The Montgomery County Council has again rejected a skybridge for the Silver Spring library, but the hearing revealed some fascinating facts about the ways people debate in person and on social media.
On Tuesday, at-large councilmember Hans Riemer asked his Facebook followers what they thought about a long-running controversy: whether to build a skybridge over
Fenton Street Wayne Avenue between the new Silver Spring library and the adjacent parking garage.
We’ve explained why this is a bad idea many times. Taking pedestrians off the street leads to an expectation that pedestrians won’t cross the street, leading to engineers designing it for high-speed traffic movement, making the area less safe to walk around.
County Executive Ike Leggett and the eternally lousy Montgomery DOT want it, but the Silver Spring CBD Urban Renewal Plan prohibits it, meaning it can’t be built unless the Council specifically authorizes it.
The Council has rejected the bridge before, but it keeps coming back up. The latest iteration arose because Council President Valerie Ervin, whose district includes the library, recently revived the idea.
Before the Council’s hearing on the matter, Riemer asked for input. His Facebook followers came out strongly opposed. Here are a few of the comments:
Fellow at-large Councilmember George Leventhal chimed in during the hearing:
A fascinating debate about the role of social media versus attending hearings in person then ensued:
This dynamic comes up in many areas where there are opportunities to participate in government but which require a substantial time investment. At many hearings, people can travel some distance and wait for hours just to speak for two minutes. To testify at the Virginia or Maryland state legislatures also can involve a long trip just to get to Richmond or Annapolis.
That burden means that those more committed will have louder voices. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but it also tends to favor those who have fewer demands on their time. Retirees, for example, can more easily spend the time than parents of young children.
As a result, many boards tend to be comprised of individuals who either have a professional interest in the issue, or who have more than the average amount of free time. That means that for important boards like DC’s HPRB or Zoning Commission, it’s difficult to find candidates to represent different points of view. Even the WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council is vastly skewed away from parents.
Social media can give people an opportunity to participate without having to take time off work or hire babysitters, but also favors those who have Internet-enabled mobile devices or jobs with computers. Clearly, there’s no simple answer.
As for the bridge itself, the Council turned it down again. Leventhal introduced a motion to authorize the bridge, but his four fellow committee members, Craig Rice (district 2), Nancy Navarro (district 4), Marc Elrich (at-large), and Nancy Floreen (at-large), all declined to second the motion.
Thayer Avenue, which has now made some signs to oppose the bridge, also reports that Ervin could bring up the matter without a committee recommendation. But with four having already cast their lot against the bridge last week, opposition from Riemer himself or either of the other two, Roger Berliner and Phil Andrews, would keep it from moving forward.