Transit Advocates Pushing For Support In Bus Rapid Transit Debate

by Aaron Kraut — March 29, 2013 at 10:25 am 153 6 Comments

Photo via Coalition for Smarter GrowthTransit advocates are going on the offensive after the Montgomery County Planning Board expressed some reluctance toward the idea of wiping out a lane of regular Rockville Pike traffic for Bus Rapid Transit-exclusive lanes.

That idea, presented in Planning Staff’s Draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan a few weeks ago, almost immediately drew skepticism from residents and Planning Board members.

The D.C. based Coalition for Smarter Growth sent an email to supporters on Thursday asking people in favor of the BRT-dedicated lane to email Planning Board members ahead of next week’s second meeting on the Draft, set for Thursday, April 4.

In it, CSG asks “Will we continue to place cars above all else in the decisions we make, or will we begin to make a shift towards providing better options for people than sitting in traffic?”

Montgomery’s proposed Rapid Transit System can transform travel in our county, but there are a number of potential hurdles. This week we are approaching one of those hurdles and we need your voice.

A key part of the Rapid Transit System’s recipe for traffic relief is giving priority to rapid transit vehicles over cars where it’s the most efficient use of our roads. It’s also a principle that has been part of Montgomery’s general plan since 1993. But in hearings last week, some members of the Planning Board appeared to waver in their commitment to this key principle.

As the hearings pick up again, we need to make sure that Montgomery residents are voicing their support for lane priority so that we don’t end up with a watered-down system that makes no impact on reducing traffic.

County staff are hard at work calculating which roads would be the best fit for a high-quality, reliable Rapid Transit System to connect our communities and complement Metro and the coming Purple Line.

Priority lanes for transit aren’t a new idea. 20 years ago, the 1993 Master Plan’s transportation section stated we should “Give priority to establishing exclusive travelways for transit and high occupancy vehicles serving the Urban Ring and Corridor.”

Communities committed to prioritizing transit, like Arlington, Bethesda, and many others have seen success in relieving traffics, providing better options for people to get around, and improving quality of life.  But last week’s Planning Board discussions indicate that they may be wavering on that fundamental point, and that they may need some convincing that prioritizing transit where it’s most efficient is the right decision for the county.

Without a commitment to that concept, building a high quality Rapid Transit System could be very difficult. The debate really comes down to this: How will we share the road?  Will we continue to place cars above all else in the decisions we make, or will we begin to make a shift towards providing better options for people than sitting in traffic?

Many are against the proposal to make three-lane northbound and southbound Rockville Pike from the Beltway to the D.C. line into two lanes of regular traffic with a lane that would be dedicated exclusively to the BRT system, perhaps with stations and boarding areas in the median.

Residents have complained that the BRT system won’t be convenient enough for them to use for non-commuting purposes and that ridership would not offset the traffic impacts of reducing three lanes of already clogged traffic to two.

The Planning Board sent Planning Staff back to the drawing board in order to find new language for the Draft that would put drivers at ease.

“To me, this document screams that we don’t care what happens to drivers and I’m not comfortable taking that position,” Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier told lead Planning Staff member Larry Cole during the first worksession on March 18.

Photo via Coalition for Smarter Growth

  • J. D. Mack

    The proposed BRT route on 355 South follows the existing Metro route. Why would anyone ride a BRT if they are not already riding the Metro? Why not place the route on Old Georgetown Road, for example?

    • rorojo

      I would much prefer a BRT for some trips. The Metro stations along 355 are not always super convenient for short trips. If I could board a reliable bus at my closest cross street to go down to Friendship Heights or up to Target I would rather do that trudge up and down the escalators of Metro.

      • http://www.facebook.com/tomasbridle Tomas Bridle

        That’d be nice, but I think BRT is intended for longer, commuter-type trips and would not serve this purpose.

        • http://profiles.google.com/justupthepike Dan Reed

          You’re both right. The county’s draft BRT plan calls for different services in different areas. BRT on 355 in Bethesda would serve shorter trips than are convenient on Metro, but on other corridors, like Georgia Avenue between Glenmont and Olney, it would be geared towards commuters. The point of BRT is to expand the county’s array of “tools” for getting people where they want to be beyond our current options of Metro, local buses (Metrobus/Ride On), cars, bikes and, of course, feet.

          • http://www.facebook.com/tomasbridle Tomas Bridle

            I’m coming around to the BRT idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomasbridle Tomas Bridle

    I’m all for smarter growth and fewer cars on the road but I haven’t seen much evidence that the BRT will accomplish that result, at least on Wisconsin. For example, Wisconsin between NIH and Friendship Heights is already a nightmare for bikes and pedestrians. Will this make that better or worse?


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