Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Montgomery approves countywide BRT plan

After 5 years of study, Montgomery County approved a plan for a 10-route, 81-mile Bus Rapid Transit network this morning. If built, it could be the nation's largest BRT network.


Swift BRT near Seattle. Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

The County Council unanimously voted for a plan to set aside road space for BRT on several major roads, including Route 355, Route 29, Georgia Avenue, and Veirs Mill Road, all of which already have high rates of transit use. It proposes dedicated bus lanes in 78% of the network, whether by repurposing existing lanes or widening roads to add new ones.

Supporters say the plan will give travelers an alternative to sitting in traffic while supporting future sustainable growth in places like White Flint and White Oak. "There's no real way forward in this county without transit," says Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first proposed a BRT network in 2008.

Now that the plan's approved, the county can begin detailed work on specific routes. Department of Transportation director Art Holmes wants to look at Route 355, Route 29, and Randolph Road first, while the Maryland State Highway Administration is already studying BRT on Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road.


The approved BRT network. Red are corridors with at least one dedicated lane, blue are mixed-traffic, and purple are sections to be determined.

The plan has been controversial. While many civic, environmental, activist, and business groups endorsed BRT, a vocal minority in neighborhoods like Four Corners and Chevy Chase West fought the plan based on claims that it would take their property or endanger their children.

In response, councilmembers added language to the plan that would create more opportunities for public input. Each BRT corridor will have its own Citizens Advisory Committee of local stakeholders. And the council approved an amendment from Councilmember Valerie Ervin to not allow funding for BRT projects unless there's a public hearing first.

"We've taken almost unprecedented steps in this plan to make sure our communities are engaged," said Councilmember Roger Berliner, chair of the council's transportation committee.

Though all nine councilmembers voted for the plan, not all of them were satisfied with it. Echoing many skeptics of BRT, Councilmember Nancy Floreen noted that most Montgomery County residents drive, and that the BRT may not deliver as promised. "Montgomery County is largely suburban, and I think it's going to stay that way," she said.

It's true that this plan won't solve all of the county's transportation issues, as skeptics and opponents frequently point out. But the alternatives, whether it's improving existing bus service, building more highways, or extending Metro, are either too small, too destructive, or too expensive to really make a difference. And in a county with a growing number of car-free residents, increasing transit use, and an eagerness to attract young people, finding cost-effective ways to expand our transit network can do a lot of good.

Montgomery County has a million residents and 500,000 workers, 60% of whom live and work here. Cities half our size wouldn't think twice about investing in better transit. While the fight may not be over, we just made a pragmatic step in the right direction.

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also 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. 

Comments

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This ain't over and the Post raises the question, will it even get off the ground?

But if it does, I think it will be transforming for public transportation in the US.

I think that Los Angeles could really benefit for a wide spread BRT program like this.

by Billy Bob on Nov 26, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

Out of curiosity, will each BRT route consist of a BRT-only "line", or will buses be able to use the BRT lanes as trunk routes and then branch out into local routes in other areas? Will the BRT lanes only be used by one agency, or will WMATA and RideOn and whoever else be able to share them?

by jfruh on Nov 26, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

@jfruh

We don't know that yet. The plan only looks at what corridors are appropriate for BRT, but it's unclear how the actual service would work or who would run them.

My guess is that the eventual BRT service would resemble existing routes, like the Q buses, which run on Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road and Route 355. Montgomery County has talked about creating its own transit authority to run the service, but since WMATA is already moving towards BRT, it might be practical to use a model similar to Alexandria, which is building a transitway on Route 1 for service that WMATA will run.

by dan reed! on Nov 26, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

I live in Four Corners, home of the "vocal minority" and I'm really happy BRT got approved.
Unfortunately most of my neighbors are strongly against the idea.
They think each BRT station at the intersection will be the size of the Silver Spring Transit Center... seriously.
My neighbors seem to think BRT will somehow make 29 and University Blvd dangerous for pedestrians, which is ridiculous because the 8+ lanes of 45 MPH car traffic passing through the intersection are already extremely hazardous for people on foot. Taking away a lane each direction for buses will mean fewer car lanes to cross, which will actually make the roads safer.
The ironic part is that most of these people begin their arguments against BRT by saying they "support transit".
They want less traffic but they don't want to make the changes necessary to achieve that goal, it's a real shame.

