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Better sidewalks? A tunnel? How can Bus Rapid Transit work in Rockville?

Under Montgomery County's newly-approved Bus Rapid Transit plan, two BRT lines would converge in the heart of Rockville. How can the city fit them into its space-constrained downtown?

Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

BRT lines would run along Route 355 between Clarksburg and Friendship Heights and on Veirs Mill Road from Wheaton to Rockville, meeting at the Rockville Metro station. Both lines are currently under study: the State Highway Administration expects to have a preferred alternative for Veirs Mill later this year, while Montgomery County has received state transportation funds to begin studying 355 this year.

But BRT will have to contend with busy roadways, a major transit hub, and a town center still being built out. "[BRT] would provide our residents with more travel options, so that would conceptually be a good thing," Rockville planner Andrew Gunning told the Gazette, "but we have challenges, too." We asked GGW contributors how they would approach this problem, and these were the principles and ideas they suggested.

Make walking safer and more comfortable

One key issue will be creating an inviting and safe environment for pedestrians trying to access BRT stations. Both 355 and Veirs Mill are currently dangerous environments with multiple lanes of traffic that alternate between congested and high-speed, depending on the time of day. It's a long way across 355 even with surface-level pedestrian improvements, and sidewalks are typically narrow and right against the roadway.

How Route 355 (Rockville Pike) in White Flint could become a boulevard. Image from the White Flint Partnership.

Wider sidewalks with buffers, shorter crossings for pedestrians, more time to cross at lights, and protection around crossings for median stations would be excellent first steps to creating a more welcoming environment for pedestrians, and could create more of a boulevard, as is planned for White Flint further south.

Rockville could also consider working with WMATA to improve the at-grade pedestrian entrance to the Metro station, which currently features a fence and two narrow, inconvenient walking routes.

Accept lane repurposing

To avoid creating an even more unsafe pedestrian environment, it's critical that Rockville repurpose street space for transit. Widening 355 to add bus lanes runs the risk of making it even more inaccessible to people on foot.

Last year, Montgomery County planners found that there's more than enough forecasted ridership to justify dedicating an existing lane for transit on both Veirs Mill and 355. Already, Ride On's 55 bus, serving 355 from Germantown to Rockville, carries an average of 8,000 passengers each weekday, making it one of the busiest bus routes in Montgomery County.

A broad study of cities that reduced street space for cars, even in congested areas, showed that traffic stays the same, or even disappears. With Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle and other cities moving to repurpose lanes for transit, Rockville would be in distinguished company.

Balance local convenience with corridor function

One of the central questions facing planners will be whether to stay on 355 or deviate onto local streets to better serve Rockville Town Center. Having a stop at the Metro station to facilitate transfers seems obvious, but all of Rockville's main destinations, including the county government, shops, and restaurants, are closer to East Middle Lane and North Washington Street.

Keeping BRT on 355 would speed up running times and provide an impetus to make it more of a pedestrian friendly boulevard, but deviating could pick up more riders by serving the popular town center. On the other hand, existing local bus service could connect the town center to a BRT stop at the Metro station, particularly for those that have limited mobility.

Montgomery College Rockville campus map.

Serving Montgomery College, many of whose 60,000+ students are transit dependent, will also be critical, but it's not yet clear where the best station location might be. Currently, buses deviate from 355 onto Mannakee Street to serve the college. However, it is not a far walk to the corner of 355 and Mannakee, and an improved walking path could make it desirable to keep BRT on 355 to save time. An alternative could be a BRT station between Mannakee Street and North Campus Drive, where a new path could provide a shorter connection to classroom buildings.

Think creatively

Planners should consider how underutilized spaces could play a role in accommodating BRT. One example is Metro's parking lot just north of the Rockville station across Park Road. This area could become a BRT station, or have buses rerouted there to make room for BRT directly in the existing bus bay.

Parking lot adjacent to Rockville Metro to the northwest. Image from Google Maps.

Alternatively, a station at the Rockville Metro could utilize an existing vertical asset: the pedestrian bridge crossing Route 355. A station in the median of the road directly below the bridge with staircases or elevators going up could provide a direct, covered connection to the Metro.

While we're dreaming, a really ambitious overhaul of the area from the intersection with Viers Mill to the Metro station would create a Dupont Circle-like intersection that carries express traffic on 355 under Route 28 and continues underground past the Metro station. With through traffic passing underground in a tunnel, the city could extend the local Rockville street grid to reunite its town center with the Metro, creating a much more connected and attractive access to Metro, MARC, and BRT.

Ben Ross, David Versel, Dan Reed, Ethan Goffman, and Dan Malouff all contributed to this post. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Kelly Blynn is a former DC resident and an advocate for sustainable transportation and equitable development. She is now a graduate student in the Masters in City Planning program at MIT and a co-founding member of the pedestrian advocacy group All Walks DC. 


