Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Montgomery plans 160-mile, "gold standard" BRT system

Today, Montgomery County unveiled the detailed report from its "Transit Task Force," a group of officials, advocates and experts who have been meeting for over a year to plan a 160-mile Bus Rapid Transit system.


Planned "Rapid Transit Vehicle" system for Montgomery County.
Phase 1   Phase 2   Phase 3   Full system   View larger version

Montgomery County is growing, and residents need to be able to travel around without worsening traffic. But there isn't room to keep widening arterial roads, and that's not a sustainable approach in any event.

Outside the dense Silver Spring-Bethesda area and along the existing Red Line corridors, there isn't the density or the density isn't linear enough to make rail worthwhile. Maryland needs to build the Purple Line, but the future of transportation elsewhere likely lies in high-quality bus transit.

What is a "world class" system?

The report calls for this to be a "world class" system. They've set out a clear principle in the report that the service must run in dedicated lanes, and even call it "the most important principle":

To the maximum extent possible, having physically separated, dedicated RTV lanes THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SYSTEM, so the system's RTVs would not become commingled into mixed general traffic.

The question will be, where does the space for these lanes come from? The report also says, "This preference for, and weight given to, RTV use within the maximum potentially available right-of-way should not be interpreted as being hostile to the on-going requirement for effective automobile use ... The Task Force does not advocate for the elimination of a large percentage of current automobile lane use."

But what about a small percentage? Will Montgomery dedicate some car lanes for buses even in some places? That remains to be seen, and could be a critical factor in whether the countywide RTV system succeeds. The Montgomery DOT has been reluctant to change even a single car lane thus far.


Potential BRT vehicles (left) and stations (right).
Images from the Transit Task Force report.

The report also calls for "unique branding" to further emphasize that this system is "world class" and not just a bus, and sets out a number of other distinguishing factors as absolute "must haves":

  • RTVs must be sleek and stylish.
  • RTVs must have multiple wide doors on both sides of the RTVs.
  • RTVs equipped with WiFi capabilities and electronic real-time messaging.
  • Stations must be of a consistent and distinctive style.
  • Stations must be safe, wide, and weather-protected.
  • Stations must have level platform boarding with handicap accessibility.
  • Stations must be equipped with real time data and with user-friendly maps.
  • Stations must provide off-vehicle fare collection.
  • Peak-peak period frequency of 3-5 minute headways.
  • Off-peak period frequency of 5-7 minute headways
  • Lanes with intersection improvements and coordination with other modes of transportation.
  • Multi-modal integration (pedestrians, bicycles, Zipcars®, taxi service, Ride-On and Metrobus, shuttle buses and neighborhood circulators).

Other factors, like stations set slightly away from the road, late-night service, and photo enforcement are also recommended but less critical.

Do we call it a bus? Does it matter?

These elements come directly from ITDP's report on BRT where they try to define a LEED-like rating system to classify BRT systems as "gold," "silver," etc. That's because the term "BRT" has often gotten watered down in jurisdictions that skimped on one or more elements in what Dan Malouff calls "BRT creep."

It's gotten so bad that this report actually disavows the terms "BRT" and "bus" as well. "We are not building a bus system, we're building a transformational transit system," said task force member David Hauck at today's press event. The report states,

These systems are frequently referred to as bus rapid transit ("BRT") systems. However, the Task Force has deliberately elected to refer to it as an RTV [Rapid Transit Vehicle] system because the nature, appearance and performance of the system will be qualitatively different from what is typical of BRT systems in the United States or abroad, which do not offer transformative qualities to be considered transportation solutions of choice.

This is a little ironic because the term "BRT" originally was supposed to distinguish these high-quality systems, similar to light rail only without the tracks, from regular bus service. Whatever they call it, Montgomery County will have to make a strong commitment to avoid its own BRT creep, or RTV creep.


Today's BRT announcement. Photo by CSG.

BRT system could set standard for other cities

If the county can build it, the system could be both transformative and groundbreaking. No US metropolitan area has such a large system; others are generally a small number of lines in smaller cities. If it succeeds, other metropolitan areas that mix lower and higher densities might be able to start meaningfully expanding transit.

