(Updated at 4 p.m.) The Bethesda Urban Partnership on Tuesday launched a new phone app that will provide the location of all buses in the Bethesda Circulator system.
The app, available for Apple and Android devices and at BUP’s website, will give riders of the free shuttle service a better idea of wait times at each stop.
The 2.1-mile, 20-stop bus loop around downtown Bethesda has become increasingly popular since BUP took over operation of the old Bethesda Trolley in 2006.
Monthly ridership on the Circulator surpassed 30,000 trips for the first time in the history of the service in April and increased again in May. BUP said daily ridership was up an average of 30 percent in September 2014 compared to September 2013. The buses average more than 1,200 riders per day.
Riders will now have the ability to know when within the 10-15 minute timeframe the Circulator will arrive at their stop. To download the free Bethesda Circulator app, visit your smart phone or tablet’s App store and type “Bethesda Circulator” into the search tool.
Android users should type in “bup” when prompted for an account code while downloading the app.
BUP promotes the service as a way to get to and from Metro but it also hopes people use it as a way to park in less popular parking garages before hitching a ride to activity centers such as Bethesda Row.
BUP officials have received plenty of requests to expand the shuttle route to places such as Battery Lane and Bradley Boulevard. But any expansion relies on increased funding. BUP’s transportation, marketing, beautification and programming activities rely largely on parking fees collected at public garages, lots and curbside meters in the downtown.
Metro on Tuesday announced it has started recruiting up to 3,000 riders to take part in the pilot program.
Riders selected will use transit cards, contactless bank cards or mobile wallet apps on their smartphones to ride Metrorail and Metrobus, plus pay for parking at some locations.
Metro will install the new-generation faregates at 10 stations and on six bus routes, including the Bethesda Metro station and J4 bus route that runs from the Bethesda station to College Park.
Customers who regularly travel between Bethesda, Ballston, Eisenhower Ave, Farrugut West, Gallery Place, Navy Yard, Pentagon, Pentagon City, Shady Grove and Suitland could be eligible for the pilot. Metro will test the parking payment methods at Shady Grove and Suitland.
For more information and to apply, see Metro’s page describing the program.
The Friends group (FCCT) on Wednesday asked the Town of Chevy Chase for another grant — this time $25,388 that would mostly go toward DNA testing of the water and sediment of Rock Creek and Coquelin Run. FCCT claims the testing would let researchers from the University of South Dakota “determine that a seep is occupied even if they do not capture a specimen.”
The FCCT and two environmentalists in the Town filed a federal lawsuit in August seeking to stop the Purple Line, which they said would degrade and harm the habitats of two species of amphipods – the small, shrimp-like creatures known to live in seeps along Rock Creek in Washington, D.C.
With the help of a $15,000 grant from the Town of Chevy Chase, the FCCT hired American University biologist Dr. David Culver to survey for amphipods last winter and spring near the proposed Purple Line route.
He didn’t find any amphipods, but did find new areas of seeps and wetlands where three species of amphipods could live, FCCT claimed.
“These three species are rare and elusive,” the FCCT wrote in its grant request. “Therefore, [Culver] may not find them even if they do inhabit the seeps. Having a DNA test to supplement his survey make it much more likely that he could detect the presence of the species.”
Metro says it’s found a solution to its leaking tunnel problem in Bethesda that won’t require the long-term Red Line shutdown some had feared.
Metro officials will present their solution to near-constant leaking issues outside of the Medical Center station during Thursday’s WMATA Board meeting. The project will entail shutting down the Red Line at the Grosvenor, Medical Center and Bethesda stations for 14 weekends starting in the summer or fall of 2016.
After consultation, Metro decided to install a precast concrete archway in the crossover tunnel just outside the Medical Center station. Water leaking from the ground above has led to numerous examples of arcing insulators, which has meant numerous delays and single tracking periods.
Metro said one-third of all arcing insulators in its system happen in the tunnel between Medical Center and Friendship Heights, requiring $3-$4 million of maintenance a year.
