Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Dan Reed

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 

Development


Montgomery County isn't really waging war against suburbia

Some Montgomery County residents are accusing county officials of waging a "war against suburbia." But the county isn't coming for your single-family house, no matter who tells you otherwise.


Bethesda residents protest the Westbard plan. Photo by Sonya Burke on Twitter.

Last week, about 70 protesters from Bethesda demonstrated outside the Council Office Building over the Westbard Sector Plan, which would redevelop a cluster of 1950s-era strip malls off of River Road into a small-scale town center with new shops, parks, and up to 1200 townhomes and apartments. The council is set to approve the plan tomorrow.

Holding signs saying "suburban not urban," the group shouted down Councilmember Roger Berliner when he tried to address them, calling him "corrupt." Berliner, who represents Bethesda, had successfully convinced the council to reduce the amount of allowable development in the plan, which effectively limits building heights to six stories.

The group, called Save Westbard, is led by Jeanne Allen, former Republican state delegate candidate and charter school advocate. In an email blast two weeks ago, she called the Westbard plan "Orwellian" and says Berliner's "visits to Cuba and China influenced" his support for developing the area.


One of the shopping centers in Westbard today. Photo by Todd Menhinick on Flickr.

She argues that the county wants to "destroy" wealthy suburban neighborhoods like hers, overcrowding the roads and schools, and possibly changing the culture of her community. "Suburbs breed generous people," she says. "They have community meetings and fundraisers in their homes (on streets where people can park)...take care of one another's kids (who can play in yards)...suburbs have a purpose."

Is the county really at war against the suburbs? Save Westbard released a document called the Westbard Papers containing emails between county planners and attorneys for Equity One, one of the major property owners in Westbard, though they don't reveal anything illegal. And Allen refers to three-year-old comments from Councilmember George Leventhal (though not about Westbard) in which he calls the suburbs "a mistake."

Except in reality, Leventhal is talking about the spread-out nature of some suburban places, which forces people to drive really far for work or shopping, resulting in lots of traffic and pollution. He's not making a value judgment about suburbs, but instead acknowledging that some kinds of suburban development have negative costs.

"We see the substantial separation of residential areas from commercial areas from industrial areas from retail areas as a mistake," he says. "Because the very thing that was so marvelous when Olney and Gaithersburg and Wheaton were laid out in the 1940s and 1950s is now killing our planet. We can't afford to drive as much as we do, we have to change our land use patterns, our transportation patterns...Our heirs will blame us for our failure to do that. It's one of the culprits in climate change."

It's possible to have suburban neighborhoods where you can have a big house with a yard and still be able to walk to things. You only have to go about two miles east of Westbard to Chevy Chase to see what that looks like. That's why Montgomery County wants to focus development in aging commercial areas like Westbard, or Chevy Chase Lake, or White Oak. The county is built out, and investing in these areas gives current residents access to more things without having to sit in traffic, while accommodating future population growth.


Rendering of the Westbard redevelopment from Equity One.

There are many current Westbard residents who agree with Leventhal and Berliner that having new shops and amenities within walking distance is a good thing. The Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, which represents nineteen neighborhoods and condo buildings in the area, supports the Westbard plan, calling it a "compromise of different interests," including the developers and some residents who wanted less development.

Another petition circulated by Equity One includes signatures from 182 neighbors who support the plan. "Westbard is a highly affluent area of Montgomery County," reads the petition, "yet its streets are not pedestrian-friendly, its residents shop at an unsightly retail center surrounded by a sea of asphalt, it's service workers can't afford to live there, and its natural resources are among the county's worst."

And there are the people who have yet to live in this community. While looking for a job after graduate school, I worked out of the Westbard Giant giving out samples for a local bakery who sold cakes there. I got to know some of the people who worked there, and discovered that few of them lived in Montgomery County, let alone in the neighborhood. These are the people who have to drive long distances to work in Westbard, which is one of the most expensive parts of an already expensive county. The county's plan for the area would set aside 15% of new housing units for lower-income households, allowing some people who work here to live there as well.

Leigh Gallagher's recent book "The End of the Suburbs" might freak out any Westbard resident who likes the suburban aspects of their community, But Gallagher's argument is that suburbs aren't actually going anywhere, particularly affluent ones with good schools that are walkable. It bodes well for Westbard, but it doesn't mean that Westbard, or anywhere else, isn't totally immune to change.

