Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Start Montgomery BRT today with priority corridors

Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit task force will soon release its completed report. Montgomery County can immediately start moving toward BRT by setting up limited-stop, express bus service along WMATA's bus priority corridors.


Picture from Montgomery County BRT task force.

The task force envisions building a BRT network in phases. Ultimately the county may build new dedicated busways, but it can start immediately and far more cheaply by dedicating some existing road capacity for buses. And though dedicated transit lanes will make the network far more useful, many shorter-term improvements are possible even without dedicated lanes.

WMATA's recommendations for Bus Priority Corridors include reducing the number of bus stops on a line, extending green lights to let buses through, and designating bus-only lanes on a few short sections of roadway.

The only way to create an effective, affordable rapid bus network is to use existing roadway lanes more efficiently by reserving them for bus-only traffic. Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) refuses to modify any existing roadways that would help buses move faster than cars.

Building a successful system in Montgomery County will present unique challenges. In DC, though progress has been slow, DDOT is working with WMATA to study how to best fit bus priority into its roadways. MCDOT needs to do the same.

If MCDOT started dedicating bus lanes on priority corridors now, engineers would be able to understand the challenges and issues that arise when redesigning one of Montgomery County's roadways. They would gain knowledge and experience that would speed up future phases of BRT, saving time and money.

Outside the Beltway, the BRT task force recommends putting high-speed bus lanes in the center of roadways. This will require limiting left turns and other changes in highway operations. Dedicated lanes on priority corridors now will let MCDOT try out some of the treatments that could ultimately become part of those BRT lines.

The path to making existing streets into a welcoming environment for transit riders and pedestrians will undoubtedly involve a learning curve. The sooner that MCDOT can begin to study and learn from real world experience, the better and more cost-effective the Montgomery County BRT system will be.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master's in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place's form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

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Accompanying this, WMATA should implement traffic cameras on buses. San Francisco's Muni system already does this, both to capture scofflaw drivers in the bus-only lanes and to enforce other traffic or parking violations.

It would help clear the bus-only lanes for buses and enforce the law on the region's roads.

by OctaviusIII on May 2, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

I'm not big on BRT. I think the county should focus on the Purple Line and use the money to make the CCT light rail. After those two priorities have been taken care of then they can focus on BRT.

From the article I'm assuming the network will be operated by WMATA (which already operates BRT buses).

by King Terrapin on May 2, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

Totally disagree w/ King Terrapin. While I don't think BRT (even gold-plated BRT) is a substitute for rail, priority bus routes provide a major mobility enhancement for very low cost, and is exactly the sort of low-hanging fruit that we should implement right away. *Then* we can work on the more difficult and expensive projects, including more real BRT and light rail.

Every city in the country should have a priority bus network like LA's Metro Rapid, and they should have all had it yesterday.

by BeyondDC on May 2, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

I imagine that people in the community will be really upset at the prospect of giving an existing lane to buses. This is a challenge, and I hope that the Transit Task Force and ACT are prepared to deal with the potential backlash - and have a good answer for those people as well. Fortunately, Jarrett Walker already has one for us:

Why do you give over the entire width of Ventura Blvd, and effectively shut down the street, just for the purpose of storing waiting cars? Why don’t you set aside a through lane for transit (and perhaps also for taxis, HOVs, and certainly for emergency vehicles) so that efficient use of the street can continue even as the cars pile up? What would be the effect on traffic?

Simple: the pile of stored cars would be narrower and longer. But meanwhile, people could get where they were going, and emergency vehicles could get through to save lives and property.

by dan reed! on May 2, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

Great piece. We need MoCo and DDOT expedited implementation of bus priority corridors and get to the higher-pay off actions -- queue jumps, dedicated bus/bike lanes. Enforcement is obviously a key issue.

by ccort on May 2, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

A priority bus system would increase ridership, thus creating a constituency that would demand ever more improvements, which could lead to BRT, and maybe light rail.

This seems like a no-brainer, especially express buses and priority signalling. It could be a model for the region, and the nation. I'm sure though that MCDOT would have a cow over priority signalling.

by Steve on May 2, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

I like this idea. The county would be wist to prepare itself for a USDOT TIGER discrestionary grant application in the upcoming round.

by David on May 2, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

Keep in mind that most of the priority corridors are also along SHA-maintained roadways, requiring far more than just MCDOT approval. Furthermore, the political ramifications are such that what is needed first, in my opinion, is for State and County elected officials to be the first to sign-on.

by Bossi on May 2, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Bossi, since Montgomery County is a charter county, SHA doesn't say no to county plans on SHA roads as long as they include provisions for funding.

That's also why Matt wrote a piece yesterday about Prince George's County planning along MD 193. Prince George's, also a charter county, can recommend changes to state highways provided it takes care of funding.

by Cavan on May 2, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

The Montgomery County Planning Department is currently working on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan and will be considering the Rapid Transit Task Force's final report recommendations as we move forward. As stated in our 1/19/12 memo to the Planning Board, repurposing existing travel lanes to create dedicated bus lanes is our preferred choice in urbanized areas.

In the next month, we will begin doing some additional transportation modeling to determine the impacts of this lane-repurposing on forecast BRT ridership and on traffic congestion. And we will be working with our partners who operate the county's roadways - SHA and MCDOT - on person-throughput measures to help us determine where lanes can feasibly be repurposed, limiting impacts on existing development as well as reducing the cost of implementing the BRT network.

by Larry Cole on May 3, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

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