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Transit


Montgomery County will build bus rapid transit in four years

After nearly a decade of debate, Montgomery County wants to build a bus rapid transit line in four years, for 20% of the originally estimated cost. While it'll be a better bus service, it may not be so rapid.


Montgomery County could get this, sort of. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Last month, the county announced its plan to build a 14-mile BRT line along Route 29 (also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike) from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Burtonsville. It's part of a larger, 80-mile system that's been studied since 2008 and was officially approved in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett wants to have this line up and running by the end of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The county also says they can do it for $67.2 million, compared to the $350 million county planners previously predicted.

How? Most bus rapid transit systems, like the new Metroway in Northern Virginia, have a separate roadway for buses that gets them out of traffic and provides a shorter, more reliable travel time.

On Route 29, the county envisions running buses on the shoulder between Burtonsville and Tech Road, where it's basically a highway. Further south, as Route 29 becomes more of a main street, the county would turn existing travel lanes into HOV-2 lanes for buses and carpools. For about three miles closer to downtown Silver Spring, buses would run in mixed traffic. This setup allows the county to build the line without widening the road anywhere, which saves on land and construction costs.


Map from Montgomery County.

The line would have other features that can reduce travel time and improve the current bus riding experience. Each of the 17 stations would feel more like a train station, with covered waiting areas, real-time travel info, and fare machines so riders can pay before getting on. At some stoplights, buses would get the green light before other vehicles. Buses would come every six minutes during rush hour, and every 10 minutes the rest of the time.

County officials estimate that 17,000 people will use the service each day by 2020 and 23,000 people will ride it each day in 2040. The line, which would be part of the county's Ride On bus system, would replace express Metrobus routes along Route 29, though existing local bus routes would remain.

Montgomery County would cover half the cost of building the line, while the other half would come from the US Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program for small-scale transportation projects. In addition, the grant would include money for sidewalks, bike lanes, covered bike parking at stations, and 10 bikesharing stations along the corridor. The county will find out if it's won the grant money this fall.

The project could give Montgomery County somewhat better transit now

This plan could bring better bus service to East County, which has been waiting for rapid transit since it was first proposed in 1981. The Metrobus Z-line along Route 29 is one of the region's busiest, with over 11,000 boardings each day, but riders face delays and long waits.

East County lacks the investment that more affluent parts of the county enjoy, and so residents must travel long distances for jobs, shopping, or other amenities. Residents suffer from poor access to economic opportunities: according to the county's grant application, 30% of the area's 47,000 households are "very low income." County officials hope that better transit could support big plans to redevelop White Oak and Burtonsville.

While not having dedicated transit lanes makes this project easy to build, it also makes it hard to provide a fast, reliable transit trip. Enforcing the HOV lanes will be hard, especially south of New Hampshire Avenue where the blocks are short and drivers are constantly turning onto Route 29 from side streets. And without dedicated lanes in congested Four Corners, buses will simply get stuck in traffic with everyone else, discouraging people from riding them.

The route also includes two spurs along Lockwood Drive and Briggs Chaney Road, each of which serves large concentrations of apartments where many transit riders live, but would force buses on huge, time-consuming detours. One possibility is that some buses could go straight up Route 29 while others take the scenic route. But that's basically how the existing bus service on the corridor already works.

This could make the case for rapid transit

This might be a temporary solution. The county and state of Maryland will continue planning a "real" bus rapid transit line that might have its own transitway, but that could take several years.

In the meantime, the county needs to build support for better transit. BRT has broad support across the county, but many residents are still skeptical. Supporters and opponents alike have been confused and frustrated by the lack of information on the county's progress in recent months.

By getting something on the ground now, Montgomery County can show everyone how BRT really works sooner, rather than later. Despite the shorter timeframe, it's important to make sure this service actually improves transit, and that residents actually know what's going on.

Transit


BRT on Route 7 is getting closer to actually happening

In the fall, there were two leading options for new transit along Route 7: bus rapid transit or light rail. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently settled on plans to move forward with BRT.


Rendering of a future BRT station. Image from Envision Route 7.