Politics


Why Montgomery County school board is the race to watch in 2016

Montgomery County school board elections are usually pretty sleepy. But as the county's once-vaunted schools struggle to serve a more diverse population, the "achievement gap" is causing this year's race to heat up.


Montgomery County students marched to protest the achievement gap, which is an election year issue.

Montgomery County Public Schools has grown rapidly in recent years, but has also become more segregated by race and class. Student performance is slipping, particularly in schools with a concentration of minority and low-income students. School officials have been reluctant to address the problem or even admit that it exists.

Schools make up half of the county's $5 billion annual budget, and the teachers' union's coveted "Apple Ballot" endorsements have had a big influence on local elections. But that's changed as the school system's performance has slipped. Jill Ortman-Fouse won a seat on the board in 2014 after campaigning to reform the system; three months later, superintendent Josh Starr resigned when he realized a majority of the board no longer supported renewing his contract.

Meet the candidates

There are three open seats this year, but two of them have two candidates, who will both go on to the general election in November. But a three-way race has formed for the at-large seat between incumbent Phil Kauffman, retired principal Jeanette Dixon, and former teacher and student board member Sebastian Johnson. One Montgomery, the school equity group I helped start, interviewed all three. (Full disclosure: we've endorsed Johnson.)

Kauffman, lives in Olney and was a PTA activist before joining the board in 2008. His wife teaches at Blake High School, which both of his daughters also graduated from (more disclosure: I was friends with them in high school). He ran as a reformer in 2008, calling for greater transparency in budget decisions and changes to the middle school curriculum. At the time, he said the school board was too cozy with the superintendent and needed to be more independent. Two terms later, he defended keeping Starr as superintendent, and as president of the board in 2014, he joined Starr in threatening to cut programs for high-needs students if the school system didn't get a $15 million budget increase.

Dixon, who lives in East County, is familiar with the challenges facing the county's majority-minority, high-poverty schools. She was principal at Paint Branch High School (and before that, my principal at White Oak Middle School) before retiring three years ago. Since then, she's been an outspoken critic of the school system and proponent of big ideas. At a League of Women Voters forum on the achievement gap last fall, she said that students should be allowed to attend any high school in the county, regardless of where they live.

In January 2015, she published an open letter blasting Starr, calling him ineffective and saying he only cared about "protecting the MCPS brand." The letter may have helped turn public support away from him. (Inside sources say Starr has been quietly campaigning against her, calling her "dangerous" for the school system.) She's refused endorsements from elected officials, but has a long list of testimonials from faculty she's worked with and former students.

Johnson argues he can provide a new perspective to a board where members are often shut down for going against the grain. At 27, he's by far the youngest candidate, and describes himself as proof that schools can close the achievement gap. A former teacher and student member of the board, he grew up in a single-parent household in Takoma Park before attending Georgetown, Harvard, and the London School of Economics.

The Takoma Park resident talks about the "intersectionality" of schools and factors outside the classroom, pointing out that students can't learn if their families can't afford health care or stable, decent housing. He wants more "wraparound services" like health centers at schools, while increasing minority student access to the county's largely segregated magnet programs. He hopes his existing relationships with county councilmembers can smooth the often adversarial relationship the board has with other county agencies.

Here's the outlook

While Kauffman and Dixon have long histories in the county, and Dixon may most reflect voters' frustration, it seems like Johnson has the most momentum. He's raised over $20,000 (though his campaign stresses that most donations are small), an anomaly when most school board races are won for half that and incumbents barely raise money at all. He's gotten endorsements from several elected officials, including county councilmembers George Leventhal (who he once interned for) and Nancy Navarro (who he served with on the school board), and state delegate Marc Korman.

Kauffman's tried to pull support from his two black opponents by getting endorsements from black electeds like County Executive Ike Leggett, state delegate Al Carr, and county councilmember Craig Rice. But Rice has also publicly made glowing remarks about Johnson, saying, "We need more young people like Sebastian to step up and keep our county moving forward." Board of Education member Judy Docca, who also endorsed Kauffman, donated money to Johnson's campaign.

Normally, the Montgomery County Educators Association (the teachers' union) endorses the incumbent, almost guaranteeing their reelection. But they didn't endorse Kauffman or anyone else, suggesting that the union's members are split.

