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Dan Reed debates BRT opponents

Greater Greater Washington staff editor Dan Reed appeared on Fox 5 to talk about Montgomery County's BRT plans along with opponent Paula Bienenfeld. Visually, even just the scene on set brings into sharp relief the changes the county is undergoing.

Image from Fox 5. Click to view segment.

The segment, starting with the anchor's introduction, seems to frame the issue around what this means for drivers. Reed talks about how BRT will move more people, and even those who don't ride the bus will benefit.

Bienenfeld, meanwhile, reads out the standard playbook of opposition. "We're not opposed to public transit," she assures everyone, before casting everything associated with transit as bad, such as devoting any space to bus stops. She also claims that having to cross a bus lane is unsafe for children. Reed later points out that crossing the regular car roadways is far more dangerous.

Bienenfeld criticizes the plan for not including things like Google self-driving cars, signalization, and "personal electric vehicles." Montgomery County already times its signals to move the most cars, even at the expense of those children walking and crossing the street, and none of the other options could move more people in fixed space.

Primarily, though, her objection is that "there was no public input" into the plan, which was created through "secret behind-the-scenes deals that have been cut." This seems astounding, given that a task force worked for a long time to create a plan, then released that plan a full year ago. Since then, county officials have refined and, in many cases, scaled back the plan, each time in full view of the public.

As Reed pointed out in the segment, this is still only a draft plan, with many more hearings yet to come. Unfortunately, people argue that there hasn't been enough input or a good enough public process almost no matter how long or short the public process actually is. This creates a "boy who cried wolf" effect for those times when government agencies really do try to ram a plan through with minimal public comment. The BRT plan is, at least thus far, not one of those cases.

One other argument from Bienenfeld rings particularly hollow: she argues that the plans "cram all the bus routes downcounty into underserved areas and lower-income, avoiding the wealthier parts of the county." Yet the bus routes include Wisconsin Avenue, which passes through some of the county's most affluent communities; most of the opposition has come from the neighborhoods between Bethesda and Friendship Heights.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Replace "BRT" with "ZRR" or any development project and the song remains the same.

by William on Jun 11, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

This is what she posted here 2 years ago.

she doesn't want more dense urban development without more mass transit.

But she also doesn't want more actual mass transit.

Conclusion - she doesn't want more dense urban development period, and the complaint about the need for additional transit was just an excuse.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 11, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

And when the public gets more demanded public meetings many will then hurl insults at the public officials and make up things that aren't true about the project leading the officials and the rest of us to wonder why bother with these meetings.

by drumz on Jun 11, 2013 10:32 am • linkreport

Maybe the BRT planners are also smart and realize that the 'wealthy' parts of the county, namely Potomac, have almost no chance in having anything close to a practical BRT system. The density is too low, and the percent of people who would ride the system is probably even lower in these wealthy areas. One of the main purposes of good transit is to serve urban areas or underprivileged suburban communities. I think the plan has some flaws myself, but her attack just made her cause look worse.

by Gull on Jun 11, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

The ad for I-495 Hot Lanes that opens the video clip is classic.

by Jacques on Jun 11, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

I love the anti-development people. I guess they fail to understand that the population of the country has doubled since ~1950 and will continue to do so. Where exactly do we expect everyone to live? They should be thanking planners for trying to find a way for everyone to get more people around without making traffic even worse.

by Alan B. on Jun 11, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

I heartedly second what Alan B just said.

by Thayer-D on Jun 11, 2013 11:20 am • linkreport

I don't see the ad before the clip.

by David Alpert on Jun 11, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

... I wonder if it's only showing for some people? Or maybe because I've been on the site a bunch to prepare the post it doesn't show for me but does for others.

by David Alpert on Jun 11, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport

I didn't see an ad.

by Miriam on Jun 11, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

Yeah it's a 30-second ad but the video is "unavailable."

