Bethesda at night can seem like an island, with the Metro’s Red Line the only real driving alternative for getting to or from the area.
At the second meeting of Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force, held on Monday at the Bethesda Library, the lack of connectivity to other areas and a scarcity of transit options permeated much of the discussion.
Bar and restaurant owners would like to see taxi areas for customers who drink at their businesses. Some would like to see expanded Sober Ride service beyond select holidays. Many would like more than three after-midnight bus routes that travel to Westfield Montgomery Mall and Glen Echo, two places that don’t fit the mold for late-night activity.
It’s one of many factors the Task Force is examining in trying to capture more tax dollars of young people who typically demand relatively few government services.
Compared to D.C., which was projected to gain 4,000 more millennials than Montgomery between 2010-2012, the county faces severe disadvantages when it comes to walkability between neighborhoods, according to a group of George Washington University graduate students who on Monday presented findings of a survey.
Of the 341 respondents to the survey, 58 percent said public transportation was the top factor influencing where they live. The group cited the county’s “islands of walkability” as something that could be fixed by lowering parking minimums at new housing developments and aggressive smart growth zoning similar to the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
Only nine percent of respondents had a positive view of nightlife in Montgomery County. The students and Task Force members suspected that was because most people who live in D.C., where the survey was conducted, have little or no idea Montgomery has a nightlife at all.
A presentation from Montgomery County Planning Department researcher Roberto Ruiz showed why policymakers want more urban, walkable areas that could attract more people.
According to data from 2008, 97.5 percent of Montgomery’s residential land was used for single family homes. In 20 years, the property tax revenue per acre went up $9.5 million in Bethesda and $4.5 million in Silver Spring. In the rest of the county, it went up $417,000, meaning the county’s two areas with the most density were essentially paying for the infrastructure, services and schools of the entire county.
The answer, according to the video Ruiz showed, was more places like Bethesda and Silver Spring with more density to help pay for the county’s quality of life.
Historically, that’s been a tough sell to single family homeowners affected by new development or even transit services.
During the Task Force’s first meeting in May, County Executive Isiah Leggett warned members that finding middle ground on new policies that boost late-night activity could be difficult.
“Most people in this county, when you ask them the question about, ‘Should we improve the nighttime economy,’ intellectually, on-paper they’ll probably say, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea,’” Leggett said. “But their view of what that means is we can generate the economic benefits of that all in isolation, that it’s totally removed from their lives. People say, ‘I like the benefits of that, but I don’t want to deal with the practical effects of that.’”