Planners propose regional BRT system
A committee of the Transportation Planning Board has developed a Bus Rapid Transit network proposal spanning the entire region, from Laurel to Lorton. Regional leaders hope to submit this concept for the competitive grants authorized under the stimulus (ARRA) bill. This network would make a start toward improving transit on key regional routes in need of better transit service, and which we could also potentially upgrade to streetcars in the future.
The corridors are:
- Route 1 from Laurel to Lorton via Rhode Island Avenue, 7th and 9th Streets downtown, and Fort Belvoir
- Minnesota Avenue Metro to Foggy Bottom via Benning Road, H Street NE, and K Street NW
- Wheaton to downtown DC via Georgia Avenue and 16th Street
- College Park to Rockville via UMD, University Blvd, Wheaton, and Viers Mill Road
- City of Fairfax to Old Town Alexandria via Little River Turnpike and Duke Street
Projects eligible for these grants must have a national or regional scope, be completed in less than three-years in a cost-effective way, and create jobs. We could build these five lines with signal priority, some exclusive lanes or queue jumpers in congested areas, bus stops with fare prepayment and electronic real-time bus information, and low-floor buses for about $200 million; staff identified a "medium-investment" $110 million option that combines some elements for each route. To put this into perspective, VDOT is spending about $100 million on a single freeway interchange in Prince William County.
Metro is more than just a collection of lines; it's a complete system. Yet as Cavan pointed out on the Mikulski thread, transit planning shifted after Metro to building individual lines, one by one, at great cost and great controversy. Individual lines don't integrate together the way systems do. One BRT line would be a small step. A complete network, funded together with a large federal grant, could bring a lot more transit service quickly to many people.
If we build such a system, it's important to fund enough improvements to make this much more than just a hodgepodge of minor bus improvements. Every little bit helps, but building a true, high-speed line that can move quickly even at rush hour, avoid long bus boarding times, and provide real-time information like rail should draw riders to transit who would otherwise drive.
A BRT network is not as good as light rail or streetcars, but if we can get federal money to improve transit in the region, it's worth it. Streetcars and light rail lines will take many years, while this network could come online in 2012. We'll always have less dense corridors where BRT is the right mode, while we can one day upgrade these corridors to rails as new corridors get BRT.
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