The Bethesda and Medical Center stations opened in 1984. A 2004 US Geological Service Report showed atmospheric pressure was responsible for driving water down through the tunnel and onto the track and track equipment below.
Metro said it originally considered a plan that would’ve meant closing the stations for five weeks, but sought other ideas because of disruption concerns.
To install the precast concrete archway, Metro will need the 14 weekends in 2016 — the last seven of which will have to be consecutive.
To make the best use of the weekend shutdowns, Metro also said it will do work on a number of other projects at the stations, including the new Purple Line entrance at the south end of the Bethesda station.
Montgomery County is looking for about 40 residents and business owners to help it plan a rapid transit system along Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue.
The county on Monday announced the creation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridor Advisory Committees (CACs) for four major corridors projected to be among the first where the countywide BRT system is implemented.
The 355 South Corridor would run along 9.3 miles of Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue with 14 stations from Rockville to the Bethesda Metro station. Thanks to $10 million in funding from the state, Montgomery County is conducting planning studies with the State Highway Administration to get some idea of what BRT along the corridor would look like.
The County Council approved a master plan last year that set up the framework for a 10-corridor, 80-mile BRT network.
Sensing the controversy that permeated the master plan process, the Council required the county’s Department of Transportation to set up the CACs on a route-by-route basis.
The 355 South Corridor was originally proposed to extend all the way to the Friendship Heights Metro station and D.C./Maryland line in Chevy Chase. But the Council agreed to cut off the planned corridor at the Bethesda Metro station, unless the District of Columbia begins studying its own BRT system that could be connected along Wisconsin Avenue.
The CACs will have about 40 members, MCDOT’s Joana Conklin said on Monday. About 30 of those members will be residents who live within 500 feet of Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue, representatives of civic associations adjacent to the corridor or business representatives nominated by the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.
Another 10 members will be at-large and selected by MCDOT. Conklin said preference will be given to those who use transit and who live close to the road.
Nomination forms are here.
An influential group of bicycle advocates has started a petition seeking another off-road crossing of Wisconsin Avenue along the Capital Crescent Trail.
The petition, from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, comes a few weeks after the County Council agreed not to pursue a proposal for the Bethesda Purple Line station that would have meant a separate trail tunnel for bicyclists under the busy road. The deal with the owner of the Apex Building and a third-party developer would’ve cost the county a reported $68-$70 million, though the exact figure is unknown since the discussion was held in closed session.
WABA advocacy coordinator Greg Billing wrote on Monday that the group is working closely with Montgomery County on a previously planned road-level detour that would take Capital Crescent Trail users up Bethesda Avenue and through Elm Street Park.
But WABA is unhappy that no Apex Building redevelopment deal will likely mean the loss of the trail through the existing Wisconsin Avenue tunnel. If no deal is reached, that tunnel will be used for the Bethesda Purple Line station that could include a five- to seven-foot walkway for pedestrians.
The county will pay for a new, paved Capital Crescent Trail along the 16-mile light rail’s route from Bethesda to Silver Spring.
“While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one,” Billing wrote. “We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.”
The long process to replace three of the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere is underway.
The far left bus bay-to-mezzanine escalator at the Bethesda Metro station was closed and gated off on Monday as Metro begins what could be a two-and-a-half-year replacement project.
Demolition of the more than 30-year-old escalators can only be done during a four-hour work period when the station is closed at night, one big reason why the replacement of each escalator will take about 10 months. After demolition of the existing escalators, crews must construct, install and test the new ones.
So far on Monday, that was the case.
Metro cleared out newspaper boxes and bicycle lockers last week and also set up a Transit Police booth near the top of the escalators in case any problems arise.
While announcing the escalator project, Metro warned passengers that it may need to temporarily close the Bethesda station to prevent overcrowding during service disruptions such as a disabled train, medical emergency, infrastructure problem or power failure.
The escalators are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the ones at the Wheaton station.
The Bethesda Purple Line station design once described as cramped and a potential eyesore suddenly isn’t all that bad, according to state transit officials.
The Maryland Transit Administration’s Mike Madden and Jamie Kendrick told the Council’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday that in the absence of county funding to incentivize the demolition of the Apex Building, the Bethesda Purple Line station will still “be designed very attractively.”
