The County Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to support a master plan for bus rapid transit that allows dedicated lanes for buses on most of the network, but provides minimal guidelines for implementation of those lanes.
The Council, by a 6-3 straw vote, also agreed on Councilmember Roger Berliner’s recommendation to keep the section of BRT for Wisconsin Avenue south of the Bethesda Metro station to Friendship Heights in the plan, but only as a dotted line. Montgomery County would need to see master planning for a similar transit system from the D.C. government on its side of Wisconsin Avenue before studying BRT in Chevy Chase.
Most comments from the councilmembers on Tuesday focused on the long-term nature of the plan, an aspect some said was misunderstood by the public.
The master plan will allow for bus rapid transit in 10 county corridors. Berliner said roughly 78 percent of those routes will include a dedicated lane for buses, meaning a lane reserved for transit and cut off from regular traffic.
“Citizens misunderstood the pace and the imminency of these plans,” Councilmember George Leventhal said. “That’s true with virtually every master plan we take up.”
The Planning Board-approved master plan included recommendations for specific road treatments — meaning where those dedicated lanes would be put. That caused great concern in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, specifically in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood. Curb lanes were recommended there. Residents worried right-of-way would be taken to provide for bus stations or more road space.
The Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee passed on making those specific recommendations. The county’s Department of Transportation will have to determine best corridor treatments in the engineering stage of the plan.
Some in Bethesda were also against the Planning Board-approved idea of using the two median lanes on Rockville Pike for dedicated bus lanes.
On Tuesday, the Council unanimously agreed to add language to the master plan that requires another set of public forums, meetings and hearings before the Council funds any implementation. Leventhal added an amendment that would require a Citizens Advisory Board for each proposed route before Council funding.
Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who criticized many aspects of the plan and voted against the Friendship Heights extension on the Transportation Committee, said it’s important the public understands the build-out of the BRT network will likely take a long time.
Floreen was one of three who voted against Berliner’s dotted line approach to extending BRT to Friendship Heights. Councilmember Phil Andrews and Councilmember Hans Riemer, who recommended the section be included in the master plan, also voted against it.
But more than anything else, councilmembers focused on the many steps left in creating the BRT network.
“The average person doesn’t know what passing a master plan means in terms of the affect on their lives,” Riemer said. “All we’re saying is, ‘Public transportation should have dedicated lanes in the future.’ It’s a very far-sighted proposal.”
The Council will have a final vote on the plan next week. The Department of Transportation is already budgeting money for studies and conceptual planning of three bus rapid transit corridors, including 355 South Corridor on Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue.
“Hopefully, some of us will be around in the future to see it come to fruition,” Council President Nancy Navarro said.