That may reflect a broader disagreement about the school system. Kauffman's supporters (like Starr's supporters) might argue that while things aren't perfect, the current leadership is doing a pretty good job. Dixon's and Johnson's supporters have a growing body of evidence to say that Montgomery County schools aren't doing enough to serve an increasingly diverse student body. If the 2014 election is a sign, this argument might be gaining ground.

Transit


To save money, Silver Spring's Purple Line station will be farther from the Metro

The winning bidders for the Purple Line project, Purple Line Transit Partners, proposed a few changes that would save the state of Maryland money. One of those changes is to relocate the Silver Spring Purple Line platforms farther away from the Metro.


Concept sketch for the original station location. Image from MTA.

In the original plan, the Purple Line platform was going to be in a a new elevated structure between the existing Silver Spring Metro station and the new Silver Spring Transit Center. The new plan moves the Purple Line platform to the other side of the transit center, closer to the intersection of Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue.


Plan of the new Purple Line station design. Image from PLTP.

This design means that people going between the Purple Line and the Red Line will have a longer walk. However, the new platform will now be level with the top floor of the transit center, giving people a shorter walk to buses, taxis, and the kiss-and-ride. It's also slightly closer to the heart of downtown Silver Spring.

Moving the Purple Line station also consumes a lot of land next to the transit center that was originally set aside for development, though those plans have since fallen through. But the change makes it unnecessary to demolish one building, 1110 Bonifant Street, which the original plan required.

This design includes a large bridge over Colesville Road. As planned all along, the Purple Line will rise over the existing Red Line tracks, the Silver Spring Transit Center, and the large hill behind the transit center, before coming down to ground level near the intersection of Bonifant Street and Ramsey Avenue. At some places, the tracks will be over 60 feet high.


Proposed Purple Line vehicle interior. Image from PLTP.

This plan is part of a large report PLTP submitted to Governor Hogan, which includes drawings, maps, and even renderings of potential Purple Line vehicles. In the coming months, the state will work with PLTP to create a final design for the Purple Line. Construction is scheduled to start later this year and the line could open in 2022.

Meta


Join us for our 8th birthday party on March 8!

Eight years ago, Greater Greater Washington set out to inform and engage people across the DC area to make it a thriving, inclusive place. On Tuesday, March 8 from 6:30 to 9 pm, we'll be celebrating at Vendetta, 1212 H Street NE, as we wrap up our reader drive.


Last year's birthday cake! Photo by Kian McKellar.

You'll get to meet Greater Greater Washington staff, contributors, readers, and supporters for an evening of drinks, snacks, and conversation.

Vendetta has limited space, so please let us know if you're coming here.

For those who are interested, we're also going to run a special GGWash trivia game around 7:45 with questions picked from our 2015 posts. When you arrive, you can sign up to play and form teams. We'll also have prizes donated by Capital Bikeshare/goDCgo and Island Press. We ask for a $5 donation to participate.

If you don't want to play the trivia, don't worry—you'll still be able to mingle and talk on the side of the venue that's not having the trivia. (But we think you'll find it fun!)

The party is free (and cash bar), but it's also the end of our reader drive. Please help us hit our $25,000 goal well before the party by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution now:

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
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Or pick your own amount: $/year
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Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Getting there

Vendetta is located about a mile east of Union Station and the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, both on the Red Line. It's about a 20-minute walk from either one.

There seems to be a growing chance that the DC Streetcar will be open in time. If it is, you can ride it from Union Station to 13th and H, just a half block away.

Either way, there are also lots of other options. The Metrobus X2 and rush hour X1 stop at 12th and H. The X9 express and B2 stop at 14th and H, and the 90s buses stop at 8th and H. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station right there at 13th and H, not to mention car2go, Uber, Lyft, Split, and much more.

Thanks for everything you do to support Greater Greater Washington! Don't forget to RSVP here. Also, check out this recap of our birthday party last year.

And finally, we'd like to thank our sponsors, who are making it possible to throw the party and keep Greater Greater Washington going:

Events


Join us and 730DC for happy hour in Adams Morgan!

It's time for the next Greater Greater happy hour! This month, we're partnering with our friends at 730DC, the daily newsletter for young Washington. Thursday, January 28 from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, we'll be at Songbyrd Music House, at 2477 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan.


Photo from Songbyrd.

