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Montgomery builds BRT-hostile roads as it plans BRT

Montgomery County's transportation policy is descending toward inco­herence. Policymakers want to put dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes on the county's highways. Yet they continue to prioritize expensive projects that will increase car volumes on those same roads.

A prime example of the contradiction between these 2 policies is a planned underpass taking Randolph Road under Georgia Avenue, near Glenmont Metro. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014.

Image from Maryland State Highway Administration.

Both Georgia and Randolph are part of all versions of the county's BRT proposal. But the underpass will get in the way of the future bus network. Buses on Randolph, unable to use a tunnel that gives them no place to stop, will have to slow down for a traffic light that cars can bypass.

To avoid the buses stopping in the turn lanes, the stops will have to be located on the far side of the light. Riders connecting to the other BRT line will have to double back on foot and wait for the light a second time.

Yet the county, which has already thrown $14 million of its own money at this project, urges the state to plow ahead with the underpass. It has not asked for a redesign to accommodate BRT. And, through its adequate public facilities ordinance, it blocked transit-oriented development around the Metro station until the underpass got funding.

Just this week, the County Council reaffirmed the adequate public facilities ordinance. It toned down some of the worst features, but the basic principle remains in place: it assumes that if only the county built the right road infrastructure, all traffic would flow freely. Almost a century of road building has proven that's not the case, but that truth hasn't yet penetrated into the policy.

Indeed, the two elected officials who initiated the county's turn toward BRT, Councilmember Marc Elrich and County Executive Ike Leggett, are also the strongest partisans for what Elrich calls "free-flowing highways." That's a contradiction, because if highways actually could flow freely, buses would move at full speed, and Bus Rapid Transit wouldn't be necessary.

In recent decades, the county has accomplished much while building rail transit and new roads at the same time. The Red Line has been a stunning success, and the Purple Line promises to match it. But rail lines are expensive and transportation budgets are getting ever tighter. Montgomery's leaders have chosen to de-emphasize further expansion of rail beyond the Purple Line.

The county switched its preference for the Corridor Cities Transitway from rail to bus and has found no room among its transportation priorities for the state's plan for all-day service on MARC. Many see the BRT network as a way for transit to keep growing in an era of fiscal stringency.

BRT simply won't work if we pretend that we're still in the 1950s and keep trying to move more cars at higher speeds (a strategy that is doomed to failure in any case). It requires rebuilding roads and neighborhoods for a more livable urban future, where people rank ahead of automobiles. Striving after two contradictory goals on the same roadways is a recipe for failure.

Ben Ross was president of the Action Committee for Transit for 15 years. His book about the politics of urbanism and transit, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, is now available in paperback. 


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Stop building so many new buildings.

by davidj on Nov 15, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

Thanks for highlighting this point. I think it's the main obstacle to smart growth in Moco. The incoherance between the different branches of government that many times work at cross purposes.

by Thayer-D on Nov 15, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

This is what happens when elected officials view the world through the windshield of a car. And, I think the best thing MoCo could do is abolish the Dept. of Transportation, and turn its planning functions over to MNCPPC.

by Ken Firestone on Nov 15, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

Man this pisses me off. It reinforces my belief that this BRT plan is a giant waste of time and energy because the county won't build it to work, and even if they were to a light rail would in the long run be cheaper and more effective anyway.

by Dave Murphy on Nov 15, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

How would a bus avoid the traffic light, if all of the corridor's vehicular traffic had to stop for such a light?

Does not placing much of the veicular traffc in the brief tunnel tend to make that road easier to cross for pedestrians?

Is anyone proposing to somewht extend the coverway-tunnel? If even by only 20 or 30 feet in either direction? Think of the potential somewhat as with just north of Dupont Circle.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 15, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

IMHO the underway should continue further east at *least* past Glenmount Circle Drive.

Also, planning could include an underway in the future most easily for the westbound Randolf to northbound Georgia.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 15, 2012 8:01 pm • linkreport

There is no reason to continue the underpass that far. The volume of cross-traffic at that intersection isn't anywhere near that of Georgia Avenue.

