Residents of the Chevy Chase West neighborhood and nearby communities along Wisconsin Avenue’s “Green Mile” argue a dedicated lane going each way for the bus system would endanger kids walking to school and make it harder for them to get into and out of their neighborhoods.
At the Planning Board’s public hearing last week on its Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, five residents of Chevy Chase or Somerset said the buses, which some referred to as “high speed,” shouldn’t go south of the Bethesda Metro station. The South MD 355 Transitway is planned to connect the Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridor with the Friendship Heights Metro station.
“High speed transit buses result in deaths and expensive legal claims,” said Chevy Chase West resident Marie Park. Park said the system would also increase pedestrian accidents caused by regular vehicles.
“I’m not saying that all buses are bad, but this plan is bad because you’ve totally disregarded the concentration of schools on Wisconsin Avenue,” Park said.
She mentioned Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Somerset Elementary School and private schools such as the Concord Hill School, an early-education school for kids age 3 through third grade at 6050 Wisconsin Ave. The meeting with Cole will be held there at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28.
Residents said they also want more crosswalks and regular bus service before any BRT system is built.
“Any MD 355 BRT first phase should go only to the Bethesda Metro stop as its southernmost point,” said Chevy Chase West resident Elaine Akst. “An extension should be dependent on an extension of WMATA bus lines between D.C. and Maryland.”
Cole chimed in at that point during the hearing, explaining that a curb lane dedicated to buses could actually make turning on to Wisconsin Avenue easier because drivers would be able to take advantage of large gaps in BRT bus traffic.
“Stop it at the Bethesda Metro,” Chevy Chase West resident Elizabeth Ewing testified later. “Don’t interfere with what is working very well between that Metro stop and Friendship Heights.”
UPDATE 6:10 p.m. Some in Bethesda are unhappy with the Maryland Transit Administration’s recent proposal to shut down a commuter bus that delivers people from Columbia, Burtonsville and Olney to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Campus.
The MTA has given notice of three public hearings in which it will propose to shut down three commuter buses that use the ICC because of low ridership. Bus No. 203 delivers people from the Route 29 and upper-Georgia Avenue corridors to Bethesda’s traffic-heavy section of Rockville Pike at the secure Walter Reed base.
Ilaya Hopkins, a civic activist and member of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee, will testify against shutting down the commuter bus at a June 6 hearing in Gaithersburg. Bethesda residents involved in Walter Reed’s BRAC move to the Naval Military Medical Center have long been concerned with added traffic from a large increase in employees traveling to the base.
Phil Alperson, Montgomery County’s BRAC coordinator, said he will also testify against the route cuts. Members of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board agreed to oppose the discontinuation of the route at their meeting on Monday.
Arlington County transportation planner and blogger Dan Malouff called the move a “classic bait and switch from highway builders,” who promise a multimodal road to build political support for a project before cutting those other modes later.
“What we’ve done is simply make some proposals,” said MTA spokesperson Terry Owens. “But we’ve looked at ridership on some of the routes and they have not met expectations, thus the proposal is to consider scaling those back to reallocate those resources.”
If the MTA follows through on the proposals, the 203, 202 and 205 routes would be discontinued on August 1.
Owens said the MTA anticipated having an average of about 20 riders per trip with that number growing to 30 riders per trip over a 24-month period. The 203 route is averaging fewer than 15 riders per trip.
“It’s those kinds of numbers that have us taking a look at this and scheduling these public hearings,” Owens said. “We are talking to elected officials, stakeholders and others about our proposal. Certainly, we want input from a wide cross-section before we make any decision.”
Flickr photo by BeyondDC
The rational choice was obvious.
A group of Italian researchers gave participants in an experiment two scenarios: Take the metro for a fixed cost or take the car for an uncertain cost determined by construction delays, traffic congestion or weather. Take a bus, with costs determined by a different combination of chance and traffic congestion, or take the car with the same uncertain costs present in the metro scenario.