We're doing something special this time. Whether you're new to the area or have lived here a long time, you're probably an expert about some aspect of living here. When you come in, we'll give you a name tag saying "Ask me about BLANK." And we'll have a few ringers (real experts) milling around to give advice as well. (There will also be happy hour deals on food and drink!)

Songbyrd is a 15-minute walk from the Woodley Park-Zoo and Columbia Heights Metro stations. If you're coming by bus, the Metrobus 90s and 42/43 all stop within one block, and the S buses are a few blocks away on 16th Street. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station around the corner at 18th Street and Columbia Road.

Over the past year, we've held happy hours in Shaw, downtown DC, and Edgewood. We're always looking for new, Metro-accessible locations for future happy hours (especially in Prince George's County!). Where would you like us to go next?

Development


2015's greatest hits: South Park weighs in on gentrification with "SoDoSoPa"

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This post originally ran on October 5. Enjoy and happy New Year!

As more people seek urban living, communities around the country are trying to meet the demand. That even goes for fictional places like South Park, which skewers gentrification this season with a new neighborhood called "SoDoSoPa":

In last week's episode, the town decides to redevelop the poor part of town into a trendy arts and restaurant district called "SoDoSoPa" in order to attract a Whole Foods. This fake ad for the community, complete with shots of sleek lofts, fancy restaurants, and bearded hipsters, could pass for lots of places in our region.

The episode also looks at how revitalization projects impact the people who already live there. South Park's mayor reassures Kenny's blue-collar family that she'll listen to their worries about the development. Instead, SoDoSoPa uses Kenny's blue-collar family as a marketing tool, advertising its proximity to "historic Kenny's house." Kenny's little sister asks her dad why they can't go outside to enjoy the cleaned-up neighborhood, and he replies that they can't afford to.

The video inspired a lengthy thread on Reddit's South Park board asking commenters to name their city's "SoDoSoPa" neighborhood. Naturally, one commenter suggested NoMa for the DC area, in addition to other redeveloping areas, including downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, and Tysons Corner.

What depictions of urban issues on TV have you enjoyed recently?

Development


High costs are a big reason people move away from cities. But sometimes, they just want to live somewhere else.

A lot of writing about housing in DC says minorities, immigrants, and low-income people are being pushed out of the city due to high housing costs. That's true for many. But even if the District were more affordable, some may not choose to live there. And that'd be okay.


A street festival in Long Branch. As suburban communities become immigrant hubs, more people move there by choice. All images by the author.

People decide where to live based on a variety of reasons, like housing costs, where they work, the type and style of housing they want, or schools. Another factor is cultural or ethnic ties: people may choose to locate near family or friends, faith communities, or shops and hangouts that serve their community.

This trend isn't new in the DC area. Long before the District's economic boom, the area's minority and immigrant communities had established roots throughout the region: Blacks in Prince George's County; Central Americans in Langley Park; Ethiopians in Silver Spring, Vietnamese in Seven Corners, and so on.


Like many DC-area immigrant communities, Ethiopians have moved out of the District.

As these communities developed a critical mass, immigrants to the region bypassed the District altogether. Some minority and immigrant groups have even moved farther away from the District: for instance, the Korean community in Annandale is shifting to Centreville, 15 miles west.

That may have something to do with lower housing costs. But it also may have to do with the desire to live in a suburban place. I've seen this firsthand as a first-generation American from a Guyanese immigrant family. Many members of my mother's generation, who emigrated to and grew up in Columbia Heights and Petworth during DC's worst days, left even as the city improved.

Our family isn't wealthy; my relatives are cab drivers, mechanics, and shop owners. But they didn't leave because DC was too expensive. It was that my relatives wanted to live in communities like Hyattsville and Fairfax, where they could get a house with a yard and a car while remaining close to the neighborhoods they already had social ties to.

However, that doesn't mean that non-white communities have no interest in urbanism. As a professor at the University of Maryland ten years ago, Dr. Shenglin Chang found that Latino and Asian immigrants to the United States wanted to live in suburban communities like what they saw in American popular culture, but with walkable, compact places where they could be close to family and friends. That's a big opportunity for communities like Rockville, which has a large Chinese population and is building a town center around its Metro station.

It's great that people in the District and other close-in communities are thinking about rising housing costs. Making it more affordable to live closer-in, near transit, jobs, and shopping, means stronger neighborhoods, less traffic congestion, and less environmental damage. It also means that more kinds of people can live in the District. But it's not a guarantee that the District will become more diverse.

