Greater Greater Washington

Convert existing lanes to BRT, say Montgomery planners

Today, Montgomery County planners present their recommendations for a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network to the Planning Board. While their vision is smaller than what previous proposals for BRT, they suggest repurposing existing car lanes as dedicated bus lanes in many areas, giving commuters a faster, more convenient ride.


Diagram of BRT routes in the downcounty area by David Alpert.
Blue lines represent 2 dedicated on-street bus lanes, purple segments are buses running in mixed traffic, and median busways appear in burgundy.

Planning department is latest to weigh in on BRT

In 2008, County Councilmember Marc Elrich first proposed a 16-line, 160-mile system of rapid bus routes. Like Bus Rapid Transit systems being built throughout North America, Montgomery's BRT would have substantial stations with waiting areas and fare machines, stops spaced between a half-mile and a mile apart, and frequent service throughout the day.

A subsequent study from planning consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff found that it could reduce congestion while providing new development opportunities for the growing county. The Transit Task Force, a panel of community leaders and major landowners convened by County Executive Ike Leggett, came to similar conclusions earlier this year.

However, not everyone's convinced that the proposed system, which could cost as much as $1.8 billion to build, will be effective. A study from ITDP suggested that some routes wouldn't get enough riders to be worthwhile.

Enter the Planning Department, who are working on a draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, a guide for how Montgomery County's transit network should look in the future. Planners focused on routes within the downcounty, where transit use is already high, and along the rapidly developing I-270 corridor, where transit use could be high in the future.

Orange Line Platform, North Hollywood
A BRT station in Los Angeles. Photos by the author.

Plan would repurpose many lanes for BRT

Unlike previous plans, this one emphasizes the need to give buses their own lanes, whether in the median of a road or by repurposing lanes currently open to all traffic. Planners found that this would make the system more reliable, reducing travel times and moving more people than cars could.

They also found that taking lanes away from cars wouldn't result in additional congestion or lower driving speeds. One big reason for this is that roads leaving the District get wider upon entering Montgomery County.

The 4-lane 16th Street in DC becomes 12 lanes6 for 16th and 6 for Colesvilleafter crossing the border. Georgia Avenue is 4 lanes in DC and 6 in Maryland. So is New Hampshire Avenue. Therefore, for these radial routes, the planning department concluded that it wouldn't substantially affect traffic flow to make the road 4 lanes for cars and 2 for buses.

Nonetheless, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has been reluctant to take away lanes from cars, fearful it would hurt drivers. As a result, Parsons Brinckerhoff's study assumed that most of the system would run in regular traffic with everyone else, promising riders a slower, less reliable trip.

BRT lines focus on areas of highest ridership

To determine where BRT would be most successful, planners looked at existing activity centers like downtown Silver Spring, and areas like White Flint where lots of development will occur in the future, to see where riders will want to go. They also analyzed current and projected transit ridership. Finally, they suggested where stations might go to draw the most use.

Planners chose to include the following corridors in their recommendations, listed here with their projected daily ridership in 2040:

  • Route 355 between Friendship Heights and Rockville (49,000 riders)
  • Route 355 between Rockville and Germantown (35,000 riders)
  • Georgia Avenue between Silver Spring and Olney (25,000 riders)
  • New Hampshire Avenue between Takoma Park and White Oak (22,000 riders)
  • Route 29 between downtown Silver Spring and Burtonsville (17,000 riders)
  • Randolph Road/Cherry Hill Road between White Flint and the Prince George's County line (16,000-20,000 riders)
  • Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton (12,000-15,000 riders)
  • University Boulevard between Wheaton and Takoma-Langley (14,000-18,000 riders)
  • Rockville Metro Station to the Life Sciences Center, via Route 28 (10,000-12,000 riders)
  • North Bethesda Transitway (8,000-10,000 riders)
  • Corridor Cities Transitway (Montgomery County planners didn't look at this route in detail, but the Maryland Transit Administration estimates that it will carry 47,700 riders by 2035.)
Several routes that appeared in earlier proposals, like Muddy Branch Road, Connecticut Avenue, Old Georgetown Road, Norbeck Road and the Intercounty Connector, were removed because they were found to have few riders.

These recommendations go a long way to making a successful Bus Rapid Transit system in Montgomery County. They focus on the areas where transit use is already high and emphasize the need to support transit with dense, mixed-use development and good pedestrian and bicycle connections.

