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Council Approves Bus Rapid Transit Plan With Varying Expectations

by Aaron Kraut — November 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm 0

Proposed South MD 355 BRT corridor, via Montgomery County Planning DepartmentThe Montgomery County Council on Tuesday formally approved a master plan for a countywide bus rapid transit system that will include mostly bus-only lanes.

The approval was unanimous, despite varying expectations among councilmembers for the 10-corridor, roughly 80-mile BRT network.

“Fundamentally, we are adopting a new philosophy that is at the heart of this. We are saying, for the first time, that we are going to allocate [roads] that scarce public resource in the most efficient manner possible,” Councilmember Roger Berliner said. “A person-throughput philosophy. It isn’t just cars that matter. It’s how many people can move through this constrained area. That’s a bold statement, a new statement from our county.”

Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who in Committee voted against extending the Rockville Pike BRT corridor south of Grosvenor, said she voted for the plan without “the rosy view of this shiny new thing,” that others expressed.

“It’s wrong to think that this is going to solve congestion issues. We are part of a region. Our traffic comes from Frederick, it comes from Howard, it comes from Prince George’s, it comes from Virginia,” Floreen said. “Remembering that 85 percent of our residents don’t even take Metro any place, the question is going to be, of course, how this affects them, those people. Are we really going to support the density necessary to justify what is likely going to be a significant fiscal investment?

“Montgomery County largely is suburban and I believe we’re going to stay that way,” said Floreen, who also seemed to question whether high ridership projections for 2040 will hold up.

The Council on Tuesday also tightened up language in the master plan that would require a separate set of public hearings for each BRT corridor or related connection of corridors before the county approves any money toward taking right of way or building the project.

The language means there will be two additional public processes before any of the corridors is built, including the general capital budget public and Committee hearings. Language approved last week by the Council requires a Citizens Advisory Board for each corridor to monitor work by the Department of Transportation and make recommendations and criticisms.

Marc Elrich, the councilmember credited with first introducing the idea of bus rapid transit, said he felt comfortable with the additional public involvement.

“If we are going to go forward in this county, we’re going to have to figure out how to make this real,” Elrich said.

Most councilmembers have said they don’t expect the system, which is likely years away from fruition, to completely solve the county’s gridlock problems. But many pointed to it as the best, and cheapest, option to make some progress against gridlock in a county that is projected to grow in population.

Councilmember Hans Riemer said the county should test how a BRT system would work with its upcounty Corridor Cities Transitway, which has drawn funding interest from the state and has already been approved to use the bus rapid transit model.

Others emphasized how important excluding regular traffic from using bus lanes will be for the system’s success. About 78 percent of the system in the master plan has dedicated bus lanes.

“It’s going to have to be more appealing than traffic and that means it has to be faster than traffic,” Councilmember Phil Andrews said. “I just can’t underscore how important that is.”

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