That’s a much different tune from what Madden told county planners last year, as the Planning Department and Planning Board were considering giving the Apex Building owner more density in exchange for razing the property. The redevelopment of the building (7272 Wisconsin Ave.) would’ve allowed the state to build a more roomy Bethesda Purple Line station in the tunnel below, plus a separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for bicyclists.
Earlier this month, the County Council agreed with a recommendation from County Executive Isiah Leggett that a deal to provide additional money to incentivize redevelopment was too expensive. That decision was made in a closed session, though various reports have pegged the number at $68 million and $70 million dollars.
In meetings with county planners during the process, Madden also warned that without razing the building, there could be a 92-foot high fan tower required for the open area near the Bethesda Row Cinema to properly ventilate the station in case of a fire emergency.
He also warned that without razing the building, the station might require up to 100 feet of “tail tracks” to stretch into the open area (known as Woodmont Plaza).
The removal of bicycle lockers and newspaper boxes at the Bethesda Metro station is to make way for the escalator replacement project that could start next week.
A few readers and regular Metro commuters said they were surprised to find the equipment missing from the top of the station’s three entrance escalators on Monday.
WMATA spokesperson Philip Stewart confirmed crews have started to make space for the escalator project.
Because crews can only work when the station is closed overnight, the project might last more than two years. The escalators, at 108 feet long, are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the ones at the Wheaton station.
Making the project more complicated is the cramped design of the Bethesda station. The top of the escalators are confined by the ceiling of the Bethesda Metro bus bay.
The project could start as early as Monday, Oct. 6.
After demolition of the existing escalators, crews must construct, install and test the new ones. The demolition and replacement of each escalator (crews will keep two open at all times) will take about 10 months each, according to Metro.
On the occasion of Car Free Day, a group of the Purple Line’s most vocal supporters hoped to show the proposed light rail would make east-to-west commutes easier.
Action Committee for Transit member Sareana Kimia live-tweeted her commute from her home near the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station to her 9 a.m. class at the University of Maryland-College Park campus.
From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, Kimia will join Councilmember George Leventhal in a “Twitter chat” about the Purple Line co-sponsored by the Montgomery County Young Democrats (hashtag: #GoPurpleGoCarfree).
Kimia’s commute started with Ride On bus route 5 at 7:15 a.m. at Rockville Pike and Strathmore Avenue. Her next bus was the UMD Shuttle from the Silver Spring Metro station.
ACT was trying to make the point that the Purple Line — the 16-mile light rail that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton with stops in Silver Spring and College Park — would make car-free commutes faster and easier for thousands of local commuters.
Kimia tweeted that despite the 7:15 a.m. start time, she was still on the UMD Shuttle bus at 9 a.m. ACT said a Metro Red Line ride from Grosvenor to Bethesda, then transfer to the Purple Line would’ve taken 55 minutes.
The live-tweeting got some participation from District 18 Del. Al Carr, who asked Kimia why she didn’t take the Metro Red Line to Bethesda, then transfer to the Metro J4 bus, which runs on a similar east-west route the Purple Line would. Kimia said the county’s $11 a month youth subsidy doesn’t apply to Metro buses or trains.
The Town on Friday issued a report it had done by New Y0rk-based Sam Schwartz Engineering. According to the report, much of the data provided on disks by the Maryland Transit Administration in July was unreadable without proprietary software.
Upon providing the disks to the Town, the MTA provided information as to how to purchase the license, but said it couldn’t provide the software used by its own engineering consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The ridership estimate — now at 74,000 riders a day by 2040 — is one of many aspects of the planned light rail Town of Chevy Chase officials have doubts about. The Town, which has homes that back up to the planned route, is officially opposed to the $2.43 billion project and has employed federal and state lobbyists against it.
In July, the Town officially challenged the MTA’s ridership estimates for the Purple Line and submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request asking for “the methodology and models” used to come up with the numbers.