Speed Cameras, Randolph at Wheaton High
Some BRT corridors, like Randolph Road, wouldn't have dedicated lanes at all.

Should there be even more dedicated lanes?

However, the recommendations' emphasis on dedicated lanes may not go far enough. Buses would still run in mixed traffic on portions of some roads, like University Boulevard between Four Corners and Takoma-Langley, New Hampshire Avenue between Adelphi Road and White Oak, and the entire length of Randolph Road. On other roads, like Veirs Mill Road, buses would have just one, reversible dedicated lane, which could save money but may be difficult to execute and confusing for riders.

These corridors are already home to some of the county's busiest Metrobus routes like the C, Y and K lines, and serve areas slated for intense future development, like Wheaton, White Oak and White Flint. If we're really serious about providing an alternative to driving and improving transit commutes for current and future riders, we'll have to make room for bus lanes here as well.

If the Planning Board votes to approve the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan in January, it will then go to the County Council for a vote in the spring. That's when the County Executive and Montgomery County Department of Transportation will also be able to give input and make changes.

In the meantime, planning staff will present their findings at a series of public open houses next week: Tuesday in Silver Spring, Wednesday in Shady Grove, and Thursday in Wheaton.

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. 

Comments

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Taking lanes from cars and giving them to buses is what makes sense. Not sure why Veirs Mill Rd would get some wierd reversible lane; there's plenty of room for two full bus lanes.

Also, glad to see that some of those routes that do no good other than score political "see! everyone gets a route!" points are removed. I would still like to see some additional transit on the ICC, though. The MTA 201 is great and all, but 1)it's $5, 2)it's once an hour, and 3)it can only be boarded eastbound.

by Justin..... on Nov 8, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

Totally agree. If there aren't dedicated lanes, it's not worth it. This is more than stepping up the urban lifestyle of down-county residents, this is about economic viability for the whole area. If people can't move around in a reasonable timeframe, it'll hurt everyone, not just the cars from those roads being targeted. We can't increase development with out an alternative to the car. And if there's not enough ridership now to justify some of these lines, there will be soon enough as it will attract development along the corridors.

by Thayer-D on Nov 8, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

There is no point in spending big bucks on "BRT" unless we can actually achieve a true BRT system, which requires buses to have dedicated lanes for the entire route. Otherwise this system would just be a more expensive version of our current bus system.

I fully support converting existing lanes to BRT, rather than widening already-wide roadways like Rockville Pike. Unfortunately I don't see county officials having the political willpower to make it happen. Taking away driving lanes from already-congested thoroughfares into DC won't be too popular among certain constituencies.

by Rebecca on Nov 8, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

I think it's all in how you spin this. Could we say that in Ocean City on coastal highway there are 'dedicated' bus lanes? These lanes are nice because they also serve as turn lanes and bike lanes when there is no bus present. This could greatly give a boos to local bicyclists, provide some help to vehicle movement by getting turning cars out of travel lanes, and provide for descent bus movement. Plus, the BRT stations/buses are 1/2 to 1 mile apart, there will probably be 'local' buses with stops on ever corner using these lanes too. I almost see the BRT as moving the rush-hour express buses to a permanent fashion. Would other GGW readers be ok with these lanes shared with bicycles and turning cars only?

by Gull on Nov 8, 2012 4:30 pm • linkreport

my first thought upon seeing this plan is: there's no way this is remotely politically feasible. Removing a car lane going each way on all the roads marked with blue and devoting it to BRT? I just can't see it happening in the foreseeable future. I could certainly be wrong, but that's my impression.

by Tim H on Nov 8, 2012 5:39 pm • linkreport

It depends, Gull. Others probably have more insight on how this might work with sharing with bikes (I have some reservations, but I guess in my mind it ultimately depends on just how frequently the buses are intended to run, so I'll leave that to others to speculate on). But as for turning cars, it depends on the intersection. If there's an intersection where it's particularly difficult for people to turn, then buses could get backed up by cars trying to get around the corner, which reduces the benefits of the separated lane. On the flip side, if the intersection, for example, sees little pedestrian traffic and cars can make turns almost uninhibited, then I don't see much benefit to letting drivers into the bus lane, although since cars *do* have to slow down to turn at all, I suppose it could provide a marginal benefit without holding the buses up much.