Would've been interesting to see/hear the actual debate to get a more objective view.

by HogWash on Jun 11, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

No public input? What? Mark Elrich was pushing this during the 2010 campaign when I was working campaigns in MoCo, and it wasn't a new proposal then!

by Distantantennas on Jun 11, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

HogWash: That's weird, it still plays for me.

by David Alpert on Jun 11, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

I tried to listen to this but I couldn't go past where she brings up the point about safety for schoolchildren? Where is the concern for school children with the cars and crosswalks now? Weren't children getting killed in MoCo just walking down the street a couple of months ago when a car drove up the sidewalk? What about all those kids in that one Bethesda neighborhood whose parents are scared for their children getting hit by cars going to school? Isn't this the same county that told parents in one community to have their children take the bus to school even though they live across the street from the school? So the only way for people like this lady to become "concerned" for the safety of the children is when BRT proposal comes along? Epic fail...

by dc denizen on Jun 11, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

...and keep up the good work Dan!

by dc denizen on Jun 11, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

Is there anyone commenting here who owns a home directly on the proposed routes such as 355 and US 29 ? Can someone explain why homeowners will have to pay for the BRT in a special taxing district -- not the developers who will make hundreds of millions off their landholdings ? How much retail and office capacity can be accurately predicted when millions of square feet are being developed? (yes, we need a new White Flint, but how many chain restaurants and national discount chain stores does need ? More stuff made in countries where there are no OSHA laws and worker protections) Is there a good reason why MoCo needs 3 science hubs when the one it already has has not borne a lot of fruit recently ? (Should we tear down the I-270 biotech corridor?)

by Bobbie Faul-Zeitler on Jun 11, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

What happened to a journalist responsibility to point out when someone says something patently false, like there was no public input and it was done in secret. Instead she just says the public comment process was short.

by Owen on Jun 11, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

Kudos to Dan for not losing his cool when the other guest blatantly lied to the TV camera.

by Cavan on Jun 11, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

@dc denizen. Yup, that part of the story made my day. She made it sound like the buses would be speeding down the road at 250 MPH and aiming for pedestrians in a very Stephen King horror story kind of way. Oh, no, not the school children!

by Bob Smith on Jun 11, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

1) Good work indeed, Dan!
2) As a homeowner just off US29, I feel like answering the post above and say I'd rather pay for BRT that can start to relieve congestion sooner, rather than a more expensive light rail, much later.
3) More people need to use script blocker it seems, saves you some advertisements.

by just_off_US29 on Jun 11, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

@dc denizen: Weren't children getting killed in MoCo just walking down the street a couple of months ago when a car drove up the sidewalk?

If you're referring to this:

they were hospitalized (which is bad!) but not, fortunately, killed.

Several pedestrians who were on the sidewalk have died in Montgomery County within the last year (this is also bad!), but they weren't school children.

by Miriam on Jun 11, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Roberta Faul-Zeitler

I don't know if this counts to you, but I do live about 1000 feet from Route 29, though I'm not a homeowner, as I currently live with my parents. I look forward to eventually walking to the 29 & Fairland stop and having a fast, reliable ride BRT to downtown Silver Spring and the Metro. Especially after my 40-minute drive to Silver Spring this morning.

by dan reed! on Jun 11, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

Here's a map of pedestrian/vehicle collisions in Montgomery County in 2013:

by Miriam on Jun 11, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport


Dr. Bienenfield's body language is rather telling.

Dan's entire discussion was rational and dealt with facts.

Hers was straight-up fear-mongering.

He made her look silly.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jun 11, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

Thanks Dan for letting me know where you live. I am right on Colesville and have 35000 vehicles (official county stat) go past my house M-F. Yes, I do wish for less traffic, but just getting 10% fewer cars off the road will not make it safer. It is not safe, and that's not just cars. Try standing on the sidewalk when a fully loaded cement truck or dump truck, or double articulated Metro bus is in the curb lane -- speeding along at 45 mph, sometimes recorded at over 55 mph. No enforcement, no speeding or red light camera on Colesville. Let's start where we need to... enforcement, better signage, correct placement of signage. Maybe Greater Greater will support speeding and red light cameras on "our" road. Once we tackle the safety issues, I might feel more ready to discuss having 60-foot long buses greenlighting their way down Colesville Road.

by Roberta Faul-Zeitler on Jun 11, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

@Roberta Faul-Zeitler, I just wanted to make it clear to readers of the blog that no decision has been made over how to fund the system, so it's premature to assume that special taxing districts will be used. That is one of many proposals put forward by the Transit Task Force, but the conversation over the amount and mechanism for funding has not really begun yet.