Town Manger Todd Hoffman said on Friday that purchasing the software necessary to view the data would be too expensive and take too long. The MTA hopes to select a private concessionaire early next year to help design, build and operate the Purple Line, with construction slated to start late next year.
“We feel the data should be readily available and useable by anyone,” Hoffman said.
The MTA also provided the Town with technical data and methodology reports that have been available on the project website since last year. But the Town’s engineer concluded some of the information wasn’t specific or current enough to provide for an accurate ridership estimate.
“As a case in point, while Purple Line operating speeds have slowed significantly since the start of the study, ridership projections have increased — a counterintuitive result that is not explained by the MTA,” read a Town of Chevy Chase press release.
Mayor Kathy Strom said the data provided by the MTA was “useless” and the Town will submit more questions and requests to determine whether the methodology for the estimates changed during the process.
The Town was apparently buoyed by an anti-Purple Line column from a Wall Street Journal columnist, who questioned if the numbers in the MTA’s final environmental impact statement “were revised from previous estimates in response to concerns expressed by state officials about underestimations.”
“In developing the Purple Line the MTA has used nationally accepted practices for travel forecasting and we stand behind them,” read a statement from the MTA in July. “Hopefully this will demonstrate the transparency with which the MTA has operated throughout the Purple Line ridership projection process.”
PDF: SSE Report
The replacement of the three main escalators at the Bethesda Metro station could start as early as Oct. 6 and will take an estimated two-and-a-half years, Metro said Thursday.
County officials and local business leaders have been wary of the escalator replacement for some time, all the while asking Metro to move up the replacement because of regular breakdowns.
Because of the design of the Bethesda station and the length of the escalators (at 106 feet, the escalators are the second longest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the ones at Wheaton) Metro officials have said it will be a long and complicated process.
Metro and contractor KONE will install the new escalators one at a time, while keeping one escalator running up and one running down for the duration of the project.
Because demolition of the more than 30-year-old escalators can only be done during a four-hour work period when the station is closed at night, the entire replacement of each escalator will take about 10 months. After demolition of the existing escalators, crews must construct, install and test the new ones.
“Taken together, these factors extend the project timeline to about 2 ½ years,” according to a Metro press release. “However, the new escalators have already been manufactured and are in storage so the project can move forward efficiently.”
For the duration of the project, Metro will station Transit Police, emergency management, rail supervision and escalator technicians at the Bethesda station at all times to monitor operations and ensure there’s no overcrowding on the escalators still in service.
But that reassurance comes with a caveat:
“However, riders should be aware that in the event of a service disruption, the station may need to be temporarily closed to prevent safety hazards related to overcrowding,” read the press release. “This may happen with little advance notice. When the station is temporarily closed, Red Line trains will bypass the station in both directions and passengers on the platform will have to exit the station.”
With that in mind, Metro offered a few words of advice for passengers who use the station:
Advice for Bethesda Customers
- For safety reasons, Metro may need to temporarily close Bethesda Station to prevent overcrowding during service disruptions or other events, such as a disabled train, medical emergency, infrastructure problem or power failure. This may happen with little advance notice. When the station is temporarily closed, Red Line trains will bypass the station in both directions and passengers on the platform will have to exit the station.
- Review your options now, and create an alternate plan for the possibility that Bethesda Station is not available.
- During temporary closures, Metro will provide shuttle bus service between Bethesda and Medical Center Stations. If you are on the train, exit at Medical Center and take a free shuttle bus to Bethesda. For travelers who are not yet in the system, you may want to go directly to one of the two nearest alternate stations: Medical Center and Friendship Heights. Medical Center is just over a mile to the north (approximately 20 minute walk) on Wisconsin Ave, and Friendship Heights is less than two miles to the south.
- Metrobus and RideOn buses may provide good alternatives, so you are urged to familiarize yourself now with local bus routes.
- Sign up for MetroAlerts to receive emails or text messages alerting you whenever there is a disruption on the Red Line or closure of the Bethesda station. MetroAlerts will send another notification when the station has reopened. You can sign up at wmata.com/MetroAlerts.
Flickr photo via ehpien
The Maryland Transit Administration is looking for artists to brighten up Purple Line stations, walls, fencing and other locations part of the planned 16-mile light rail.