After all, the District contains about 10% of a region with nearly 6 million people. People have lots of choices on where to live, and many of them are taking advantage.

Development


Silver Spring's old police station could become new artist housing

Three years ago, Silver Spring neighbors proposed turning an old police station into artists studios. Now, it looks like they might get their wish, along with new housing for artists.


The police station today. Photo from Google Street View.

Minneapolis-based developer Artspace wants to turn the old 3rd District Police Station on Sligo Avenue in downtown Silver Spring into artist work space, in addition to adding 68 apartments in a new, four-story building and 11 townhomes. Artspace builds artist housing and studio space around the country, including developments in Brookland and Mount Rainier.

In the proposal, a new apartment building would wrap around the old police station, forming an "F" shape. The lawn in front of the police station on Sligo Avenue would become a public, partially paved plaza, while a rear courtyard would give the residents private open space. To the east, eleven townhouses would sit along Grove Street, with an alley and parking lot in back.


The proposed plan. Image from Artspace.

For artists to move in, they need a place to live

Montgomery County vacated the 1960's-era police station last year after a new one opened in White Oak last year. In 2012, a proposal to tear down the police station and build townhouses met opposition from neighbors in the adjacent East Silver Spring neighborhood, which with nearby Takoma Park has had a long history of attracting people in the arts.

Neighbors and architects Steve Knight and Karen Burditt wrote an op-ed in the Silver Spring Voice saying that the building should become an arts center modeled on the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, and that the green space around the building become a community garden.

At the time, I suggested that the arts center idea would only really work if there were also artist housing, since people who make art for a living often have a limited income and may not be able to afford close-in, urban neighborhoods like Silver Spring.

The county eventually did reach out to Artspace, and officials announced the projectearlier this year. While neighbors were initially skeptical of any housing on the site, the East Silver Spring Civic Association unanimously voted to support this project.


Artspace building in Mount Rainier. Photo from Google Street View.

It's great that neighbors are okay with building some townhouses here, considering how other Silver Spring neighborhoods fought building them. They're a great option for households who need more space than an apartment but less than a house—especially in Silver Spring, where most housing is either high-rise apartments or single-family homes.

We don't know what the units will look like on the outside, but hopefully they'll incorporate high-quality materials and be designed to look good on all four sides, since the backs of the townhouses will face the plaza.

Overall, the project looks like a great compromise. Neighbors get an arts center that allows them to showcase their work and some open space. Artists get studio space and housing they can actually afford. And the community as a whole gets a new gathering place in the form of a public plaza.

Artspace's plans will go to the Montgomery County Planning Board for review December 17.

Transit


Montgomery will go ahead with BRT, but at what cost?

Despite a big funding setback last week, Montgomery County could start building bus rapid transit after all. But to do so, it may have to do it on the cheap. That could mean making BRT less useful for transit riders.


BRT in Alexandria. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Montgomery County officials have been looking at building rapid transit routes for buses since 2008, and approved plans for a countywide BRT network in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett had proposed creating a transit authority that could raise taxes to pay for building it, but yanked the idea last week due to opposition from some community members.

Yesterday, he announced that the county would build one or two of its planned BRT routes in a "less costly" fashion. One way to cut costs is by taking out dedicated lanes that give buses a way out of traffic. But doing that would make BRT slower and less reliable, discouraging people from using it.

According to Leggett, the county can afford to pay for one or two BRT corridors from its construction budget, which the County Council approves each spring. There are three corridors transportation officials are looking at, down from ten in the original plan: Route 355 between Bethesda and Rockville, which would cost an estimated $422 million to build; Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton, which would cost $285 million, and Route 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville, which would cost $200 million.


Where people use transit in Montgomery County. These areas coincide with the three potential BRT corridors being considered. Map by the author using Census data.

The three corridors serve the county's two biggest downtowns, Silver Spring and Bethesda, plus the county seat in Rockville and emerging town centers like Wheaton, White Oak and White Flint. These are places where lots of people already ride transit.

They're also congested streets that are ideal for bus lanes, the key feature of bus rapid transit, which can give riders a fast, reliable alternative to sitting in traffic. But there's limited space to make bus lanes, whether by converting existing lanes or by widening the road. And some neighbors in these areas are loudly against them.


