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Council Votes For BRT Dedicated Lanes, Dotted Line Approach In Chevy Chase

by Aaron Kraut — November 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm 387 13 Comments

View of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic on Rockville Pike near NIH and Walter Reed, one of Bethesda's worst chokeholds and potential site of dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanesThe 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.

  • SFB

    Two and a half cheers!

    • ELNIGMA

      Yes great score, out of 20! Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal won all of them.

  • ELNIGMA

    Thanks for giving the public inadequate chance to protest, Council.

    • Creep

      What? Did you read the part about the required public hearings and “a Citizens Advisory Board FOR EACH proposed route”? That’s sort of ridiculous. What a waste of paper.

      It’ll happen like it often does in this county….a small slice of very loud people afraid of any change will complain and complain and complain, the county will appease them by delaying, watering down and messing up the plan and we’ll be left with something half of what it could’ve been.

      • ELNIGMA

        Untrue, Creep. There hasn’t been a public hearing since Sept 25-6 2013 on it. Between the time the Veirs Mill and Georgia Avenue routes were detailed on October 25, 2013 and when was approved on the 19th there were no pubic hearings and it’s facing full approval on Nov. 26, 2013. The Council says they want to get it done before the Winter Break, which is before the areas affected mostly know about it.

        • Scott T Williamson

          I disagree with your characterization here, Elnigma. The T&E committee has had 5 work sessions, all open to the public, where I’ve personally seen many councilmembers having side conversations on a 1-on-1 basis directly with concerned members of the public. Each route has been discussed, cost estimates have been discussed, treatments have been discussed, and right-of-way issues have been discussed.

          In the absence of attendance, their email addresses and office phone numbers are public, and they pay attention to emails and calls.

          In addition, nonprofit groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities For Transit have held public forums on the 355 and 29 corridors where the main speakers have been leaders in planning and implementation. They’ve been well-attended by members of the public who have brought both positive and negative comments directly to the leaders who conceived and will implement this plan.

          Finally, the Councilmembers’ comments clearly indicate they know quite well the issues that bring the most concern to communities like Chevy Chase, Locust HIll, Bethesda Crest, Four Corners and Woodmoor.

          Overall, everyone making decisions is very well aware of a wide range of public views on this master plan, which is a sign of a robust public-input process.

          • ELNIGMA

            Coalition for Smarter Growth is a Rockefeller lobby that yes had special treatment from the Council. 1-1 talk you had? Say more, that’s just you being granted access the public doesn’t.that paid spokemen (like yourself?) are getting individual time with Council while the public doesn’t get a chance at active rebuttal doesn’t count as holding any public hearings.

            That counts as corruption, pretty much.

          • Scott T Williamson

            The direct conversations I was discussing were actually between councilmembers and opponents to the plan, not with advocates. These are citizens, and they are not (as far as I understand) paid by anyone. Speaking for my organization, I can assure you we do not receive any special access.

            As to the speed improvement, the report you refer to assumes rapid transit would run in mixed lanes on a large part of south Georgia Avenue. That is currently the plan, and you’re right – in mixed traffic, speed improvements would be minor. In dedicated lanes, however, the same report shows that speed improvements can be much greater. The report you cite forecasts savings of 30% to 35% on travel times where the plan called for dedicated lanes (such as Georgia above Wheaton to Olney). And those aren’t rush-hour numbers, they’re averages.

            I do not remember citing a 76% number, but I have referred to Chicago’s projections that their dedicated-lane service along planned BRT corridors will improve speeds from about 9 MPH to about 16 MPH during rush hour. (Google “Chicago BRT” for more.) This would be somewhere around 76%. Again, the report you cite isn’t wrong, but it focuses on average trip times when the rush-hour travel time savings are the most salient to the greatest number of commuters. The major benefit of dedicated lanes is that they allow transit to operate at full speed even when general traffic is congested. This is why Metro is packed, but our nation-leading congestion proves that Metro isn’t enough.