by Ms. D on Nov 8, 2012 6:56 pm • linkreport

I was under the impression that parts of New Hampshire Ave are actually in PG County is that wrong cause if so what do they have to say about Montgomery County and their lanes on the ave?

by kk on Nov 8, 2012 11:12 pm • linkreport

As a former resident of Cleveland, I'm skeptical of the viability of BRT. What was supposed to be an extension of a subway line, then a light rail line, eventually turned in to a BRT line along Euclid Ave. A four lane major thoroughfare connecting the center of downtown (Public Sq) to a major employment and tourist center (University Cir) was reduced to 2 car lanes and dedicated bus lanes. Station platforms were builit and traffic signals that were supposed to give priority to buses were installed. In the end all it did was force vehicular traffic to ancillary roads and reduce the 7 mile bus trip by about 5-6 minutes. During the construction period, scores of small business shut down because the road became nearly impossible to access. And of course the stigma of riding a bus never went away.

I don't get the obsession with BRT. I think streetcars and subways are a superior solution. The upfront cost is far greater, but the reduced operating costs, smaller impact to vehicle traffic, and luxury of riding on a spacious rail car rather than a cramped bus are the rewards.

by Mike M. on Nov 8, 2012 11:40 pm • linkreport

This is wildly radical. Taking lanes from cars to give to buses in Montgomery County is so $20/gallon gas and Oceans 15 feet higher. Unless our reality gets to be like the year 2050 how will all the commercial traffic, emergency traffic, soccer mom traffic, motorcades, you name it get anything done? Are they going to drive during the graveyard shift? Is working from home finally going to be the norm? Buses are the future but just taking lanes from congested neighborhoods seems like a big problem.

by Alex on Nov 9, 2012 5:25 am • linkreport

@Mike M

The BRT along Euclid Ave produced a travel time savings of around 20% (5-6 min over 7 mi is about right). But ridership increased almost 50% compared to the service that was there before - so I don't think it's correct to say that the "stigma" of the bus remained the same.

Streetcars and subway are certainly superior but they are not always the right modes for every project.

by MLD on Nov 9, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

I actually like this new BRT proposal. It was fairly clear that the previously proposed "Gold Standard" RTV system was not politically feasible, and as Voltaire said "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" or in this case the "good enough" as buses running in mixed traffic is far from good but is probably good enough.

Development is already underway on 355, Georgia Ave and 29 even without BRT, and unless we build BRT lines on those routes, traffic will become untenable. For the places where they run in mixed traffic, I believe ridership will grow to the point where they will eventually the transitioned to dedicated bus lanes.

by DaveR on Nov 9, 2012 10:01 pm • linkreport

DaveR +1,
Down the line once people begin to adjust to the new reality we can convert these BRT lines to more efficient street car lines, 20 years down the line. For now it's the only rational step towards continuing to develope and densify.

by Thayer-D on Nov 10, 2012 6:32 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by profplanner on Nov 10, 2012 6:39 am • linkreport

Thayer-D,

I agree that some of the BRT lines could and eventually should be converted to light rail, however I also believe there will be some lines that should remain as buses either on dedicated lanes or in mixed traffic lanes, depending on the ridership of the line.

By my estimate, A bus line should get a dedicated lane if the ridership on that lane exceeds about 10,000 per day and should consider switching it to light rail when it exceeds 60,000 per day. In addition to the Purple Line, this will probably happen at some point on the three main corridors and for a Takoma-Langly to Rockville line via University Blv/Veirs Mill Rd.

by DaveR on Nov 10, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

I'm all in DaveR. SOme can indead be left as BRT which would also give the system the flexibility to adapt to organic changes over time.

by Thayer-D on Nov 10, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

Proponents of the BRT on US 29 seem oblivious to the fact that the proposed route (including extended rights of way) will disrupt the homes, lives, and sensible bus commuting patterns on US 29 south of New Hampshire Avenue of the members of the minority and immigrant communities who live there. The BRT will accelerate through an already fragile crossing opportunity at US 29 and University used by thousands of minority and immigrant students who attend Blair High School, for example.

You would have to be part of our community to understand our frustration as planners and developers and green types descend on our community from 30,000 feet and take charge, ready to upend our lives.