Montgomery is also a wealthy enough county to be able to afford to build the system and create a model for others. The report acknowledges that little federal money is possible, given both cuts in support to transit, the failure to raise the gas tax, and higher priorities for state money like the Purple and Baltimore Red Lines and Corridor Cities Transitway.

The report suggests a fairly modest increase in property tax, focused around areas near the lines. Supporters have built a strong coalition with businesses, neighborhood activists, and transit advocates.

They all agree that, coupled with the light rail Purple Line, this could be Montgomery County's future. There will be many challenges and disagreements to make it a reality, but there's really no other option.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

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They should probably delete the purple line from that map since it looks as if it will never get built now.

by FrankH on May 22, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

@FrankH-

Disagreed. While there is now some competition between Purple and Red for which comes first, both continue to be among the State's highest priorities (though I do wish they were *the* highest). The CCT, however... that I think is in dire need of adjustment.

by Bossi on May 22, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

About taking car lanes away for BRT -- I don't think this is ideal. The ideal would be to pave more, as anti-green as that sounds. It also means higher costs as the county would have to claim additional land that is now private property alongside roads -- but that's really the way this must proceed.

There's no way that buses would carry 25%, much less 33% or even 50% of per person traffic along any road. This means that taking existing lanes and dedicating them to buses will only serve to increase congestion on those roads. While the buses may make it easier for some to get to work, which is a worthy goal, it can't be worth increasing congestion for everyone else.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 22, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

There are already some locations where buses carry more than a third of the roadway users: Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Wheaton. I haven't looked at Rockville or Gaithersburg. And that's under existing shared-use conditions; not even using exclusive lanes, transit priority, etc.

by Bossi on May 22, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

@eddy

however adding a lane involves costs, both for construction and land acquisition, and in community disruption. Where densities are particularly high, or filling in a transit gap is particularly important, it may be worth taking a lane away, depending on the number of lanes to begin with. One should also consider the traffic calming and road crossing impacts on cyclists and pedestrians.

I think the answer will vary on case by case basis.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 22, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

BRT sounds great, but the density issue is two-fold. Either these new-wave buses have stops within walking distance for a LOT of folks, or, they will require ancillary facilities -- either transfer buses that make the BRT convenient, or a lot of parking near the stops.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on May 22, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

@ Fischy (Ed F.) -- On the other hand, taking away lanes from personal auto traffic and increasing congestion in those lanes could be an effective way of coercing people out of their cars.

by Jake S. on May 22, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

With all the emphasis on how unique and sleek and etc. the vehicles need to be, does that mean that ordinary buses won't be able to use the BRT transitways for parts of their routes? Surely that's one of the major cost-savers and advantages of BRT, yes -- that some routes can use the transitways for express services and turn off and become local routes in specific areas? This would create more one-seat rides and help bundle services along the transitways.

by jfruh on May 22, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

If there's a transit god, he/she will bless us with this system. It's essential for MOCO to grow.

by Thayer-D on May 22, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

If you're going to build hundreds of miles of dedicated paved lanes, you may as well just go all the way and do LRT instead of BRT.

And when you build new paved lanes, the temptation is always there for politicians to "de-BRT" them, and open them to regular vehicular traffic. At least LRT is difficult to convert to even more highway lanes for cars.

by JRon on May 22, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

I wonder if there is any chance they would consider adding something like Potomac Town Center to the Tenleytown Metro (via River Road) and/or Kensington to Van Ness (Via Connecticut Avenue)?

by William on May 22, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

@ ed f

I suspect youd have folks within walking distance on much of the line, and terminal stops with parking. Much like rail transit, except with smaller numbers.

@jfruh - good question. The CCPY in NOVA is planned to mix vehicles from many different bus lines, as long as they are transit buses, to fully leverage the facility. Not sure if thats compatible with the MoCo approach.

JRON - LRT still has higher fixed costs - so this kind of high end BRT could still make sense in some corridors where LRT does not.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 22, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

LRT still has higher fixed costs

Lower, surely, when fleet replacement costs are included.

by jim on May 22, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

It's a visionary report. I have a couple of concerns though;

1. Those dedicated lanes are never going to materialize. Switching existing car lanes ain't ever going to happen, and the money isn't there to build new lanes.

2. Would a fleet of self-driving cars not be more economical and just plain better?

by renegade09 on May 22, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

Would a fleet of self-driving cars not be more economical and just plain better?