by Sean on Nov 26, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

May as well stop the 355 line at the Bethesda Metro Center. Trying to get in to Friendship Heights during morning rush will end up being a deal killer for those riders.

by William on Nov 26, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

"There's no real way forward in this county without transit," says Councilmember Marc Elrich,

While I applaud Mr. Elrich's efforts to move this forward,I don't understand his recent vote against up-zoning in the Long Branch sector plan.

by Thayer-D on Nov 26, 2013 8:35 pm • linkreport

I cannot imagine where planners think they can remove lanes from the current mess and turn them over to BRT.

by AndrewJ on Nov 27, 2013 7:07 am • linkreport

While the state highway administration is looking at BRT on the North Georgia route (Olney to Wheaton) it has already ruled out using dedicated lanes on the South Georgia route for the section between Forest Glen and 16th. This is because it would make that section hazardous for pedestrians and drivers. So you would have to take an existing curb lane for what would in effect be an express bus service, not BRT. (I am a member of the stakeholders group for this particular study.)

by Woody Brosnan on Nov 27, 2013 8:20 am • linkreport

Once the entire MoCo tax paying public gets further information about this brt stuff there will be an increasing number of opposition towards it....

by Rick on Nov 27, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

What does the Council think this will do to vehicular traffic? If it's going to make it worse, they need to abandon this plan. If traffic is worse, then safety is worse, too. More accidents then occur of all kinds - for cars, pedestrians, and bikes. If the main road gets tied up, the side residential roads get dangerous with people cutting through, road rage, traffic priority problems, and more.
This plan was rushed through in approval, without looking for adequate public input. "Public input" is not Rockefeller lobbies getting private meetings with Council nor just asking Larry Cole for his opinions.

by asffa on Nov 27, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

Why aren't they running twice as many Q buses on routes where there's demand and the buses are crowded? Why aren't stops getting more benches and/or shelters - instead of requiring most people to stand in the elements? People ask for things like that, and get no response. BRT isn't the same thing, and not what current ridership wants.

by asffa on Nov 27, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

"What does the Council think this will do to vehicular traffic? If it's going to make it worse, they need to abandon this plan. "

That is the $64,000 question. The whole point of the BRT would be to take cars off the road and, for lots of people, improve traffic. Of course, that's dependent on lots of people deciding that taking the BRT bus is better than fighting traffic -- quicker, and maybe even cheaper than paying for the gas. I have my doubts that we can spontaneously create a bus-riding culture in the suburbs...but that's what it will require.

The Council aren't idiots. They understand that, too. Of course, to make that attitudinal shift, traffic would have to get worse first. So, there's that.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Nov 27, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

And, yeah,i f you're going to ask thousands of people to switch to commuting by bus, shelters will have to be provided....and they should be on all routes. Earlier, I passed a stop -- no shelter -- where one person was braving the elements to wait for a bus (in Howard County). It's definitely a chicken/egg thing. People say there isn't the ridership (or even demand) to support the level of investment, but without the investment, few people will endure what it takes to travel by bus in the 'burbs.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Nov 27, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

The Viers Mill BRT, Glenmont BRT, CCT, and North Bethesda Transitway comprise most of this plan and have been on the books for two decades but little advanced planning has been completed on any of them until recently. If anyone thinks this BRT plan is new they should think again. Marc Elrich is not the first person to think of this idea.

by Cyrus on Dec 2, 2013 1:08 am • linkreport

@Sean

If you think this will reduce congestion in an area with 11 Beltway ramps, I have a bridge to sell.

Also on the distorted comment about transit centers...the area would require 2 to 6 Stations (not transit centers). Each station would be 150 feet long and 15 feet wide. One on each side adds 30 feet to the width of the road or the equivalent of 3 lanes. Where would they go?

by KPD on Dec 2, 2013 6:13 pm • linkreport

@KPD

You make a common argument:

"BRT won't make traffic any better because BRT won't go on the beltway"

Here's how BRT will reduce congestion in an area with 11 beltway ramps: it will take away more of the through traffic, so people actually going to the beltway will have less cars on the road with them. the Z buses don't go on the beltway, but they're packed at rush hour. The C2 and C4 buses don't go on the beltway, yet those routes are also crowded at rush hour. 29 and University don't end at the beltway ramps. There are many people who travel between Downtown Silver Spring and White Oak/Fairland/Burtonsville etc. There are also alot of people who travel between Langley Park and Wheaton. Once the people who currently drive this route see that the bus isn't bogged down in the same traffic as all the other vehicles, they will have an incentive to take the bus and eave their car at home. This will mean less cars on the road and less congestion for all.