The reason that the Dupont Circle underpass continues under Q Street is that the approach would be unacceptably steep otherwise.

by Frank IBC on Nov 15, 2012 8:40 pm • linkreport

Earlier this year at one of the Glenmont Sector Plan rezoning meeting, I spoke with one of the Montgomery County planers who was working on the preliminary design for the North Georgia Ave portion of the BRT. I asked him how the grade realignment of the Georgia and Randolph intersection would impact the Randolph line of the BRT. He stated that the the bus would almost certainly turn off Randolph to stop at the Glenmont Metro station two blocks to the north. If this turns out to be the case, then the grade realignment at that intersection would have no impact on the BRT.

by DaveR on Nov 15, 2012 9:36 pm • linkreport

@ DaveR -

"[T]he bus would almost certainly turn off Randolph to stop at the Glenmont Metro station two blocks to the north."

Very good point. And it would be nice if the station had actually been built at the intersection of Georgia & Randolph. I guess it was built at its current location because of the need for a large parking garage because it is at the end of the line. It is kind of ironic how many Metro stations were built with no concept of "transit-oriented development" in mind, even when they were right in the middle of heavily developed areas. Other cases in point are Fort Totten and Anacostia.

by Frank IBC on Nov 16, 2012 3:24 am • linkreport

DaveR & Frank -

A bus that leaves Randolph Road to stop at Glenmont Metro takes a 5 to 10 minute detour. It passes through 6 intersections, turning at 4 of them, in an area where signals have 100-second cycles (or longer) and are synchronized for through traffic.

A bus that makes a 5 to 10 minute detour to go to a single stop cannot possibly be considered Bus Rapid Transit.

by Ben Ross on Nov 16, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

The volume of cross traffic is not the sole reason, the area atop the extended lowerway has the potential for future civic use akin to that discussed previously at GGW about just north of DuPont Circle, within a future where both sides of Randolf become densely developed, and not primaily a fire and police station.

Thereby, I would have elected for it to be longer at least to the first light if not the second, but mainly unconvered, with cover to be added later.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 16, 2012 10:15 pm • linkreport

Building a very long underpass just for the sake of building a park on top of it doesn't seem like a very wise use of money and resources.

Better would be to use the land on either side that would have been taken for the wider roadway, for the new park.

by Frank IBC on Nov 16, 2012 10:24 pm • linkreport

What suggest makes less sense heer than for DuPont because there's more open land - true.

I merely propose a longer uncovered underway that may be covered ncrimentally and not neccessarily just parkland, as a design to be added on incrmentally over time.

Much like the Montrose Underway is actually an excellnt desgn to add on to incrmentally over time, even perhaps with air rights development.

Another thought- what about median loaded busway stops?

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 16, 2012 10:29 pm • linkreport

When did this project become the "Montrose Underway" and where is there air-rights development over any suburban highway?

by Frank IBC on Nov 16, 2012 10:48 pm • linkreport

I wonder, how far the cover could be extended east with the existing planning grades, perhaps to the western edge of the police station, or with such slightly modified grade, but retaining the existing at grade intersection with Glenmont Circle, and there adding an underway?

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 16, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

Frank- There was recent talk at GGW about such concerning Tysons Corner roads.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 16, 2012 10:54 pm • linkreport

That proposal was to connect two huge regional shopping centers, each surrounded by larger commercial areas. What would this connect? A small, struggling, one-level shopping center on one side, and a fire and police station adjacent to residential areas on the other side?

by Frank IBC on Nov 16, 2012 11:01 pm • linkreport

Which is why I suggest things *incrementally* over the long term. Years later that land may become way more economical to densify, so merely ensuring a design that can be added to, makes such new deveopment and the area more livaeble.

Extendng the proposed deck even say just another 120 feet or so, at least ensuring a grade allowing this to be added later, while still having all of Randolf Road to intersect Glenmount Circle at grade, would allow a significently greater pedestrian cross connectivity ultimately for what's now a parking lot, at a fraction of the cost of extending the Randolf underway past Glenmount Circle or further.

by Douglas Andrew Willinger on Nov 16, 2012 11:16 pm • linkreport

Ben & Frank -

I agree that having the bus leave Randolph to stop at the Glenmont Metro complicates things, but for better or worse, it is the center of Glenmont, a hub of many local bus lines, and the focus of the upcoming TOD development. Hence the Glenmont Metro is where most of the BRT riders would want to go, not the intersection of Georgia and Randolph. The proposed rezoning already has a significant amount of work on the section of Glenallan Road between Georgia and Randolph, so adding a bus only lane on it would not be too difficult and should with light preemption by the bus at the intersections of Glenallan and Randolph, Layhill and Georgia should keep the added time to a minimum.

by DaveR on Nov 17, 2012 4:01 pm • linkreport

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