This is not a new pattern in urban affairs. As early as the 1950s, planners, developers and elected officials used urban renewal to wipe out or dislocate African American neighborhoods to make way for highways and other development. Part of the reason was that these target populations had little power to resist. The other reasons relate to what we today call environmental justice and environmental racism.

by profplanner on Nov 11, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

O-M-G/Facepalm

Not soo far away from this present day around I'll say 1975 there were planners in Montgomery County that swear to the Universe that the Metro Subway along with a Countywide Bus System complementing an expanded DC Metro Bus into the Maryland suburbs will replace the need to build any connector multi-lane Interstate Highways from Maryland to DC/Virginia.

Now today these 3rd Generation so-called Montgomery Planners want to make life worse for Montgomery County Tax Payers by Forcing a unreliable trolley down the Maryland Tax Payers throats in the nae of being anti-Roads because lets be serious it is not about transit reliability no matter how much the so-called Montgomery County planers want to paint the the presentation soo rosy...

Lets just hypothetically these so-called Rapid Buses exist today:

-If you think traffic on US Highway 29 and MD Highway 97 with its current 6 lanes is a traffic bottleneck the Rapid Bus lanes plus bike lanes will make traffic unbearable to handle.

-MD Highway 650 will also suffer due the Fact that there is no dual roadway that can accommodate the reduce lanes for the Rapid Bus unlike DC that have several streets that run Parallel to the Major DC Roads.

-MD Highway 355 is just outright crazy due to the FACT that the Metro Rail Subway runs under the roadway and has the Most Reliable bus routes in the Maryland Suburbs and again the traffic at its current 6 lanes is very busy which will be unbearable to handle the reduction to 4 lanes to make way for a rapid bus route.

-Maryland Highway 586 is already 80% 4 lanes so reducing the road to lane in each direction to make way for rapid bus lanes is again Crazy due to the number of drivers using that road.

My points are that Metro and Montgomery County buses have been in commission since the early 1970's and today it is no where near as top notch reliable(scheduling) like New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Miami so adding rapid bus lanes to existing Montgomery County main roadways is very short sighted and a very good recipe for more corruption of anti-Business and Frustrating Maryland Tax Payers that uses Montgomery Roads for not just commuting but personal and business trips.

Traffic in Montgomery County is already difficult to deal with and building dedicated bus rapid bus lanes on existing major roadways in Montgomery County is definitely not going to resolve its current traffic issues....

So it all boils down to the hidden agenda to Force Businesses to move from Montgomery County/Suburban Maryland and Prevent Future Businesses(Hilton or Northrop Grumman anyone) to relocate to Montgomery County/Suburban Maryland. Population of Middle Class and Upper Class population will decrease(relocating mostly to Northern Virginia since thats where most of Suburban Maryland tax payers commute to work) in Montgomery County due to traffic Frustration.

Sure the so-called Montgomery County planners will spoon feed by saying it will attract people to use Mass Transit instead of driving but here's what they will never admit:

-Since 1975 the majority of people that METRO and Montgomery County buses have been mostly attracting is people that don't own a car and Government Workers.

-Metro and Montgomery County buses are not in 24/7 operation and mostly run every 30-45 minutes on late evenings and weekends.

-Transit users are growing very frustrated with the increasing costs to ride transit and save the BS argument that Gas is expensive but thats not a good enough excuse to constantly increase transit cost.

The end result is that Bus Rapid Transit will just replace the current bus routes and the agenda to make driving more difficult in Montgomery County/Suburban Maryland which will do more Harm than Good in terms of Stability in Business/Economic/Revenue/Population Growth in Montgomery County.

If Bus Rapid Transit is soo positive for future stability in Business/Economic/Revenue/Population Growth then lets see Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County build Bus Rapid Transit along their Busy Roadways.

by steve on Nov 11, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

profplanner,

The only difference between the Highway constructions in Urban Cities and the Rapid Bus Lanes is that the Bus Lanes is to further cause Traffic Headaches resulting to the decrease of Business and Population while Urban Highways gave Interstate drivers a way to bypass neighborhood local streets making local streets safer...

by steve on Nov 11, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

"Bus Rapid Transit along their Busy Roadways."

Arlington/Alexandria are currently building a transitway from Crystal City to Potomac Yards, and Alexandria is looking at a larger network of dedicated transitways.