This street might be congested. And that's why it needs bus lanes. Photo by the author.

Not only do dedicated bus lanes make the bus faster, but they reduce labor costs, since bus drivers can do more trips in less time. Like train tracks, bus lanes create the sense of permanence that can attract development to underserved areas like White Oak. Better transit also means lower commute times, which has a huge impact on access to jobs and economic mobility.

Leggett might find that not including bus lanes on all or some of these routes could save money and avoid confronting transit opponents. But there are ways to design them that require less space and reduce impacts on neighborhoods. And as long as buses are stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, people will be less interested in riding them, and county residents will have a hard time seeing the benefits of investing in more transit.

Last week, I suggested that Montgomery County show people how BRT works by doing a temporary trial. It looks like county officials want to go a step further and try building something more permanent, which is great. That's why it's even more important they do it right.

Transit


What if Montgomery County gave BRT a temporary test run?

Last week, Montgomery County pulled its proposal for building bus rapid transit, citing community opposition. How can the county win people over? By getting something on the ground now and doing a trial run.


How can we get streets like Colesville Road better transit sooner rather than later? Photo by the author.

After several years of discussion, the county approved a plan for a network of dedicated bus lanes in 2013 with strong support from residents, business leaders, and transit advocates. Soon after, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed creating an Independent Transit Authority that could build and operate transit in the county and raise taxes on its own to pay for it. Today, the department of transportation runs transit service, using money from the county's budget, which the County Council sets each year.

Leggett's proposal drew an unlikely coalition of opponents, from civic organizations who were against BRT in the first place to groups worried about government spending. Meanwhile, initial designs for BRT on corridors like Georgia Avenue proposed unnecessarily massive road widenings that would have removed dozens of homes and businesses, which naturally angered many residents.

Do county leaders still want BRT?

Now in his third term as county executive, Ike Leggett has alluded to transit as part of his legacy. He's said that the 100,000 jobs slated to come to places like White Flint and White Oak depend on better transit. Bus Rapid Transit lines on Route 355, Route 29, and Veirs Mill Road are among the county's top transportation priorities.

But the county seems to be backing away from BRT. The Georgia Avenue line got shelved. And Leggett already pulled his ITA proposal earlier this year.

Ike Leggett says he wants to do a public outreach campaign for BRT to build support for a transit authority. But it may not be enough to convince skeptical residents. They need to see something tangible.


Metroway in Alexandria. Photo by Dan Malouff.

We could send people to Alexandria to ride the Metroway BRT line. It's already carrying 20% more riders than anticipated. It serves the new neighborhood of Potomac Yard that looks like what Montgomery County wants to create in White Flint or White Oak.

Or we could start bringing BRT in some form to Montgomery County today in trial form, so people can see how it can improve their daily lives.

A trial run?

Bus Rapid Transit consists of several different parts that make buses faster, more reliable, and more comfortable, like a train: machines where you pay before getting on; larger, covered stations; longer distances between stops; and of course, dedicated lanes.

The county's vision for BRT, as in many other places, involves doing all of those things at once. It's more effective, but also more expensive. We're already implementing some of those things now, like limited-stop bus service or off-board fare machines.

The thing that has the biggest impact, but is also the most controversial, are bus lanes. And that's what people need to see in action.


A very basic bus lane on Veirs Mill Road in Wheaton. It's maybe a mile long. Photo from Google Street View.

Local political consultant Adam Pagnucco has suggested that the county build a BRT line on Veirs Mill Road to prove that it works, but it would still take a few years and a lot of money.

In the meantime, we could do a trial: for a few months, simply reserve the curbside lane of a major street for buses, using paint and some police enforcement to keep drivers out. Drivers and transit riders alike could see how it would affect their travels.

The catch is we'd have to do this in a place with high transit use, like Veirs Mill Road, Route 29, and Route 355, the three BRT corridors the county's studying. These streets are congested now, but they're also where most transit riders are, and would get the most benefit from dedicated lanes.

Doing a trial would be hard and require a lot of political will. But it's ultimately easier than convincing the public to make a huge investment on something they haven't seen before. And it allows us to see what works and what doesn't work, so we can make needed tweaks early on.

Most importantly, a trial gives Montgomery County transit riders a better trip now, rather than far in the future. They can't afford to wait, and neither can we.

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