The researchers gave participants feedback on the actual travel times of both modes in each scenario. The more participants chose cars, the more congestion would be factored into the travel cost.
Still, they chose cars over metro and bus by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio, despite a clear demonstration that the average cost of a car trip would be almost 50 percent more.
The study, published earlier this year and highlighted by The Atlantic Cities, demonstrates a concept Montgomery County planners are grappling with as they contemplate a Bus Rapid Transit system that would take away a general traffic lane in each direction of Rockville Pike/MD 355 and dedicate lanes inside the Beltway exclusively to a bus transitway.
The study shows people prefer their cars and are inclined to stick with them even when given a mass transit option that is, in psychological terms, more rational.
“BRT does not have the data to support ridership. It turns out the forecasting model is simply that we think people will ride a fast bus,” said Bethesda resident Robert Dyer, who got a decent amount of media attention last week after his testimony deriding the BRT proposal at a Planning Board public hearing. “This is really junk science.”
Crucial details of the proposed 79-mile, 10-corridor Bus Rapid Transit network remain to be planned. As the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan heads to the Planning Board for deliberation and a recommendation slated for June, critics question whether BRT will be convenient enough to entice drivers out of their vehicles.
It’s a hard sell to make.
“We have the worst congestion in the United States. To suggest now that we’re going to have people just flocking to Bus Rapid Transit and therefore you won’t have as many cars makes one wonder if they’re smoking something funny,” AAA Mid Atlantic spokesperson Lon Anderson said. “Because the history clearly demonstrates that yes, you may stop the rate of growth of vehicle miles traveled, but vehicle miles traveled will continue to grow as the population grows.”
This weekend, Verizon trucks and workers were back on Wisconsin Avenue between Montgomery Avenue and East-West Highway, where lane closures led to surprise delays for some drivers.
Verizon Maryland spokesperson Sandra Arnette, who told us on May 6 that crews had finished replacing an 800-foot water-damaged cable that evening, said yesterday that crews had to come back over the weekend basically to check their work.
Pairs in the cable, which are not color-coded, must be matched and back-tested, Arnette said. She said copper cables, which are under Wisconsin Avenue, typically take longer to repair than fiber cables.
“This is a time consuming and labor-intensive process,” Arnette said.
Four customers without cable service over the weekend should have had their service restored by this morning, Arnette said. Because businesses were closed over the weekend, Arnette said Verizon workers could not access some buildings to test the lines.
She didn’t say what prior notice had been given to Montgomery County. The work in early May lasted for more than a week and caused the closure of two lanes of northbound Wisconsin Avenue in one of Bethesda’s busiest intersections.
As expected, a hearing on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system that would dedicate lanes exclusively to buses drew a wide range of opinions from a wide range of Montgomery County residents on Thursday night.
Some argued for the system, an 80-mile network of 10 bus corridors designed by county planners, as a common sense approach to solving the area’s traffic issues. Others said taking away traffic lanes for cars makes no sense. Then, there were residents — including a group from the Chevy Chase West neighborhood along Wisconsin Avenue — who argued against the proposal on the basis it won’t work for their specific communities.
The Planning Board’s public hearing on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan went on for more than three hours and included testimony from developers, transit advocates, bicyclists, environmentalists and one Bethesda resident who claimed the idea of taking away lanes of regular traffic was not just “a war on cars, but also a war on working families.”
“I think an anti-car attitude is just counterproductive at this point,” said Robert Dyer, blog author and one-time County Council candidate. “When the product requires sabotage of the highway system to get ridership, it’s a bad product.”
Transit advocates made the case the Bus Rapid Transit system isn’t a choice against cars, but simply a choice.
“People will tell you this evening that there’s no room for transit. That’s false,” said blogger and activist Dan Reed. “People will continue to come here and that’s a good thing, but forcing them to bring their cars isn’t. This plan isn’t about taking away from drivers, but putting those who ride transit on equal footing with them.”
The debate is particularly heated in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, where lead planner Larry Cole says Rockville Pike/MD 355 would serve as the most popular BRT transitway, capable of supporting one bus-only lane each way along the median in some of the road’s most congested stretches.