by Kelly Blynn on Jun 11, 2013 3:40 pm • linkreport


While I agree that there are safety issues on Route 29, isn't the heavy car traffic part of the problem? Thousands of speeding cars (though, of course they aren't speeding at rush hour) are easily more dangerous than the 48 buses/hour that use Route 29 during rush hour. Giving people an alternative to driving IS a means to improving safety, not just reducing traffic.

by dan reed! on Jun 11, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

"Safety issues" doesn't quite cut it. The police are afraid to give tickets on Colesville because it is too dangerous. There are very few signalized crosswalks from Lockwood south, per SHA preference for flow, so people do take chances and cross mid-block. Colesville/Route 29 is a signalized highway. The catch is that below Sligo Creek Pkwy it is a funnel -- as you know from driving to work -- entering the downtown. The congestion is the result of allowing left turns (southbound) onto Cedar, Fenton and Georgia during a.m. rush hour. If you stopped that, god only knows where the traffic would turn off into. Do I think that reducing traffic 10% would make the road safer. Actually, no. People are making jack rabbit starts, speeding, red light running, ignoring no right on red, texting, phoning, listening to their ipods. They are desperate and distracted at the same time. Colesville Road has 3 of the 10 worst intersections in MoCo (according to Washington Examiner stats).I don't believe widening the road -- per the two planning board commissioners' strong suggestions for a gold-standard BRT -- will reduce traffic by having 2 dedicated busway lanes whole way to SS. If you have 6 traffic lanes, people from all of the new development planned in White Oak, will join the parade. Then we will just have 8 lanes of traffic. I hope you will join the campaign to get speed cameras on Colesville.

by Roberta Faul-Zeitler on Jun 11, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

yes, Bobbie, the REAL danger is that there will be TOO MUCH retail and TOO MANY restaurants, resulting is TOO MUCH business going on! Oh, the huMANity!

Once we tackle the safety issues, I might feel more ready to discuss having 60-foot long buses greenlighting their way down Colesville Road.

We can have both. We don't have to drop whatever we're doing while everyone's pet issue is addressed before we doing something else. This can all proceed apace.

by JustMe on Jun 11, 2013 7:16 pm • linkreport

For those of us who do not live in MoCo, can someone explain how one gets a speed camera installed on US-29. If MoCo has the power to so which other counties lack, why not make them part of the BRT plan?

by JimT on Jun 11, 2013 8:04 pm • linkreport

To Just me: Is there a problem with the caps lock on your computer? It is important to remain civil. I am not attacking retail, just pointing out that 14 million sf of developed space at White Oak will generate cars, as well as people using public transit. If we want public transit, then we can also work for safety -- and do not have to wait to achieve that. The stats in the Washington Examiner (10 intersections with most accidents in MoCo) speak for themselves. There's no reason why we can't ask now for speed cameras. There are some neighborhoods along 29 that are organizing for that. Maybe the bloggers will want to join that effort.

by Roberta Faul-Zeitler on Jun 11, 2013 8:41 pm • linkreport


Again, nobody feels that traffic safety isn't a problem or shouldn't be dealt with, but I feel like you're using it as a distraction from the actual conversation about whether we should set aside room for transit on our major roads, which is what we're trying to talk about not only on this post, but in my interview with Paula Bienenfeld and in the county as a whole.

If you actually have a legitimate concern about BRT other than you don't want it going by your house, by all means you should speak up, but I'm not really sure what you're trying to accomplish otherwise.

by dan reed! on Jun 11, 2013 10:04 pm • linkreport

@ Dan Reed "don't know if this counts to you, but I do live about 1000 feet from Route 29, though I'm not a homeowner, as I currently live with my parents."

But you keep stating in public and in testimony that you live on Route 29. Why the embellishment? Why not just say you live near it? Big diff living on Route 29 vs. living on a cul-de-sac several blocks off of it.

by Fact Check on Jun 11, 2013 11:51 pm • linkreport

You misunderstand, Dan literally lives on 29. Don't run over his house.

/is 1000 feet really so far?

by drumz on Jun 12, 2013 12:00 am • linkreport

"The police are afraid to give tickets on Colesville because it is too dangerous."

That's a rather strange claim.

"People are making jack rabbit starts, speeding, red light running, ignoring no right on red, texting, phoning, listening to their ipods."


Wring hands. Clutch pearls. Wash, rinse, repeat.

In the mean time, watch out for the jack rabbits.

by Frank IBC on Jun 12, 2013 12:00 am • linkreport

@ aWitC: "This is what she posted here 2 years ago."

