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Montgomery residents debate bus lanes at BRT hearing

Over 50 speakers packed the Planning Board auditorium in Silver Spring Thursday night to offer comments on Montgomery County's proposed Bus Rapid Transit network. Over more than 3 hours, residents debated the merits of the 10-route, 79-mile system county planners envision.

Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.

A slight majority of speakers spoke in favor of the plan, saying BRT could give people a real alternative to driving and support projected population and employment growth. Many speakers highlighted the importance of transit in attracting new residents, particularly young adults who already flock to the county's walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods.

Skeptics of the plan had concerns about taking away space from cars on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase and Route 29 in Four Corners to give buses dedicated lanes, arguably BRT's most important feature. These corridors already have the county's highest transit ridership and are projected to carry the BRT network's most-used routes.

The Planning Board will discuss the plan and potentially make changes to it during a series of worksessions over the next several weeks. After that, they'll vote on whether to approve it. If it passes, the plan will then go to the County Council later this year for additional public hearings and worksessions and a final vote.

Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who live-tweeted the event with myself and Ted Van Houten from the Action Committee for Transit, compiled this summary of the hearing on Storify:

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. 


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When it comes to moving people versus parking vehicles, I really think its not even close, especially since we are only talking about the major arterials.

by SJE on May 20, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

What are the projections for car driver-to-bus rider conversion? It'll have to be a healthy percentage to offset a 33% traffic capacity reduction on 355.

by Chris S. on May 20, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

I think @Chris S nailed my concern on the head. Yes, buses can move a lot more people that cars, but will they actually move that many more. The next set of questions is the ability of people to mode shift to the bus that are driving now vs the people that need to keep their car because of the nature of their job, commute or personal preference.

I can see a time in 20 years where we have many more urban nodes and corridors, with everything you could ever need or want located in a few of these nodes and corridors, and a high density of homes and offices located at these nodes and corridors. That would be when a BRT bus could carry such high volumes of people that removing that lane from cars seems so worth it. In the short term, I don't think (besides 355 and even that is a stretch) there is a corridor where enough people can or will give up their cars.

I wonder if there is an option of setting up the BRT routes, stations, and future land use planning now, and have the buses operate like express buses in mixed traffic now, and as the bus use increases start to identify areas where new lanes or converted lanes may be practical. I especially hope any dedicated bus lane can be like Coastal Hwy in OC where you can use these lanes as accel and decel lanes.

by Gull on May 20, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport


The idea is that the BRT system would be phased in over time. The plan calls for two phases, the first of which would have buses running in mixed traffic in most of the county, with dedicated lanes (and median lanes, which require the most construction and disruption) being added later on.

I think the plan's most significant feature is setting the policy that dedicated lanes for transit should be placed on major county roads. It doesn't mean that BRT will happen tomorrow, but it does give the county more authority to, for instance, do a trial where they repurpose a lane for transit, like on 355 or 29, to see how successful it would be and work out logistical problems.

That's probably the best thing we could do in the short-term: use this plan to quickly experiment with smaller improvements to transit service now, rather than committing to large-scale improvements that not only require a lot of time, money and public input. One of the best ways we could build a case for BRT - both among transit riders and neighborhood residents who fear the world will end if any space is taken from cars - is to run a trial and see what happens.

by dan reed! on May 20, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Would BRT really have to pull 33% of the people driving on MD-355? Or would it be enough to get 15% of the combined flow of I-270 and MD-355?

by JimT on May 20, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

Why is it that "BRT creep" is never mentioned in posts about MoCo's plans but invariably is when mentioned as an alternative in NoVa?

by Peter on May 20, 2013 9:20 pm • linkreport

I think it is not correct to see this as a 33% reduction in road capacity on 355. There are already a fair number of buses traveling on 355 and these will be taken out of the mixed traffic lanes onto the new bus lane. Yes, the buses do not equal 33% of the current traffic but it is well above 0% especially if you take into account their impact on the traffic flow.

What is needed to help relieve local traffic on 355 is to connect the parallel roads as part of the redevelopment between White Flint and Shady Grove. While it is only a short section, the connected Nebel St./Bou Ave. is one I take advantage of and help quite a bit.

by DaveS on May 20, 2013 9:52 pm • linkreport

RE: 33% reduction

Keep in mind that it isn't necessarily converting current motorists into bus riders, but the goal is also to attract new residents/workers that will be bus riders from the get-go. New development would be conditioned to achieve mode splits goals.

by Bossi on May 21, 2013 10:02 am • linkreport

"Why is it that "BRT creep" is never mentioned in posts about MoCo's plans but invariably is when mentioned as an alternative in NoVa? "

perhaps because these corridors do not have the charecteristics that make rail desirable on Columbia Pike in Arlington (high bus ridership volume and imminent development potential) and make "true" BRT unfeasible (no room for a dedicated lane). Not everyone who is concerned about BRT creep thinks rail is the better choice everywhere.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 21, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

And of course as volume increases, there is the potential to eventually convert to rail. Which is precisely the plan on the Crystal City Potomac yard corridor in NoVa.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 21, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

I think many are concerned about the BRT creep but this plan is also the one that Montgomery County is going with. Plus separated lanes are still in the works. If the county takes them away for some reason you'll definitely see an outcry.

Contrast with Arlington who's decided method is rail and its opponents saying you can acheive the same results at less cost with their version of BRT.

by drumz on May 21, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

@ DaveS: I don't know, in my experience I do not usually see a large number of buses on 355. I don't think taking them out of the flow of traffic will do much to make up for the loss of a lane, unless a significant percentage of current drivers decide that the BRT is more appealing and convenient than Metrorail and switch to transit.

As for the Nebel St/Bou Ave alternate route, I'm thinking it might be faster to use E. Jefferson and Executive Blvd on the west side of 355. In either case, you're running into lower speed limits, so I'm not sure you would save much time over 355.

by Chris S. on May 21, 2013 3:47 pm • linkreport

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