1. These don't actually exist yet.
2. They would cause much more congestion than buses since they take up more road space per user.
3. These don't actually exist yet and probably won't for decades.

by MLD on May 22, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

@renegade09

Self-driving or not, cars still take up space and cause congestion. Computers can perhaps better manage speed, distance, etc. to alleviate certain factors that cause congestion, but at the end of the day they still take up more space on the road (especially in terms of parking at the beginning and ends of trips).

by Adam L on May 22, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

@MLD
Self-driving cars do exist:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/dc-wire/post/googles-self-driving-car-makes-dc-council-members-giddy/2012/05/17/gIQAIOAQWU_blog.html

Sure, they would need to be parked and maintained, but so would a fleet of buses, and you'd need a lot of buses to run 3-5 minute headways along 160 miles of roads. Driver salaries would be by far the largest part of the cost. And cars would better match demand (no empty buses driving around).

by renegade09 on May 22, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

I'm not going to get into another ridiculous debate about "driverless" cars.

Suffice it to say that the tech in Google's car is impressive but is nowhere remotely near the point at which you could have a fleet of them driving around to different places or even on a route picking people up.

Not sure why you would think there will be tons of buses driving around empty - Ride-On is already a well-ridden transit system.

by MLD on May 22, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

Self-driving cars do exist:
Still, Google officials conceded there are still kinks that need to be worked out before the vehicle could be mass produced, including how to avoid other vehicle accidents that could be blocking travel lanes.

“Those are challenges and the kinds of situations that are not standard,” the developer said. “We are learning how to navigate those.”

Well, it sounds like they're 90% of the way there, at least.

by oboe on May 22, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

@Jake S - people don't like being coerced. If large numbers of people view this project as an attempt to force them out of their cars the result will be opposition and, probably the death of the BRT plan. No politician who wants to get reelected is going to campaign on intentionally worsening traffic congestion.

by Jacob on May 22, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

By the time this is built, the buses will be self driving.

I hope they add a "seat-belt" requirement.

by mcs on May 22, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

@oboe
haha,good point-90% rule is so true! Unfortunately we're at 0% for the dedicated lanes for bus hyper-drive or whatever they are calling this. The guys who wrote this report might as well have asked for 140 miles of monorail.

by renegade09 on May 22, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

I wonder what the viability would be to electrify the RTV's. Essentially, that would make this system almost exactly like a light rail, only with smaller vehicles and tires instead of rails. I think this project is vital for the transportation future of the county and if successful it will set a very good example for other systems in the country and beyond.

by Dave Murphy on May 22, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

MLD,
Nonsense, self-driving cars will be available in approximately 3 months and will be completely glitch-free... and far, far cheaper than traditional cars! Can't wait till they kill off the last interest in public transportation!

by Kaibo on May 22, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

@Jacob

I'd hope that when drivers see these shiny, sexy buses (or "rapid-transit vehicles," which I doubt will ever catch on) flying past them while they wait in rush-hour traffic, they'll be encouraged to try them. If this system is done right, we won't have to force anyone out of their cars, because we'll have provided a compelling (read: faster) alternative to driving.

I'm glad that that the Transit Task Force's recommendations include some of the things I suggested last year, namely continuing the Randolph Road line east to the future East County Science Center and focusing on the Downcounty first, where there's already the density and the riders to support transit.

I hope to see this happen soon - and I hope they use existing lanes, so we can do this now and not spend unnecessary funds widening roads and buying up people's front yards (while making roads that are even more hostile to the people that are supposed to walk to this new transit!)

by dan reed! on May 22, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

@Jake S.
"On the other hand, taking away lanes from personal auto traffic and increasing congestion in those lanes could be an effective way of coercing people out of their cars."
----

Whenever I hear someone say anything about coercing people to use transit instead of driving, the first thing that comes to mind is that the person making that statement is admitting that transit use is an inferior alternative to driving.

Otherwise, people wouldn't have to be "coerced" into using it.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

@Ceefer66

Whenever I read something about people being coerced into using transit, I see less cars, less environmental impact, less oil bought from Dictators in the middle east, and more money for that person to spend on things they want too, as opposed to being a slave to their car and its related expense... but that is just me.

by Kyle W on May 22, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

What about parking?

