (24-30" is the latest National Weather Service prediction), with the possibility of setting a new record for the area. Temperatures overnight will be in the mid-20s, but feel far colder with the Arctic wind gusts. Whiteout conditions are expected from Friday night through Saturday.

Montgomery County public parking lots and garages will be FREE starting today at noon, through 9:00 AM on Monday, January 25. If you're willing to gamble that there will be any kind of auto travel possible by Monday morning, you could theoretically stash your car in a public garage and avoid having to dig it out. Street meters won't be free, however. Watch to make sure you are not parked along a snow emergency route.

Montgomery County Public Schools are closed. It is not recommended anyone be out on the roads once the storm gets fully underway.

Stay tuned here on the blog, and on Twitter 24/7 @SilverSprung @WheatonGlenmont @Burtonsville throughout the storm for updates and information.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MoCo snow fiasco (Photos)

A minimal snowstorm downplayed by forecasters turned into a major traffic disaster last night, as Montgomery County and the state of Maryland failed to pretreat roadways. The result? A six-car pileup in front of Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, dozens of fender benders, stuck and abandoned cars, drivers running out of gas on the Capital Beltway, and more than a few pedestrian wipeouts.
Traffic on the Beltway
after midnight
"I'm sleeping on the couch at work," tweeted
Fresh 94.7 FM DJ Dana McKay

"Good lord what a cluster,"
@jose3030 tweeted
By early this morning, the Beltway was in catastrophic shape, entirely shut down near the I-270 Spur in Bethesda. Drivers were pulling over to sleep in their cars, and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer reported that even fire vehicles were stuck in places for hours.
Six-car Pyle-up by
Pyle Middle School
Twitter user Justin Fidler reported from the scene that there were no injuries in the 6-car "Pyle-up" in front of the school, but that Wilson Lane was closed in both directions as firefighters awaited the arrival of a salt truck.

Montgomery County's storm operations center announced it was activated - two hours after the storm hit and the chaos began. The County Department of Highway Services attempted to awaken members of the Montgomery County Council, who were asleep at the switch during the entire storm. Only Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Sid Katz and Nancy Navarro responded by retweeting the DHS message regarding current operations late Wednesday evening.
MoCo Highway Services tries
to awaken Montgomery County
...who were largely asleep
at the switch during the storm

African-American mayors of
Washington take a lot of heat
for snow disasters; why don't white
leaders in MoCo get bad local press?
Many drivers were asking what had gone wrong, and took to social media to rip local authorities for their negligence. The Montgomery County Civic Federation asked MoCo transportation officials why the County and State continue to be unable to coordinate snow operations within the County.
"Pitiful job!" in Bethesda
Rockville to Silver Spring in
3.5 hours
Aspen Hill was "bad"
"Not one plow" in Wheaton
Failure to pretreat all state and most County roads not only created terrible driving conditions, but also made it difficult for snowplows and salt trucks to clear the hard sheet on roads by this morning's rush hour. In the worst-case scenario, remnants of this small storm could remain in many spots as a hard ice foundation, soon to be piled high with snow on top when Winter Storm Jonas arrives tomorrow.

Will anyone among Montgomery County's "leadership" be held accountable for the disastrous storm response, property damage and injuries? Not by the Washington Post. The newspaper's initial story on storm response is critical of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but mysteriously passes on assigning similar blame to elected officials here in Montgomery County. Here we go again. The disasters will continue until there are consequences at the ballot box.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tower crane installed at Central construction site in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

Things are getting serious at the construction site of the future Central development in downtown Silver Spring. The project's tower crane is now in place, ready to the heavy lifting on this Grosvenor Americas development across from the Silver Spring Library.