            As to the impact on drivers, each corridor will differ, but there are case studies which show that shifting even a tiny portion of cars off the road (less than 1%) can dramatically reduce congestion and ease traffic. See this study as an example: http://www.regionforward.org/traffic-delays-drop-signficiantly-during-summer-vmt-remains-essentially-unchanged

          • ELNIGMA

            That is not true. The report compares dedicated lanes with mixed lanes.
            Stop misleading our Council – do you even live in Montgomery County?
            I didn’t say you said 76% I did say it was your Committee – said claim is on Twitter, you can read it yourself.

          • ELNIGMA

            The Council could get 1% out of their cars by simply adding more buses on busy routes to where they pick up every 15 minutes instead of 30, run late evenings, and for GOSH SAKES have a bench or shelter at every stop. If a route isn’t busy enough to justify adding more buses, then scale back on those locations and add a route where it would have demand.
            Any talk of Georgia Avenue improvements that don’t first include more RideOn buses, and a RideOn going from Seminary down 16th street to the district are daft plans by those not listening to ridership. You court that 1% by looking at what’s actually needed. Pedestrian bridges are important too, those streets are impassable.
            You don’t gain 1% by reducing stops to a few number of stations. You can’t gain it by making traffic miserable for everybody else, if that’s the tactic being used. That’d be bullying and mistreating the public, which I hope you wouldn’t support, and the Council wouldn’t either.
            If strong-armed into worse traffic, people will just leave (at least if they have the money). It’s not accidental Chevy Chase and old-Town Gaithersburg, etc. got omitted this plan – they don’t want the wealthiest people in the County, who can afford to, to move away.
            BRT is inflexible, dangerous, damaging to vehicular traffic, extremely expensive, honestly the worst boondoggle for MontCo since the SSTC.
            You know who pro-BRT proponents say the MontCo BRT designs are meant to serve? The people expected to buy brand new 500K high-density condos and buildings, such as those proposed down 355. These “choice” (elite/rich) people will never ride a bus -even if it’s their exclusive line, costing billions in taxpayer money, with special branding, stations that bypass middle class post war-era homes, and even their own special lane that was taken away from the public use. Even then – are you kidding?!? Even given all such perks they still won’t ride the bus.
            Who deserves attention and support are the RideOn and MetroBus riders and who’d fill express buses should they be created.
            You want to apply a Chicago plan to Montgomery County, this is not the same city. Not only that, where it could make sense, they’re not focusing – instead they’re trying Veirs Mill, 355, Connecticut, Randolph, and Georgia Avenue – all places where it’s unbelievably stupid and wasteful. There’s parts of Rt. 29 bus lanes could be plausible, but it’d be past 4 Corners. The Council is trying to FORCE these through irregardless of the needs of the public and it’s wisdom, and I got to believe it’s the fault of lobbies like yours. This wasn’t born out of a groundswell of local support.

            They aren’t wide open roads with lanes that it’d be easy to “repurpose”, this isn’t Julio 9 in Buenos Aires. (Which btw, the BRT there causes some to want to oust their gov. about)

          • ELNIGMA

            Veirs Mill literally got 2 minutes discussion at a recent T&E meeting. No public input was taken.
            The Council can’t be informed if they’re insulated and holing up with BRT lobbies. They’ve proving they haven’t been, really.

          • ELNIGMA

            I’ve seen an example how Communities for Transit whom you work for is misleading Council members: A recent claim by them that consultants say putting BRT on Georgia would increase bus speed 76% over local bus use on mixed lanes.

            False: Montgomery county has already studied this and the ratio is 10-11% or 2 minutes.
            http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/dot/MCBRTexecutivesummary110426.pdf

            What damage that does drivers was not studied, but there’s already noted added traffic congestion and safety problems with adding BRT to Georgia and the costs would be enormous.

            Your 1:1 time means the Council is not getting accurate views, not getting the truth, and I got to wonder – who plans to profit off BRT? I’m sure you know, since you’re working for a paid lobby.

      • ELNIGMA

        They just unanimously passed it without more public hearings. Isn’t that lovely?

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