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Small projects can have a large impact

Upper Montgomery County does not have enough regional transit. Improving access to the Brunswick Line MARC train station in Boyds is one way for the county government to fix this.

Photo by Mark Fischer on Flickr.

The upper county is growing. Between 2000 and 2010, Clarksburg added 11,932 residents, and Germantown added 30,976.

And this is just the beginning. The Montgomery County government is planning for more growth. Clarksburg is to have 43,000 residents and millions of square feet of new retail and office space. Germantown is to become "the center of business and community life in upper Montgomery County."

Yet the demand for regional transit in the area already exceeds the supply.

The parking lots are full at the Germantown Transit Center, where there is a RideOn shuttle bus to the Shady Grove Metro Station. There is also an express bus to Bethesda with a higher fare, at the nearby Milestone Shopping Center park-and-ride in Germantown.

At the Germantown MARC train station, the parking lots are also full, and expansion will probably require construction of a parking garage. The planned Corridor Cities Transitway is as yet purely notional and would not go all the way into Clarksburg, ostensibly a transit-oriented community.

So much for the bad news. The good news, at least potentially, is that the MARC train station in Boyds could help meet the growing regional demand.

Boyds is a county-designated historic district, a few miles west of Germantown and south of Clarksburg, in the Agricultural Reserve. Trains have been stopping there since 1873.

In 2006, the Maryland Transit Administration tried to close the Boyds station, along with another station on the Brunswick Line and two stations on the Camden Line. But community protest and emergency legislation introduced by State Senator Rob Garagiola kept all of the stations open. Three eastbound and four westbound trains now stop at Boyds daily.

At the moment, the parking lot has room for only 19-20 cars and is often full. The nearest bus stop is over a mile away. And pedestrians and bicyclists face high-speed commuter traffic on dark, winding roads with no shoulders.

But the county government could fix these problems with a few relatively simple improvements to bicycle, transit, and car access.

Improvements for bicycle access could include:

  • Installing a bike rack. (MARC only allows folding bicycles on the train.)
  • Adding bike facilities to MD-117 between the Boyds train station and the Germantown Community Center, consistent with the County bicycle master plan.
  • Extending the planned bike paths along MD-121 in Clarksburg south from West Old Baltimore Road to MD-117.
Improvements for transit access could include:
  • Extending RideOn bus #71 or #78 from western Germantown to the train station. (Indeed, there are already Boyds MARC riders who live in the neighborhoods served by these buses.)
  • Extending RideOn bus #75 from Clarksburg to the train station, when the planned commercial and office space at Cabin Branch is built. This would connect Clarksburg residents to the Boyds train station, as well as people who live further west along the Brunswick Line to jobs in Clarksburg.
Improvements for car access could include:
  • Leasing spaces in a church parking lot 500 feet south of the station. However, people would have to walk along a narrow, dark road on which a sidewalk is not allowed.
  • Buying or leasing a vacant quarter-acre lot next to the station (once occupied by a house a freight train derailed on in 1986) and/or a vacant half-acre lot across the tracks (where the station was until the 1950s).
  • Leasing land for parking on the future site of the Boyds Local Park, 500 feet east of the station. The lot would be integrated into the park, if the park were developed. In addition, putting in a bicycle/pedestrian crossing at the intersection of MD-117 and MD-121, as well as a sidewalk from the intersection to the station. This crossing would also improve the Hoyles Mill trail connection from South Germantown Recreation Park to Black Hill Regional Park, next to the future Clarksburg development at Cabin Branch.
Parking lot expansion would include a bus turnaround, as well as pervious surfaces because Boyds is in the Agricultural Reserve. Also, as a historic district, Boyds probably could not accommodate more than 75 parking spaces. This emphasizes the need to improve non-car as well as car access.

Yes, there would probably be objections that Boyds would no longer be a "home in the country," that people should just drive 5 miles west to the Barnesville station or 3 miles east to the Germantown station, that stopping at Boyds makes the trip from Brunswick or Frederick longer, and that small stations are inefficient and take away from service to the big stations.

However, the current and planned future growth in Clarksburg and Germantown will inevitably make Boyds less rural, regardless of train station access. If people can get to the train more conveniently, more people will choose the train. Stopping at Boyds adds only a minute or two, which is not a meaningful difference for a 90-minute trip. And future expansion on the Brunswick Line will allow MARC to improve service to both big and small stations, by running more expresses and locals.