Central will include 243 residential units, including 31 affordable units, and 17,000 SF of ground floor retail/restaurant space. Delivery is expected in the fall of 2017.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

zpizza applies for liquor license in downtown Silver Spring (Photos)

zpizza, the non-GMO wheat-flour-crust pizzeria at 815 Ellsworth Drive, has applied for a liquor license from Montgomery County. Their hearing for the Class H Beer & Wine license is scheduled for February 18 at 9:00 AM.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Shoe City to open in new spot at Wheaton Plaza

Shoe City will move into a new spot, next to Sun's Jewelry and Clock, at Wheaton Plaza. That's on Level 1 in the wing that also has DSW and Dick's Sporting Goods.

Friday, January 15, 2016

MoCo fails again as General Dynamics chooses Reston for new headquarters

The first weeks of 2016 in Montgomery County have been dominated with promises of new tax hikes and perpetuation of the County's liquor monopoly by elected officials, exaggerated claims of miracle solutions to homelessness, and the discovery that yes, your kids in Montgomery County Public Schools are still being zapped by radioactive gas over the EPA limit - and that County officials hid this from you for some time. But across the river in rival Fairfax County, they've spent the month doing what they do best - cleaning MoCo's clock in economic development.

The first big win by a regional jurisdiction this year is the winner of the competition for the next General Dynamics headquarters - Fairfax County.

A search that considered hundreds of sites around our region and the nation ended at a piece of property at 11011 Sunset Hills Road in Reston. Right off the Dulles Toll Road.

No public effort was made by Montgomery County to win over General Dynamics. Neither the County Executive, nor the County Council, made any public overtures to General Dynamics. That, and offering incentives, are about the only tools Montgomery County could employ, considering that officials are still refusing to build the long-delayed Potomac River crossing west of the American Legion Bridge.

Without direct access to Dulles Airport, and with a severely-unfriendly business climate, it's difficult to appeal to a major defense contractor like General Dynamics.
Fairfax site has what none in
Montgomery have -
direct access to coveted
Dulles International Airport

Loren Thompson, a defense consultant, said it was no surprise that the company decided to stay in Northern Virginia, close to the Pentagon and Washington Dulles International Airport.

“I think the business climate in Northern Virginia is generally more favorable to corporate headquarters than the District or Maryland...if you’ve followed GD over the years, you know the financial implications would have been paramount in their decision of when to move and where to move.”

- The Washington Post, January 12

GenDyn is the third-largest Pentagon contractor, and will bring 200 high-wage jobs to this corporate headquarters, with two future 30,000 SF additions planned for more jobs.

The headquarters could easily have been accommodated by any of several supposedly-struggling and vacant office parks in Montgomery County. Many of these are currently being put to such sexy uses as cookie-cutter townhomes and self-storage facilities, as Montgomery County has failed to attract a single major corporate headquarters in over a decade.

GenDyn's plans also completely contradict the talking points given by the Montgomery County political cartel, who have told us that corporate tenants are all downsizing, and have no interest in suburban campuses (never mind that the top companies in the world like Facebook, Google and Apple all operate out of suburban campuses).

Oops. General Dynamics is increasing its square footage from 175,000 SF in its current headquarters, to 250,000 SF when its new headquarters is completely built out, according to current plans. Its choice was - a suburban office park, which at over a mile from the nearest Metro station, won't get many millennials to walk to work. But count on those millennials to still apply - and drive - in droves, because GenDyn has what they really want - high-wage jobs, something the moribund MoCo economy has failed to generate in the private sector over the last fourteen years.

Imagine the outcome of the General Dynamics race had our leaders wisely built the Dulles access planned for decades ago. Several perfect sites in the I-270 corridor would suddenly have been on the table. GenDyn wouldn't have worked for locations like downtown Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring or Pike & Rose, because they need a secure campus away from urban bustle.

When the next corporate HQ race begins, will we have those sites left, or will they all have been converted to residential? Will we still be no further toward a new Potomac River crossing to provide the Dulles Airport access international firms demand?

As impotent as Montgomery County has been in these private sector contests, our elected officials are even dropping the ball in attracting government jobs in recent times. County Executive Ike Leggett recently told the Washington Post that he decided unilaterally to pass on the tens-of-millions of dollars in economic development the FBI headquarters would have provided MoCo, solely so that his personal friend could reap the political windfall in Prince George's County.

