ROCKVILLE – Members of the Montgomery County’s Transportation Climate Technical Workgroup met on Sept. 10 to discuss their progress in creating new opportunities for green ways to get around the area.
The Transportation workgroup is one of three staffed by volunteers and local government officials who have a demonstrated history in green technologies. Members of the group have begun to look for opportunities to use electric vehicles and for ways to use infrastructure around the county to charge these vehicles.
“This workgroup will also review ongoing county initiatives underway to increase the amount of personal travel accomplished by public transit and other low/no emissions modes, and identify other innovative strategies to reduce emissions in the transportation sector,” the county wrote in their overview of the group.
The other two groups focus on building facilities in Montgomery County and utilizing clean energy.
The county is currently looking for more volunteers to fill two additional groups, which will focus their attention on Adaptation and Sequestration and Community Engagement.
Montgomery County has set goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035. Back in 2017, the Montgomery County Council passed a resolution designating a climate emergency. The county council’s Emergency Climate Mobilization accelerates the work needed to reduce the risk of climate change.
“The federal government, national media, and civil society, including most climate organizations, have drastically underestimated the urgency of the climate and ecological crises, failed to accept that we face an unprecedented global emergency and relied on failed strategies of gradualism,” the council wrote in the Emergency Climate Mobilization. “We must together implement a massive emergency global mobilization effort to successfully eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and remove excess carbon from the atmosphere.”
On Sept. 10, members of the transportation workgroup gathered in the county’s Executive Office Building and discussed their research and progress. Sandra Brecher, who serves as the chief of commuter services for Montgomery County, led the meeting.
Each of the workgroups will be compiling the information into a detailed spreadsheet organized by category. While going over the transportation’s spreadsheet, Brecher said this is a new procedure for the county.
“There is no template here for what we’re doing,” she said, “so there is a lot of flexibility, and this spreadsheet is meant to give some structure as we go along so that we’re not all over the place.”
She noted, however, that because each group is focusing on different aspects of green technology, the approach of categorizing information can be slightly restrictive.
The group then went through updates from subcommittees, which are directing their attention toward specific aspects of green transportation technology. For instance, one subcommittee is focusing on finding practical ways to increase the number of electric vehicles used by the county and other alternative fuels.
Joan Frye, who is a member of the subcommittee and has undergraduate and doctoral degrees in physical chemistry, said that the group has started by doing a deep dive into available information from other regions and municipalities to look for best practices.
Another subcommittee is focusing on walking and biking communities and the practical ways that the county can encourage residents to drive less.
Kyle Lukacs who serves as a Planning Specialist III in the Montgomery County Department of Transportation said that the walking and biking group has also been gathering strategies from other areas and is looking for commonalities among the best practices.
During the discussion of bus transportation for residents, Leon Langley, who currently serves as the assistant director of the Montgomery County Public Schools Department of Transportation, explained that in years past there has been a push to change the way students use transit buses as opposed to school buses to get to and from school.
“(The idea) has come up again, and we are working on a partnership with folks to see what is feasible – you know, a cost analysis – so that’s being studied right now,” Langley said.
Other members noted a concern, however, that additional young people on the public transit buses might make older residents more hesitant to use the buses during the school-hour commutes.
The transportation group closed the meeting by discussing the bus system in the county. Stephan Sylvan, who has played a role in launching two national green-transportation initiatives, raised the concern that although buses are successful at getting more cars off the road, some buses often spend part of the day nearly empty.
“Empty buses’ emissions per passenger is very high,” Sylvan said. Without enough people to justify the number of emissions buses produce, the buses are perhaps just as bad for the environment as other modes of transportation.
The climate workgroups will continue to meet regularly before the end of the year, at which time they will produce their first reports.