If you're worried about merge lanes for the beltway being taken away, don't be. There are examples of merge lanes and dedicated BRT lanes co-existing successfully in places like LA and Seattle that already have BRT. Do some research if you don't believe me.

"Where will the stations go?"

The stations do not need to be as large as you describe, in terms of both width and length. Even the longer Metro buses aren't more than 60 feet long, so the stations do not need to be 150 feet. They also don't need to be 15 feet wide. The current bus stops with shelters take up 6-8 feet of sidewalk space, the BRT stations will not need to be wider than that. I'm sure the experts will decide what the least invasive locations for the stations are. So we won't have to worry about the Woodmoor shopping center, or any other large commercial establishment at the intersection, being torn down to make way for the BRT stations.

The plan isn't perfect, but it's the only real shot Four Corners has at reducing the current unsustainable level of congestion (unless we want to grade-separate the intersection like they did at Randolph Rd and 29, but that's a non-starter).

How much are you selling that bridge for?

by Sean on Dec 2, 2013 7:34 pm • linkreport

@sean
You make a common argument based on words and wishful thinking but not facts.

In lengthy discusions with transportation engineers not a single one would assert that this would reduce congestion in the area. They actually said it would be worse. They are the experts you refer to.

Second, what you are referring to is not the BRT service, but bus service (which I currently use on both Colesville and University). You should take some time to read the plans and studies, look at the cross sections and the state requirements.

The BRT will not be accommodated at the local bus stops you refer to. The stations have very definite requirements If you read the plans you would also see that the minimum right of way required for a one way busway with stations is is 147 feet. For a two way busway, its 160 feet. That's the minimum. That's the equivalent of adding 5-6 lanes since the current right of way along Colesvile varies from 70-100 feet.

I'm not "worried" about Beltway lanes being removed. They clearly won't be. The purpose of pointing out the proximity to the Beltway is to say that most of the traffic in the area is a combination of Beltway traffic and area residents coming and going. This isn't Seattle or LA or or even DC.

The false dichotomy of BRT or grade separated interchange reflects faulty assumptions and deception. So much more could be done for current services but this campaign for BRT as the only answer everywhere detracts resources from what could be done now to improve service.

by kpd on Dec 4, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

"I have my doubts that we can spontaneously create a bus-riding culture in the suburbs...but that's what it will require."

EF

I invite you to come to the Pentagon bus station at evening rush hour on any typical weekday.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 4, 2013 11:40 am • linkreport

"If you read the plans you would also see that the minimum right of way required for a one way busway with stations is is 147 feet. "

source for this?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 4, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

@KPD

I agree with AWITC, I'd like to see your sources for that info.

You say "so much more could be done for current (bus) services" so what are your ideas? I'd love to hear them.

I think the improvements for current service should involve bus-only lanes, payment at the stop before boarding the bus, better bus stops (level boarding), and if possible; signal priority. Sounds alot like BRT to me.

To address your concerns about road widening, Colesville is too narrow to support a two lane dedicated median busway... its even too narrow to support a one lane busway. The median is just six feet wide slightly north of the intersection with 193, directly across from the CVS (see map)

https://maps.google.com/?ll=39.021107,-77.012114&spn=0.000633,0.001321&t=h&z=20

It is my opinion that they should use the existing curb lanes for the buses and leave the other 2 or 3 lanes for car traffic.

Like I said before, in the end the best option will be chosen for Four Corners. If you want better bus service and less cars on the road, you ought to support BRT.

Unless you have a better idea...

by Sean on Dec 4, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

Will BRT get crippled by snowstorms like the current MetroBus system?

by john espinosa on Feb 16, 2014 9:24 pm • linkreport

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