Does that make you angry? It should. It raises, at a minimum, serious ethical questions. Have you heard anything about Montgomery pursuing the Transportation Security Administration headquarters, now that it's back on the regional table again?

How about a bid for the new Washington Redskins stadium? We just passed on D.C. United, despite having likely the largest concentration of United fans in the region within Montgomery County.

The Redskins won't change their name, and District officials have - to our advantage - decided to cut off their nose to spite their face, by requiring a name change before wooing them back to DC. Putting politics over the economic best interests of your constituents? Hmm....that sounds familiar.

Loudoun is already negotiating. Where is Montgomery County?

The same place we always are under the "leadership" of the Montgomery County political machine. Asleep at the switch. Ninth runner up. Last place. Loser.

"If you're not first, you're last."

Term limits, anybody?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Downtown Silver Spring Rite Aid update (Photos)

The new Rite Aid store under construction in the Zalco Building in downtown Silver Spring will include a walk-in clinic, similar to the Minute Clinic concept offered by competitor CVS Pharmacy. Rite Aid is introducing these clinics in select markets.

Here are some additional photos from the construction site, at 8701 Georgia Avenue:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New tests show 5 Silver Spring schools have radon levels above EPA limit

Jackson Road Elementary had
the second-highest radon level
recorded in eastern
Montgomery County, 7.6 pCi/L
Montgomery County Public Schools has completed new radon tests at several schools in Silver Spring, and results show at least 5 schools have radon levels above the 4.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) limit recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. School systems are expected to take immediate action to reduce radon levels when they exceed that number.

Springbrook High School recorded the highest radon level in eastern Montgomery County schools, 8.9 pCi/L, in Classroom E111. One room that tested high at Springbrook was a daycare room.

The Silver Spring schools, and specific rooms that tested over-the-limit for radon, are:

Veirs Mill Elementary School:

Gym office 416-A (6.3 pCi/L)

Room 625-B (4.2)

East Silver Spring Elementary School:

Council 37 (6.4)

Jackson Road Elementary School:

Room 200 (7.6)

Oakview Elementary School:

Room 204 (5.5)

Springbrook High School:

Classroom B109/110 (6.1) 

Office B109-A (14.6) 

Office B109-B (5.5)

Classroom B104 (4.6)

Classroom E111 (8.9)

Daycare E108 (4.7) 

Classroom F105 (6.3) 

Classroom F106 (4.3)

Classroom F107 (4.4)

Classroom G108 (4.8)

It appears MCPS held on to the results before releasing them, as documents suggest the lab analysis of most of the test kits was performed between December 22 and December 24.

The presence of unsafe levels of radon in 26 MCPS schools, and the failure of the system to take action or report previous test results to parents, was first uncovered by the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, MD back in November.

Radon is described by the EPA as "a human carcinogen and a serious environmental health problem," and a "radioactive gas."

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Nando's PERi-PERi open in Wheaton Plaza (Photos)

Nando's PERi-PERi has been open at Wheaton Plaza for almost a month. The spicy chicken franchise from South Africa features art from that country in the dining room, and sports a ceiling made from interlocking hexagons of reclaimed shipping crates.

The chicken here is marinated for over 24 hours, and then grilled over an open flame. Another great addition to the mall. Here's the menu (click to enlarge):

Monday, January 11, 2016

Silver Spring construction update: Dave & Buster's at Ellsworth Place (Photos)

The interior buildout of Dave & Buster's at Ellsworth Place mall in downtown Silver Spring continues. Once open, Dave & Buster's will seal the deal on Silver Spring's emergence as arguably the most energetic nighttime destination in Montgomery County, along with the revitalized mall, Veterans Plaza, the AFI Silver and Regal Majestic theatres, and The Fillmore.

Dave & Buster's arrives to Ellsworth Place after the closure of another location, which was in the now-demolished White Flint Mall.