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IIRC, the published study of the 355-North corridor (Rockville-Clarksburg) did not include any station between the Rockville Metro and MC-Rockville. Unless that changes, the only logical route is along 355. For what it's worth, RideOn 46 and 55 buses currently run west of Town Center along Washington Street, 55 buses also serve Middle Lane, and 45 buses actually run through TC on the one-way pair of Gibbs and Maryland.

by Adam S on Mar 18, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

The Committee's "How 355 could look" graphic only lacks the addition of painted-in rainbows, a Sleeping Beauty Castle and flying puppies to look more realistic.
Makes me laugh every time.

by asffa on Mar 18, 2014 3:18 pm • linkreport

MCC ridership is the number one ridership stop on 355 and it sounds like you want to kick them. The diverse college students riding tend not to be the world's most wealthy, and I suspect BRT developers and Committees want a "choice" rider bus system for the financial elite to never use.

You propose the many disabled of MCC find some unknown alternative or use the Metro station (*facepalm*), the rest of the student ridership (likely encumbered by books, etc. get dropped a half-mile away on the road. MCC students are the NUMBER one ridership grouping on 355 - and you suggest they should have to walk a total of a whole extra mile each day? Those taking the 48 to MCC already do that by their choice. But more people seem to choose to ride the Qs.

Also, the on-campus stop is the best on the 355 route and hence probably doesn't need a(who knows how many million $$) brand new station. It has benches, cover, and it's comfortable where many stops on 355 don't even have a bench. (Only quibble about it is it can't get wifi). You want to spend millions on making bus service better, focus on the lacking and unpopular areas rather than planning to replace the nice ones or cut them altogether.

There's really enough SSTC and Rt. 460 fiascos taking place in this region. The public living nearby was queried and most don't want all this to happen. Thankfully, it probably won't. We can hope

by asffa on Mar 18, 2014 4:48 pm • linkreport

I live in King Farm and would love to see BRT come to 355. I have a car but this might convince me to leave it home more often.

by AL on Mar 18, 2014 10:15 pm • linkreport

How did 460 become a regional/GGW issue?

by selxic on Mar 18, 2014 10:31 pm • linkreport

So the author suggest "Metro's parking lot just north of the Rockville station across Park Road. This area could become a BRT station, or have buses rerouted there to make room for BRT directly in the existing bus bay."

Kinda "separate but equal" for the regular buses vs BRT which would possible be used by a different clientèle; instead of racial would be economic segregation!

Why not have all buses regardless of what type stop in the same area. What about redesigning the west side entrance bus bays by getting rid of the parking and the two entrance loop. Most Metrorail stations waste space with inefficient loops that give too much space to grass, personal cars or taxis it should be for buses first and especially Metrobuses.

For Montgomery College Is there any reasons buses do not loop around Mannakee Street, West Campus Drive & North Campus Drive back to Hungerford Drive.

Perhaps with stops around the campus near buildings according to the above map GU, MT, SC, MK and Parking Lot 5 or one large bus stop at Lot 11 near buildings CB & AR which is about the center of campus.

Though for the long term how much would it cost for a Mannakee Street/Montgomery College Rockville Metrostation its just about directly inbetween Rockville & Shady Grove

by kk on Mar 19, 2014 2:31 am • linkreport

kk MCC buses have a loop in campus that is quicker.

by asffa on Mar 19, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

kk See the South campus drive bus stop in the campus, within a little loop? The buses run that loop. It's a nice stop and the number one bus ridership destination on 355.

by asffa on Mar 19, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

AL King Farm has lots of bus service, and is ridiculously convenient to Metrorail. If you drive almost all the time right now, you won't change because an overpriced elite bus service gets added near your McMansion.

by asffa on Mar 19, 2014 9:47 am • linkreport

It also provides a quick way to deal with Red Line crowding - especially if the major repairs to deal with flooding happen in the near future.

by Capt. Hilts on Mar 19, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

@asffa I beg to differ. I would seriously consider taking a BRT line if it went down 355 to points in Rockville or up to Gaithersburg. It would need to run frequently and dependably, and have more closely-spaced stops than Metro.

I concede that I live very close to Shady Grove Metro, which I take to my job in DC. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see more options for local travel.

How is BRT "elite"? I haven't seen any info on fares.

PS I'm not sure what your definition of "McMansion" is, but FYI King Farm is full of townhouses and 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. (I live in one of the latter.) It's not a McMansion neighborhood.

by AL on Mar 19, 2014 9:25 pm • linkreport

@ asffa

I know there is a loop there my question is why is the loop or any stop at the college not closer to the majority of the buildings ?

"It's a nice stop and the number one bus ridership destination on 355." So you're telling me this stop has higher ridership than Shady Grove, Rockville, White Flint, Twinbrook, Medical Center or Bethesda ?

by kk on Mar 20, 2014 1:21 am • linkreport

kk you get to the Metro to get somewhere else. MCC is a destination.

by asffa on Mar 21, 2014 6:29 pm • linkreport

I've also heard the suggestion of getting rid of 255 Rockville Pike directly across from Rockville Metro, which is an undersized building for the location, and replacing it with the BRT station, perhaps with a taller building on top. The pedestrian bridge would then ferry people to Metro and Ride On. However, in this case, improvements to the current pedestrian bridge might be advisable.

by Ethan on Mar 22, 2014 6:47 pm • linkreport

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