Its not exactly BRT, but there are express buses from FFX and PWC that use the I95/I395 HOV lanes. The new beltway HOT lanes will have FFX express buses, and also buses from PWC running I95 to I495. Fairfax is probably going to adopt some kind of BRT solution for the Rte 1 corridor, and I would expect the NoVa jurisdictions will be examining it for Rte 50, rte 29, and Gallows Rd. Not sure about Loudoun - it would make sense for them to put buses on the underutilized Greenway.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 11, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity,

However they are not removing existing Travel lanes on the Main Virginia Roads and Highways for Rapid Bus Transit.

BTW the HOT Lanes in Virginia is has zero liability to the subject of this topic because they did not remove any existing lanes but added existing lanes plus its not being extended to the Maryland side of the Beltway.....

by steve on Nov 11, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

1. I will have to check the details on the CCPY transitway.

2. Alexandria is debating whether to take away existing travel lanes or to widen the roads. There are arguments both ways, and I do not think the debate is settled.

3. I think in the case of Rte 50 people are thinking about taking away main travel lanes - I think we will need to think about that for Rte 29. There will definitely be resistance to taking away a lane on rte 1 - but some people still believe there will be money for an underground rail line there. I think when we all have to face reality, we will have to face the possibility of giving up SOV road space there. Oh, and Gallows Road it will certainly be a loss of road space.

As for the HOT lanes, yes, thats not a loss of existing lanes. Of course your initial question was simply if the NoVa jurisdictions were doing BRT. As for not going into Maryland, IIUC FFX and MoCo are definitely discussing extension across the Legion Bridge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 11, 2012 2:34 pm • linkreport

Im pretty sure for the discussed north south transitway in Alex, they would be taking away road space, since there is no room to widen roads in Old Town. Its on eisenhower and Beauregard where widening is an option, IIUC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 11, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

Steve,
You say "it is not about transit reliability" rather "it all boils down to the hidden agenda to Force Businesses to move from Montgomery County..." What proof do you have to make such a wild accusation? I understand that some feel "planners and developers and green types descend on our community from 30,000 feet and take charge, ready to upend our lives.", but you certainly aren't speaking about this native who's studied urbanism and can see that any world class city is well served by public transit. It will certainly not be pain free, but every traffic study indicates that stasis will lead to inevitable economic decline.

"here's what they will never admit:
-Since 1975 the majority of people that METRO and Montgomery County buses have been mostly attracting is people that don't own a car and Government Workers."

Did it occure to you that many people who own cars would love not too? Or that wasting 2-3 hours stuck in traffic is killing thier family life? And what's with the casual association with government workers and public transit? I wonder if we'd find a similar pattern in Mew York City. Virginia is way ahead in their investments with the Silver Line leading the way. Their business community is actually partially financing the metro line while green types in Montgomery County endlessly debate the Purple Line's route.

by Thayer-D on Nov 11, 2012 8:15 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D

Did it also occure to you that many people that own cars would love not to because they own outdated cars that they have to constantly repair to keep their old car's updated and/or they live in a area where their insurance rates are Extremely High. Either way that is not a good enough rebuttal against the Fact that removing Travel lanes for Bus Rapid Lanes is the hidden agenda to cause more Traffic Corruption to the point of losing businesses and population in which it looks like that is the reason why these soo-called Montgomery County Planners are pushing for this short sighted BS.

Wasting 2-3 hours in traffic is due to the Fact that there are not enough Business/Office Growth in Montgomery County to Offset the Large number of Suburban Maryland tax payers from Commuting to Business/Office Density Rich Northern Virginia and removing existing travel lanes for Rapid Bus Lines will definitely make traffic much worse because most of the people that already drive are not going to use Rapid Buses when they have to make long travels. Sorry but it is reality...

Wondering about similar patterns in New York City but yet New York City have REAL TRANSIT like a Reliable Subway System and Multiple Commuter Buses that all run 24/7 with adequate Freeway/Expressway systems that inter-connect ALL 5 Boroughs and other surrounding areas...

Instead of Proposing useless projects like Rapid Buses taking over existing Major Streets in Montgomery County they need to use that money to support a Red Line Subway branch off to run along the US Highway 29 Corridor, extend the Red Line Subway north of Glenmont to Onely, and Extend the Red Line Subway to Clarksburg. Sure it will be costly but it will attract more people to ride the subway than some BS Rapid Bus line that interferes with existing Major Roadways creating more traffic problems. But then again that is more than likely what the soo-called Montgomery Planners want so that Businesses and population will decrease.....

by steve on Nov 13, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

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