I see a long list of "must haves" with a not a single word about parking.

If access to the BRT stations is limited to only those who can walk or use bicycles, Zipcars®, taxis and other buses, how do they plan on "getting people out of their cars" other than "coercing" them at gunpoint?

Wthouit parking, the only BRT riders will be people who are ALREADY walking, biking and using other "alternatives". There won't be any significant increase in ridership; the only riders will be people who are already taking the (much cheaper) regular buses.

You want to "get people out of their cars", you have to make it easy for them to WANT to get out of their cars. Otherwise, this is nothing more than a very expensive additional "alternative" for those who already have them.
Won't fly politically.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

You want to "get people out of their cars", you have to make it easy for them to WANT to get out of their cars. Otherwise, this is nothing more than a very expensive additional "alternative" for those who already have them.
Won't fly politically.

..so a method of transportation where you're free to read a book/catch up on work/play on your smartphone and that gets you where you're going quickly and without the headache of dealing with a bunch of traffic wouldn't make anyone WANT TO take it?

by thump on May 22, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

@Kyle W,

I'm talking reality here. not wishful thinking.

Hell, we buy a lot more than oil from dictators. Like food, for example. Besides, that oil is helping to keep your lights on and run the computer you use to visit all those car-hating websites.

So let's get a little real, here. You want more people on transit. give them a reason for them to want to.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 5:12 pm • linkreport

"Besides, that oil is helping to keep your lights on and run the computer you use to visit all those car-hating websites."

no, its not. the fossil fuels used to generate electricity in the USA are coal and natural gas. Oil is too expensive - its worth using in transportation where its BTU density makes it superior to coal and (non compressed) natural gas.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 22, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

"Wthouit parking, the only BRT riders will be people who are ALREADY walking, biking and using other "alternatives". There won't be any significant increase in ridership; the only riders will be people who are already taking the (much cheaper) regular buses."

do you really think that everyone who lives within walking distance of one of these lines is already using a non driving mode? I don't.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 22, 2012 5:20 pm • linkreport

@thump

"..so a method of transportation where you're free to read a book/catch up on work/play on your smartphone and that gets you where you're going quickly and without the headache of dealing with a bunch of traffic wouldn't make anyone WANT TO take it?"
-------

Didn't you read my post?

They have to be able to get to it and use it. Without parking, you won't attract a significant amount of new riders. The only riders will be the people who are already taking the bus.

This isn't rocket science. Why do think there are thousands of parking spaces at the Metro stations that are located in areas where most people drive?

And hate to burst your bubble, but the majority of riders in the areas of Mongomery County this project is planned to serve aren't members of the "play on your smartphone" set. These are grownups who can listen to an audio book or music or NPR or talk on their cellphones - all in the privacy of their own personal vehicle in which they can set the temparature, decide who to ride with, and travel on their own schedule, not someone else's. Plus, drivers ALWAYS get a seat.

You have to make them WANT to give that up. And telling them you're going to make their car commute miserable to "give them more choices" to "play on their smartphone" on a bus while standing up is not very smart.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 5:27 pm • linkreport

"do you really think that everyone who lives within walking distance of one of these lines is already using a non driving mode? I don't."
----

Probbly not.

But common sense would tell me that the intended ridership wouldn't be limited only to those within walking distance.

As a Maryland taxpayer - in other words, someone who will be expected to help pay for for (as opposed to transit advocates on a blog), I would certainly hope so.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

"no, its not. the fossil fuels used to generate electricity in the USA are coal and natural gas. Oil is too expensive - its worth using in transportation where its BTU density makes it superior to coal and (non compressed) natural gas.'
---

Wishful thinking my friend. Much of the power comes from oil-fired plants. It isn't all from coal and natural gas. Maybe it will be one day when cars run on corn flakes, but not today.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 6:08 pm • linkreport

People *would* ride these buses if Montgomery County implements the design considerations recommended. The Circulator in DC has demonstrated that people will get on a bus if it goes where they want and is convenient. If 'RTV' offered a quicker commute, then people would definitely ride it. Ultimately, I expect they'll get some of the attributes that they want (e.g. shinier buses) but not all of them (dedicated ROW). It will be enough to encourage some drivers out of their cars, which is a success, but maybe not 'transformational'.

by renegade09 on May 22, 2012 6:32 pm • linkreport

@ceerer66

Much of the (US electric) power comes from oil-fired plants. It isn't all from coal and natural gas.