Of course, these small improvements by themselves cannot solve the big problem of insufficient regional transit in the upper county. But, together with lots of other small improvements, they would be a good start.

Miriam Schoenbaum lives in upcounty Montgomery County. She is a member of the Boyds Civic Association, the Boyds Historical Society, and the Action Committee for Transit


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I'm curious as to why a sidewalk would be "not allowed" along White Ground Rd.

by Froggie on Jun 29, 2011 1:48 pm • linkreport

What are the ridership numbers at Boyds?

If it's a dozen people a day, it and stops like Garrett Park should be closed. Time/money saved will benefit the vast majority of riders.

by Rusty on Jun 29, 2011 1:55 pm • linkreport

Good suggestions, Miriam. There are maybe a dozen new neigborhoods that have been built/are being built between Rockville and Urbana that are dense, walkable, and actually have stuff to walk to (in most cases). Yet not a single one is within walking distance of a Metro station (with the exception of King Farm, which is a half-mile from Shady Grove) or a frequent bus or, of course, MARC. It's a shame. There are maybe 30,000 people living in these neighborhoods (and counting) who could go car-free (or car-lite) with a little help.

(Bonus points to anyone who can name the 10-12 developments I'm thinking of.)

by dan reed! on Jun 29, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

MoCo should do a survey of their underutilized properties for this very reason. Often, a number of small improvements can go a very long way towards making a location better.

by OctaviusIII on Jun 29, 2011 2:13 pm • linkreport

Just making a station more accessible will not solve the following problems with the Brunswick line:
1 - One direction only
2 - Only during commuting times
3 - No weekend service
4 - Presenting ticket before boarding, instead of on train (slows the line down, especially @ busy stops)
5 - Sharing the line with freight
6 - Trains too infrequent - I work near Silver Spring, so that is my station. In the afternoon, during the peak of rush hour, there is a 1 hour gap between trains that take me home (4:30 then 5:30). That is too much of a break - I think for commuter rail it should be 1/2 hour max.

I grew up in NJ, and took NJ Transit NE Corridor a lot when at Rutgers. MARC versus NJ Transit (or MetroNorth, or LIRR...) is truly night and day. I think more people would use trains to get in and out of DC if they could be made as convenient and as pleasant an experience as exists in NJ.

One more NJ feature that seems to be unusual upcounty is having residential next to stations. Most of the NJ Transit stations I have seen are either within residential neighborhoods or downtowns. Metropolitan Grove (to give one example) is a parking lot next to an office park on one side, and a big field (future residential?) on the other. Not really the best situation.

by Eitan on Jun 29, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Froggie: White Ground is a designated "exceptional rustic road".

by Miriam on Jun 29, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

While I agree that MARC needs to be improved, you should not discount the CCT the way that you do.

CCT is not notional. It is in the Master Plans of every community through which it runs. Its construction is a trigger for much of the development in the north part of the county. CCT will be able to drive sustainable development.

by thesixteenwords on Jun 29, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

@Miriam: for those of us who aren't MoCo residents, what does that mean? No sidewalks, period? Other restrictions?

by Froggie on Jun 29, 2011 9:53 pm • linkreport

@Froggie, as far as I can tell, what it means is lots of additional requirements and approvals. That is, the exceptional rustic road designation probably wouldn't make it impossible to get a sidewalk added, but it would make it very difficult. If you're interested, you can look at the regulatory text here:

Also, in this particular case, there may not be enough right-of-way to add a sidewalk.

by Miriam on Jun 30, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

@ dan reed!

The area between Rockville and Urbana is served by only 2 Metro Stations: Shady Grove and Rockville. Both are easily accesible from nearby dense new development. King Farm at Shady Grove as you mentioned, and Rockville Town Center at Rockville which is across the street.

Watkins Mill Town Center literally right at the Metropolitan Grove MARC station in Gaithersburg is one of the largest developments in the county under construction and will also be served by the future CCT. There are many other examples.

by King Terappin on Jun 30, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport


You can't compare NJT's NEC line to MARC's Brunswick Line. A better comparison would be to MARC's own NEC Line--the Penn Line which is practically the same as NJT's (albeit higher operating speeds) minus the weekend/holiday service.

Metropolitan Grove is where it is because that entire area is state government property. The MVA, SHA, and MTA (in the form of the MARC station) all occupy parcels of the property. The "big field" you see is the site of the under construction/partially built Watkins Mill Town Center and CCT Light Rail station.

by King Terappin on Jun 30, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

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