The recently raised possibility of razing a downtown Bethesda building has given new life to the idea of an underground Capital Crescent Trail crossing of Wisconsin Avenue, but Montgomery County Planners will have to work fast.
The Maryland Transit Administration must know of any changes at the Apex Building, under which the agency plans to build its Bethesda Purple Line station, by the end of the year, project manager Mike Madden said. With new state transportation funding from the recently passed gas tax, MTA officials want to nail down matching federal funding next year and open the system in 2020.
At a Purple Line open house on Tuesday at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Madden said the MTA would like to know more about the fate of the Apex Building in the next couple months.
“That could change the station. But there would be requirements in terms of us knowing by a certain time if that building was going to be demolished,” Madden said. “If that does happen, then the station, the Trail could possibly go under that building. There could be some changes, but it all depends on timing on whether they decide to tear that building down.”
The MTA and Montgomery County previously determined that rebuilding the Trail under the building and next to the light rail station would be too costly.
The existing plan for the station, which MTA projects will be the busiest in the 16-mile system by 2040 with 15,000 daily boardings, also includes a fan tower that some have worried will be an eyesore near the high-end retail development of Bethesda Row.
In April, the County Council’s Planning Committee recommended the Apex Building Minor Master Plan Amendment be moved up in the Planning Department’s work plan as part of its FY14 budget. Interim Planning Department director Rose Krasnow said the decision to raze the building could mean huge public benefit with a Bethesda Purple Line station that includes an underground Trail crossing.
Council staff Glenn Orlin said razing the building would allow for $5 or $6 million in savings at the county’s Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, according to a conservative estimate from the state.
But the Planning Department’s study of the idea will have to be done in the shortest time frame ever for a Master Plan of such consequence, Krasnow said. Planners must also figure out the actual intentions of the owner of the Apex Building, listed in real estate records as Potomac-based Vanguard Realty Group.
The open house on Tuesday, the fourth of five along the light rail’s route, included satellite photos of the entire $2.2 billion system’s alignment, all the way from New Carrollton to Bethesda. The MTA’s noise consultant also presented a comparison of how the light rail will sound compared to other types of trains and vehicles, similar to the presentation MTA made in February to Town of Chevy Chase residents.
The official announcement from the county yesterday matches up with what DOT’s Sande Brecher told a citizens advisory board last month. Brecher said Portland, Ore.-based vendor Alta Bicycle Share must provide the Bikeshare equipment within a little more than 100 days after signing the contract.
Brecher said it will take four or five months to have the equipment come in, finalize the station locations and put the bikes and equipment down.
She predicted a best-case scenario opening for most downcounty Bikeshare stations by September 21, the official last day of summer.
Specific locations for the estimated 11 Bethesda stations remain undetermined, but will likely end up near the Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center and Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro stations.
“Bikesharing can be a cost-effective, healthy way to provide better transportation connections that reduce the need to drive for short trips, provide efficient links to transit and reduce traffic congestion. Since bikesharing is low-cost and available 24/7, it may be particularly helpful for low-income residents, many of whom hold multiple jobs and try to participate in job training programs,” County Executive Isiah Leggett said in the press release. “We expect the bikeshare program to significantly expand opportunities and improve the quality of life for all our residents.”
The Capital Bikeshare program in D.C., Arlington and Alexandria has been tremendously popular, recently surpassing 2 million rides. Montgomery County officials are hoping for much of the same, though some are concerned about safety.
Last year, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large) asked the State Highway Administration to consider bike lanes and bike markings in repaving and road improvement projects.
Older residents have expressed concern about the effects a new group of potentially inexperienced cyclists will have on pedestrian safety.
Flickr photo by James D. Schwartz
UPDATE 12:10 p.m. Metro today released details on its plan to pilot a “Metro Station Of The Future” project at the Bethesda Metro Station.