The MTA announced a call for artists earlier this week for about 21 locations along the route, which will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton with stops in Chevy Chase, Silver Spring and College Park, among others.
The agency doesn’t yet have specific projects and budgets, but said possible opportunities for paintings, murals, mixed media or other types of art could come on plazas, retaining walls, light installations or on bridges, tunnel portals and the canopies at boarding areas.
The idea, according to MTA, is to “enrich the aesthetics of the light-rail system, not to serve as a replacement for good station design and urban design” and “to make connections to communities and support neighborhood identities.”
The state is expected to pick a private concessionaire early next year to help design, build and operate the projected $2.43 billion light rail. The MTA hopes to start construction in late 2015 and have the system operating in 2020.
The agency is offering stipends of up to $3,500 for selected artists, some who might be given the chance to create multiple projects along the route.
Rendering via MTA
Montgomery County will not provide financial assistance to a developer who would tear down the Apex Building and allow for a better Bethesda Purple Line station underneath.
In a closed meeting this week, the County Council decided to agree with a recommendation from County Executive Isiah Leggett not to pursue the deal, which reportedly would cost $70 million.
If Apex Building redevelopment is now off the table, it would mean the Maryland Transit Administration would revert to a station design that wouldn’t include a separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for bicyclists.
It could also mean Purple Line tracks that extend into the grassy area known as Woodmont Plaza in front of the Bethesda Row Cinema and a number of other design features county and state officials hoped to avoid.
David Lublin, a former Town of Chevy Chase councilmember and author of The Seventh State blog, first reported the outcome of the closed Council session on Tuesday to discuss the proposal.
Montgomery County Economic Development Director Steve Silverman and other county officials had been discussing a deal with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which owns the five-story office and retail building at 7272 Wisconsin Ave., and a third-party developer the ASHP had chosen to redevelop the building.
Lublin wrote that the deal presented in the closed session would’ve meant $70 million in costs to the county. It’s unclear how much of that money would have been for financial incentives, construction of the separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue or other costs related to the proposal.
Leggett spokesperson Patrick Lacefield confirmed that the county executive recommended against the deal because he felt it was too expensive, but said he couldn’t provide details because it was discussed in a closed session.
The optimal Bethesda Purple Line station would have included a separate tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue for bicyclists, an elevator connection to Metro’s Red Line on the same side of Elm Street and avoid having to build Purple Line tail tracks that extend as much as 100 feet into Woodmont Plaza.
But it could only have been built if the Apex building was razed.
To incentivize the ASHP to raze its building, the County Council approved a “mini-master plan” that would have allowed a new Apex Building to be built to 250 feet, the same height as the Chevy Chase Trust buildings near the Bethesda Metro.
But an outside consultant hired by the Planning Department concluded that increased density alone would not be enough to make up for the financial hit the ASHP would take by selling the building to a developer.
The ASHP could sustain tenant relocation and construction costs of up to $25 million, according to the consultant’s report released in September 2013. The property, which includes the Regal 10 movie theater, is profitable and serves as the ASHP’s own headquarters.
The report said $5 million to $10 million of public money could be required to close the ASHP’s financial gap, but didn’t recommend a specific amount of money for the county to dole out.
The Seventh State: Purple Line Station Downgrade, No Tunnel Under Wisc. Ave.
Montgomery County Commuter Services is asking locals to participate in World Car Free Day on Monday, Sept. 22 and opt to walk, bike or take public transportation instead of drive.
MCCS staff will be at the Bethesda Metro station from 6:30 to 9 a.m. Sept. 22 to provide information on car-free transport options and hold prize drawings, according to information the county released Thursday. The goodies are set to include annual gym memberships, loaded SmarTrip cards, a Solé bicycle and a Kindle Fire.
People who expect to leave the car keys at home Sept. 22 can pledge on Car Free Day Metro DC’s website to participate in the international event.
“Using transit, biking and walking — instead of driving — reduces noise, pollution and stress,” the county’s statement said.
Photo via Facebook/Car Free Day