Silver Spring

Buskers: Changing Nightlife in Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Nighttime Economy Task Force worked to identify opportunities to reinvigorate nightlife in Montgomery County, from livening it up with live music to adding cultural experiences that many can partake in. Their vision is “to develop creative placemaking opportunities and sensible policies that encourage an increased nighttime social life for residents, employees, and visitors of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” They wish to “enhance the sense of community” and provide experiences that an array of people will enjoy. Their four main goals are to enhance the nighttime economy with vibrant new features, provide many options from which residents can choose, attract businesses, employers, families, and individuals to activities, and call forth people from other districts to consider and enjoy all that Montgomery County nightlife has to offer. By stimulating the economy and creating an exciting environment, both the residents of the county and the government will benefit from all that the task force has to offer.

One of the latest additions to nightlife in Silver Spring and Bethesda are buskers: live street performers that provide entertainment for individuals in public spaces for money. The goal in mind is that the buskers will be lively, family-friendly, and supportive of a large audience. In large town centers with restaurants and shops, where many people gather, street performers such as buskers will be a fun addition to nightlife and will provide another option for participation.

Buskers deviate from the normal sounds of sirens, honking horns, and bustling traffic. They are an enjoyable way to bring Montgomery County together. They will attract pedestrians and bystanders from a large space. Buskers are commonly found in cities such as Baltimore, but bringing them to Montgomery County would be a nice change of pace from everyday life. They will raise the mood of the block and kick off nightlife. The Innovation program is currently working on designing a pilot and would like your feedback.

Would you be interested in buskers performing in MoCo? Let us know below!

Nightlife in Montgomery County

For the past six months, Montgomery County’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has been holding public meetings and discussions regarding nightlife in Montgomery County and how it can be improved. Residents gave their input on what they would like to see and experience to liven up nightlife and gain more County revenue from it. On October 28th, 2013, these recommendations were sent to the County Executive. The recommendations were categorized by department and improvements that involve each department.

Department of Economic Development:

-Develop a plan for marketing and attracting new companies

-Promote venues that pay musicians to perform

-Promote positive customer service

Department of Environmental Protection

-Establish Urban Noise Areas surrounding town centers to allow musicians to play for a larger audience

Department of Housing and Community Affairs

-More housing options

Department of Liquor Control

-Develop an educational Patron Responsibility Program.

-Extend hours alcohol sellers on Fridays and Saturdays to 3AM, and 2AM on Sunday-Thursday

-Modify the alcohol to food ratio under Class B licenses from 50/50 to 60/40

-Create a study with the Office of Legislative Oversight to improve the Department of Liquor Control’s services

Department of Permitting Services

-Make it easier to create an arts/entertainment venue or production

Department of Transportation

-Food trucks can operate after 10PM

-More taxis and parking

-Better late-night transit services

-Pedestrian and bicycle access

Office of Management and Budget

-Better public safety resources

Parks Department

-Allow public space to have multiple uses and attract people with design elements

Planning Department

-Incentives for allowing open space for arts groups or performers

-New zoning standards so public/open space requirements are easier to meet

-More density of people in popular nighttime areas

Police Department

-Decrease crime by using Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques.

-Decrease drunk driving by extending “Safe Ride” all weekend long

Urban Districts

-Increase funding

-Maintain public spaces

-Dedicated revenue to events

The task force was made up of residents and business leaders and was staffed by representatives from the Department of Liqour Control, the Mid-County Regional Services Center, the Department of Recreation and the Chief Innovation Officer. Now that the recommendations are finalized, the task force will disband and the focus will be on implementing the recommendations. For more information on the task force and more detail on the recommendations, click here.

What are interactive touchscreen kiosks?

You have seen them in museums, train stations, and even malls: interactive touchscreen kiosks are popping up everywhere. That being noted, not everyone has access to a smartphone and internet connection is not always available. Besides, how could information be tailored to a specific location? With improved interactive touchscreen kiosk technology, all of this is possible. Montgomery County has several bustling town centers, filled with unique eateries and shopping experiences. The Innovation Program wrote about the potential for these kiosks in a previous post and progress has been made as we determine what our procurement content management strategy will be. The kiosks would provide restaurant and store information, public transportation information, and even things such as weather and data from our open data portal. Several potential pilot sites have been identified in Silver Spring and Bethesda. The information they provide would be beneficial to the shoppers and visitors.

Basically, these innovative devices will provide data and local information almost instantly. They could range from airport check-in areas to online shopping catalogs to a map of the region. These different applications show the versatility of this idea; this is where Montgomery County Innovation comes into play. We will decide what the most necessary and convenient features are, and then we will apply them to the kiosks.

The hardware of the kiosk is like a computer with a PC screen, encased so it cannot be harmed by the weather. They are touchscreen, making them interactive like the smartphone technologies many of us are accustomed to today.

Innovation fellow Andrew Rauch, who is working on the project with fellow Ann Bevans, provided a list of possible functions for the kiosks:

-Way finding
-Transit information
-Payphone service
-Cell phone charging stations
-Emergency notifications
-Social Media integration 
-Business Rating system
-Built-In Camera
Some aspects still being discussed include generating revenue and providing advertising on the kiosks. Updates on the status of this project will be posted next month, and we hope to launch the kiosks in 2014.

Project Update: Interactive Touchscreen Kiosks

Instant neighborhood information is increasingly demanded by visitors, residents, and travelers in the changing local community. Visitors want to discover top-rated restaurants and attractions; residents need to learn about local programs and services and receive safety alerts; travelers expect to save time by accessing real-time data about public transit and roads. All of that information requires public information communication. Diverse methods have been used to deliver public communication, including interactive touch-screen kiosks.  Montgomery County wants to pilot the use of these kiosks to deliver better public communication for pedestrians, improve way finding, help local business, and keep the community safe.

Kiosk specs

Although the specific functions and specifications are still to be determined, some features are known, which include:

  • The touchscreens will be approximately 47”, High Definition, LCD, LED backlit, and use the latest in green technology to reduce power consumption.
  • Each kiosk has two exterior grade speakers and one exterior grade microphone for public announcements and individual communication.
  • Wireless hot spots are also a planned function to provide pedestrians convenience for urgent information searching with their own portable devices (mobile phones, tablets, etc.).
  • Each enclosure will contain an environmental control system rated for outdoor installation.

Experiences from other jurisdictions

Montgomery County is not the only jurisdiction that sees the benefits of these types of kiosks as a tool used for public communication. Recently, New York City installed touchscreen maps in subways, and replaced payphones with interactive kiosks. Rochester, NY leveraged such kiosks as a way finding facility for visitors. Our project, though similar, is a little different from both New York City and the City of Rochester. The locations selected for New York City are mainly for subway stations and select business areas. Our pilot will focus initially on Silver Spring and Bethesda but not in areas controlled by WMATA.

Current site selection and partnerships

As this project is only a pilot program, a small number of locations are being sought as we collect lessons learned and operational experience. With help from the Silver Spring Regional Center, Bethesda Regional Center, and Bethesda Urban Partnership, we have tentatively identified some candidate locations that you can see on the Google maps below (you may need to zoom out once the map loads to see all the sites at once):

Those locations include traffic centers, downtown centers, colleges, and Regional Centers.

Next steps

We welcome your feedback on these locations and other potential locations. It is important to stress that all of this is TENTATIVE and pending approval. We are currently finalizing our fiscal analysis of pilot. The intent is to create a revenue neutral or very low cost pilot. Moving forward on this pilot is still subject to approval by the appropriate authorities.