Business and political representatives from the community have been lobbying for more lighting and a better looking Metro station for years. In March, WMATA officials let the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Improvement Task Force know the Bethesda station had been selected for the pilot.
The project would provide a number of improvements including high-output light fixtures, a stainless steel and light gray interior to replace “Metro brown”, a thinner kiosk with digital panels for service information and new fare gates with next-generation technology for faster entry and exit.
Washington Examiner reporter Liz Essley tweeted that a Metro official said the station would be done by the end of FY 2015.
The Bethesda Metro station is set to undergo an extensive replacement process to its three escalators, the second-longest in the system and the second-longest in the Western Hemisphere (behind the escalators at Wheaton.)
“Being chosen for Metro’s model station pilot program is welcome news for the Bethesda community,” Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) said in a statement. “As the economic engine of Montgomery County, Bethesda is a gateway station for many transit riders. I am so grateful to General Manager Sarles and the WMATA Board for recognizing the value of the Bethesda Station to the Metro network and the economic vitality of our county. We all look forward to seeing the new and improved Metro station.”
Video via Metro
The Town of Chevy Chase is hoping to take downtown Bethesda traffic-avoiding measures into its own hands with a Town-funded shuttle service, but a requirement that those shuttles be Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant has complicated matters.
The original plan was for the Town to come up with a system of about 10 stops, including stops at the Lawton Community Center, other corners in the Town, in front of the Barnes & Noble on Bethesda Row and near the Bethesda Metro station, for Rockville-based transportation service RMA to service for a four-hour period.
The exact route, time of day the shuttle would run and other details still must be worked out, either before or at a Public Hearing the Town hopes to hold in June.
But in last night’s Council discussion of the project, Town manager Todd Hoffman advised members of a bigger hurdle.
In order to be ADA compliant, the Town must either lease shuttles that can accomodate those in wheelchairs — shuttles that might be bigger than necessary — or effectively purchase the shuttles for their own use at a cost of approximately $300,000 each.
RMA, the same company that provides shuttle service for the Bethesda Urban Partnership’s Bethesda Circulator and for a Friendship Heights shuttle, offered the Town a two-month trial period with the ADA-compliant shuttles. But Hoffman said the Town would then have to enter into a five-year commitment with the vendor to continue the service.
The Council and Hoffman had earlier suggested a four- to six-month pilot program in which the Town could gauge interest. The idea came from Chevy Chase At Home’s Naomi Kaminsky, who originally thought the shuttle would be vital for Town seniors who hoped to get from the area to shopping and the Metro in downtown Bethesda.
Kaminsky said on Wednesday that since proposing the shuttle, Town residents from different age groups and with different needs expressed interest in it. Some would like to use the shuttle to commute to and from the Town in rush hour. Some would like it for evening hours to avoid the parking crush at Bethesda Row.
Whatever the case, Kaminsky said it’s clear many in the Town are tired of dealing with downtown Bethesda traffic.
Al Lang, a councilmember who worked with the Town’s Public Service Committee on the proposal, suggested a route that includes a stop near the CVS and Safeway at Arlington Road and Bradley Boulevard.
Hoffman said the four-hour option from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. would cost $76.50 an hour yearly. Hoffman will research other potential shuttle vendors and options before the Public Hearing. Next month, the Council hopes to finalize two or three routes to present to the public.
Photo via Friendship Heights Village Council
Since County Planners last presented their idea for a Bus Rapid Transit system on Wisconsin Avenue, 12 residents of the Chevy Chase West neighborhood sent letters opposing the project.
This, despite pleas from some of those residents just last month for a more convenient and reliable way between the downtown areas of Friendship Heights and Bethesda. A BRT Transitway on 355/Wisconsin Avenue would conceivably provide that connection.
But members of the neighborhood along what is known as Wisconsin Avenue’s “Green Mile” raised concerns that the system would be a duplicate of Metro’s Red Line and that bus-only lanes would make it difficult to access and get out of neighborhoods.