Immediately followed by a DW post. Perfect. :)

by Frank IBC on Jun 12, 2013 12:54 am • linkreport

The reality is that any increase in the number of lanes pedestrians must cross increases the likelihood of fatalities.

Even the Planning Board staff takes this position, though they are getting a lot of pressure from the Planning Board and from the Transit Task Force to disregard it. (This is on video transcripts of this month's Planning Board work sessions)

Adding BRT lanes to existing auto lanes would endanger pedestrians. People who want both BRT and pedestrian safety should be prepared to commit to a position that trade-offs between BRT and autos should be zero-sum. Every BRT land added should mean an auto lane removed.

I’d be interested to know how many of the posters here actually think pedestrian safety is a “pet issue” or a “distraction.”

by profplanner on Jun 12, 2013 7:59 am • linkreport

BRT is just a bad solution for Montgomery County's transportation. Light rail and Metro extensions would attract substantially higher ridership with lower LIFE CYCLE costs, just higher "first costs".

A private email from one of the original planners for MEtro (1962-63) Ed Tennyson

When MetroRail came to Vienna VA. it replaced five express bus
lines, one serving Vienna's main drag, one from Fairfax City and
Oakton to Ballston, one from Fairfax INOVA Hospital and Merrifield
to Ballston and two from Fairfax City to Washington, DC express by
freeway all the way. In the peak hour those five bus lines dispatched
15 buses, 3 per line, with an average of 500 people total = 8.3 pass-
engers per minute. The Vienna Station today attracts 40 passengers
per minute, an increase of 380 %.
In the USA, we get our rail riders mostly from autos which is fine. We
got too few bus riders to matter. Those Vienna and Fairfax buses did
not run off peak. They did not attract enough passengers to afford to
run them even with considerable subsidy. The same was true for
The electric train attracts people seven days per week,18 hours per
day so train riders went up 700 % over bus and costs went down per
In 1969, Northern Virginia got the jump on Ottawa and Pittsburgh and
put Bus Rapid Transit from The Pentagon, the world's largest office build-
ing to Springfield VA, 12 miles in the median of what is now I-395. Many
bus iines were included with two to the end of the BusWay in Springfield.
Compared to the local road buses, it was a huge success, but it required
operating subsidy. The previous bus lines got no subsidy back then, so
when the "demonstration" was over, the subsidy stopped and the bus line
went out of business. The buses did not stop running. Government took
them over. From 1982, of the Second Energy Crisis, until1996, the Shirley
BusWay lost 67 % of its riders.
They went back to their private autos or drove to a Metro Station in
Alexandria. In 1997, MetroRail was extended to Springfield. The
BusWay was kept open to buses. One third of bus riders switched to
rail, but total train use went up 500 %, as in Vienna the trains attracted
so many more riders all day, every day.
The train is a 13-mile local ride for a cost (not fare) of $ 6.76 in 2011.
The bus is a 12-mile non-stop ride for a cost of $ $ 8.40 assuming it
is half as costly as the slower local buses. The lowest major city bus
cost is in Los Angeles at 64 cents per passenger-mile. At that rate the
cost would be $ 7.68, still no bargain.
E d T e n n y s o n


by Alan Drake ( on Jun 12, 2013 8:00 am • linkreport

@Geoffrey Hatchard, Well, I blame Fox News (and not for the usual stuff). They were trying to pit Pro. vs. Con of the BRT--but that's not what the lady's claim was. To her, it was the process... or she just didn't have enough good speaking points and blamed the process.

by Bob Smith on Jun 12, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

Owen: I fully agree. The media is afraid of asking representatives of certain issues to explain their positions. It's not just "one person's perspective" when that person is on the news building up and spreading a false narrative to aid their cause. If there is ample evidence that the narrative is false than the reporter needs to ask for clarification. But to say backroom deals shaped the project without asking her to explain her words, that's a huge barrier to making the democratic system function better. It sets a standard that some people, because they are very vocal or because they represent a specific issue that reporters are uncomfortable challenging, those individual people can say whatever they want and not get challenged to explain themselves. Hugely disappointing.

by Damon L. on Jun 12, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

Visually, even just the scene on set brings into sharp relief the changes the county is undergoing.
I'm not sure if I'm interpreting that correctly. What does that mean?

by selxic on Jun 13, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

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