Oil once produced a modest amount of electricity in the US (16.9% in 1973) but has been on the decline since the Oil shocks of 1974 and 1979. In 2011 only 0.7% of US electric generation was from oil, 1/3 the amount form wind.

See: http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/graphicsandcharts/uselectricitygenerationfuelshares/

(you will need to download the data)

by DaveS on May 22, 2012 8:31 pm • linkreport

Ceefer - Facts are helpful. Less than 1% of oil is used to produce electricity in the US.

http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/energy-overview/petroleum-oil/

by Adam L on May 22, 2012 8:31 pm • linkreport

Adam and Dave,

I didn't know that. I can admit when I've proven wrong.

Thanks.

(The CAPTCHAs get crazier by the minute. 3 tries! Where can you get what they're smoking?)

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 9:44 pm • linkreport

"less oil bought from Dictators in the middle east"

Funny thing about those Middle Eastern dictators.

Some of them are providing free health care to their citizens while we fight over "Obamacare", watered-down as iy is.

Some of them provide their citizens with a tax-free life while we give our wealthiest citizens tax breaks that are bankrupting our government.

The oil-rich countries are building the world's tallest buildings and state-of-art infrastructure while we in DC dicker over extending the height limits to allow 2 more floors on buildings downtown and adding 2 lanes to I-66. All while the nation's infrastructure crumbles.

Maybe we use some more of what they're selling.

by ceefer66 on May 22, 2012 9:52 pm • linkreport

The problem with relying too much on ITDP is that its main focus is low- and middle-income cities. That's why it doesn't talk about parking: the cities it considers to set the gold standard don't have very high car ownership.

(Incidentally, in Europe, which has had to deal with the issue of raising bus ridership in a high-car ownership environment, there's no such thing as separately branded BRT. There are general improvements to the bus system, plus signal priority and dedicated lanes where required. Some cities, like Berlin, also let buses use light rail corridors.)

That said, the problem with providing too much parking at stations is that it makes them less useful for people arriving by modes other than car, who are the most likely to be reliant on the system. Park-and-rides require you to drive without freeing you from fixed schedules; as a result, people generally don't use them except when driving to the destination is too much of a hassle because of traffic. As a result, they generate peak-only traffic, and also make the station less useful as a destination rather than as an origin.

And before people complain: I'm not saying they shouldn't have any parking at stations. On the light rail system in Calgary, whose recent TOD success has been at least on a par with that of the Washington Metro, I believe there are parking spaces for 20% of users. But parking shouldn't be the focus of the system - pedestrian-friendliness is.

by Alon Levy on May 22, 2012 10:04 pm • linkreport

Looks wonderful and I hope it gets built. But I am strongly opposed the plan to pay for it with taxes only levied on property owners within a half mile of the of corridors. If this is built, it would benefit the entire county by taking cars off all the major roads, an allowing for further economic development and jobs, all of which could contribute revenue back to the county. Why should the fat cats in Potomac be exempt from paying their fair share? Same goes for the owners of farms who will benefit from less congested roads on which to transport their goods and supplies.

by Dave on May 23, 2012 1:46 am • linkreport

Also, it would be interesting to see a breakdown of where the task force members live and work and how many would pay or not pay the proposed property tax surcharge.

by Dave on May 23, 2012 1:49 am • linkreport

I wish transit planners in this country would stop thinking that Wifi is necessary for a good transit system!

Wifi does not encourage people to travel when travel time is short. it is an expensive Gizmo that won't be used by anyone. In the world of 3G and LTE, people should know better...

by DCvinc2009 on May 23, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

This blogger states they need to build the Purple Line (a light rail line) running east-west. They certainly do not! BRT is needed on a north/south axis. We do not need a wildly expensive stand-alone light rail system. It is not part of Metro, riders will have to switch systems, including walking across streets to make connections. Most of the projected riders of a PL are riding Metro now, so a PL will not take many cars off the road. From New Carrolton to Bethesda, is a shorter commute on the current Red Line than taking the Purple Line. Save the money and fix the constantly breaking down Metro.

by L Will on Oct 25, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

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