Larry Cole, lead planner of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, said the curb bus lane part of the first phase of the Plan would actually make it easier to get out of the neighborhood and that the BRT would serve a different set of riders than Metro and that WMATA buses don’t provide enough routes in the area. WMATA has said a 355/Wisconsin Avenue BRT route would work as a complementary system.
“If you’re only going a short distance on Metro, there is some investment to make in going down into the station and going through the fare gates,” Cole said, “as opposed to just catching a bus that’s right there.”
Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier said she was pleased with language and graphics that Staff added to the Draft since its first review more than two weeks ago. At that meeting, Carrier sent Staff back to the drawing board to come up with language that would better explain why the County should take a lane of regular traffic away on 355 for a bus-only lane.
“You have really turned this into something that I’m happy to support,” Carrier said. “It’s balanced enough that I feel comfortable with it.”
Cole said in the two weeks since the last meeting on the Plan, Staff received 113 letters in support of the BRT and of dedicating a Rockville Pike lane in each direction exclusively to BRT use. Those letters were prompted by transit advocate the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
The Board approved the Draft Plan, but it’s only the first step. Next is the Planning Board Public Hearing, in which residents on all sides will be invited to testify.
The Rockville Pike Bus Rapid Transit debate continues before the Planning Board takes it up again on Thursday, this time with a noted transit advocate suggesting traffic flow would be much improved if just 15 percent of drivers switched from cars to BRT.
Tina Slater, president of Action Committee for Transit, said in a letter to Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier that she and her colleagues were “uneasy” with the Board’s concerns about repurposing regular lanes of traffic exclusively for bus use.
In the Draft BRT Plan, Planning Staff recommends taking away one lane of regular northbound and soutbound Rockville Pike traffic from the Beltway to the D.C. line.
That has Planning Board members and some residents worried already gridlocked traffic will get worse. But transit advocates are arguing it’s just the move the county must make to get people out of their cars in order to improve traffic:
BRT is unlike our current bus system — buses today are mired down in the same traffic as cars. People who take the bus today do so for reasons that may be financial, environmental, or simply because they prefer using commute time to read, phone or text, rather than curse the traffic. By giving BRT a dedicated lane, the rapid and frequent service will give people an option they don’t have today.
Of course, every driver won’t move to BRT; probably not even 50% will. However, think of the “August effect” — the one time of year when you can get a seat on Metro, when you can drive downtown more quickly than usual. That’s because maybe 15% of the people are away on vacation. That really improves traffic flow. If only 15% of drivers switched to BRT, we’d see a big difference.
What other plan does the county have to move more people more quickly? We don’t have a good option for moving more cars. Instead of framing the situation as an inconvenience to drivers, frame it as a new option to move faster, arriver sooner, and get a chance to read/work/snooze while having someone drive you to your destination.
Read Slater’s full letter here. A second workession on the Draft BRT Plan is set for Thursday during the morning session of the Planning Board’s weekly meeting in Silver Spring.
Transit 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
Harry Sanders, the “Father of the Purple Line” who died of cancer three years ago, will be honored on Thursday with a memorial in a Silver Spring park to be attended by transit activists, community leaders and some County Council members.
Sanders was known as one of the leading advocates of building the Purple Line, the proposed 16-mile light rail transit system that would run from Bethesda’s Elm Street to Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, College Park and other stops on its way to New Carrollton.
He helped found the Action Committee for Transit (ACT) and Purple Line NOW!, two organizations that have led the charge for Purple Line funding, which through years of planning has virtually full support from local policy makers.
In 1986, when Sanders co-founded ACT, his idea was for a trolley line that would connect Bethesda and Silver Spring. Today, that project has become an estimated $2.2 billion system from the Maryland Transit Administration. A vote is expected soon in the Maryland State Senate on a transportation bill that would be a critical funding source.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m. in Silver Spring’s Woodside Park, Sanders’ former neighbors, his family and the Montgomery Parks Foundation will dedicate a tree and plaque in his name.
The Woodside Purple Line Station would be named after Sanders when the Purple Line is constructed.
“I can’t wait for the day we finally break ground on the Purple Line,” County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At large) said in a press release. “Although Harry lost his battle with cancer while we were all still waiting for that day to arrive, when it finally does, Harry’s spirit and his memory will live in all of us.”
“This wonderful tree and plaque were gifts from my father’s neighbors who valued his work to form connections within the community. That same impulse motivated his work for the Purple Line,” said Greg Sanders, son of Harry and Barbara Sanders and an officer of Purple Line NOW!. “Transit is not mere concrete and steel — it is connecting people with jobs, family and friends, and education. Harry loved trains, but he loved people even more. Connecting all our people is worth paying for.”
Photo via Purple Line NOW!
With progress on a transportation bill in Annapolis that could provide funding for the Purple Line, the debate over Montgomery County’s Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance might re-emerge this budget season.
On April 17, the County Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee will discuss County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed amendments to transportation projects, including a six-month delay of the South Entrance project that drew some criticism.
Leggett said his recommended six-month funding delay in the FY 2014 Capital Budget wouldn’t actually delay construction of the project as it is tied into building the Purple Line station. The estimated $80 million entrance would connect the Metro platform 120 feet underground with high speed elevators to the Purple Line station at Elm Street west of Wisconsin Avenue.
At the time the recommended delay was announced, the state portion of funding for the 16-mile, east-to-west light rail project was uncertain.
With a gas tax hike proposal going to a vote in the House of Delegates this week and with support from State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, some form of state transportation funding for the Purple Line looks likely to come out of the General Assembly by the time it’s scheduled to adjourn on April 8.
In a Committee hearing on Monday on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which as proposed would use Purple Line funding as a trigger for a second stage of development, Council staff transportation expert Glenn Orlin said the Bethesda Metro South Entrance would come up in the Council’s budget review process.
Orlin pointed it out after Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) asked for a Maryland Transit Administration briefing on the status of the Purple Line after the General Assembly if funding is passed.
“You’re going to have that discussion in just a couple of weeks because the executive recommended delaying the Bethesda Metro South Entrance project, so it’s tied to the schedule,” Orlin said.
Image via Maryland Transit Administration
Despite high ridership projections and a traffic situation that most agree is going to worsen, the reaction hasn’t been kind to a plan that would take away a lane of regular Rockville Pike traffic and dedicate it to buses in a Bus Rapid Transit system.
The Draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which lays out Montgomery County Planning Staff’s recommendations for a 79-mile, 12-route BRT network throughout the county, has met resistance from residents and from members of the County Planning Board since it was presented Monday night.
At issue is the proposal to use the two median lanes of northbound and southbound MD 355 between the Beltway and the D.C. line exclusively for buses.
“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.
The Board rejected the BRT Draft and asked for additional language to put drivers at ease.
Cole says the county can not add an extra lane to maintain the existing three lanes of regular traffic because the road travels next to the secure Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, NIH and through the developed Bethesda Central Business District.
The Draft projects the demand for a Rockville Pike BRT as higher than anywhere else in the county. With projected 20 percent increases in the county’s population, number of workers, transit work trips and vehicle work trips by 2040, planners say daily ridership on the “MD 355 South Transitway” would hit between 44,000 and 49,000 southbound riders and between 22,000 and 34,000 for northbound riders.
But there’s skepticism of a plan that would rely on drivers to give up their cars and opt for a mass transit system.
Cole presented the plan at a Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee meeting on Tuesday. After, some of the same residents who complain about the notorious bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic of Rockville Pike came out against the idea of taking away one regular traffic lane in each direction.
One argued that while a BRT system could work for a commuter, it wouldn’t be convenient enough for him and others who might be going multiple places for shorter periods of time, such as the doctor’s office, the movies or a restaurant.
Already there were some residents who said the buses would be too big, too loud and create too much pollution, even though Cole said no decisions have been made on what type of buses to use.
The Draft will be brought back to the Planning Board for approval and public hearings before heading to the County Council in the summer.
Flickr photo by thisisbossi