Virginia's Route 7 is a major road in Virginia that connects a number of dense communities that already use a lot of transit. The road is also one of the region's oldest, with some sections dating back to colonial times. It runs through both Bailey's Crossroads and Seven Corners, some of the densest places in Northern Virginia that don't have direct access to a Metro station. Both also have a large number of low-income families, meaning much of the population is pretty dependent on transit.

Route 7 also connects a number of places that are becoming more urban, like Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, along with growing employment centers like Alexandria's Mark Center.

Right now, Route 7 is a fairly straight shot between Alexandria and Tysons. But heavy traffic slows down current transit options, and a connection via Metro isn't nearly as direct, which eliminates the time savings the train usually provides. Better transit for Route 7 would mean quicker journeys between these major and already dense destinations.

Here's the plan for Route 7 BRT

As part of its Envision Route 7 project, an effort to bring better transit to Route 7, the NVTC studied both light rail and simply expanding current bus service. Earlier this month, though, it picked a BRT system that would run from the Spring Hill Metro Station in Tyson's Corner to the Mark Center in Alexandria.

The BRT plan would include more frequent buses and dedicated bus-only lanes. Both would speed up bus trips for people who need or want to take public transportation along Route 7, with less waiting and less time sitting in traffic.

Bus lanes wouldn't be everywhere. In some places, like downtown Falls Church, the road is comparatively narrow and hemmed in by buildings, so new lanes wouldn't fit. But bus lanes will go in some of the places where congestion is usually the worst, like at the Seven Corners interchange.

Other ideas plan to improve the bus stations themselves by making them bigger and more comfortable for people waiting for the bus. This would also include changes that would make it easier to walk to a bus stop from a nearby neighborhood. Another proposal is making sure traffic lights can favor buses via signal priority, which would cut time spent waiting at red lights.

BRT won out for a few reasons, but the biggest was cost

BRT scored well on factors like how it would affect future zoning changes and overall trip times and speed, but the main reason NVTC went with BRT is because it's much cheaper to build than any rail option.

Planners think they can put BRT on Route 7 for between $220 and $270 million. None of that money has been committed yet, so leaders in Fairfax, Falls Church, and Alexandria will have to work together and with the state and federal government to come up with it.


Some of the ratings criteria in picking a travel mode for Route 7. Image from Envision Route 7.

The initial planning considered a few different route options that would require a system to veer off of Route 7 to make some connections easier. For example, a number of people surveyed pushed hard for a connection to the East Falls Church Metro Station, which is about a mile from the road. Another reason BRT won out was that it's easier to be flexible in planning its route.

Opponents often chip away at BRT projects

BRT does face challenges and pitfalls, and those haven't gone anywhere for this project. "BRT creep," for example, is when the product on the road don't exactly match the nice renderings of buses gliding along dedicated lanes because fears of vehicle congestion meant chipping away at project features. Other examples of BRT creep include shortening dedicated lanes or eliminating them altogether, or cutting the frequency with which buses run.


Route 7 near Seven Corners, with enough right of way to fit in some bus lanes. Image from Google Maps.

Another fear is that even when dedicated lanes go in, the desire to maintain a certain number of other travel lanes could mean a roadway that's impossibly wide to cross on foot. An example of that is in Rockville, where a desire to fit BRT lanes in with cars, parking, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks led to a road that is almost hilariously wide.


A Route 7 bus stop today. Image from Envision Route 7.

Is a Northern Virginia BRT network forthcoming?

The region's first BRT system, Metroway, is already running in Northern Virginia between Alexandria and Arlington. That route links growing communities in Potomac Yard and Crystal City to various Metro stations. Alexandria is also planning for BRT along Beauregard Street as well. Further down the line, Fairfax is thinking about transit solutions along Gallows Road between Merrifield and Tyson's Corner, and it may go with BRT.

BRT along Route 7 could link up with all of these services in a variety of ways. Here, the flexibility of buses could be a big help, as some routes may be able to use dedicated lanes or special stations even on different routes.

This is an opportunity where the region could turn the threat of BRT creep into a positive thing. Bus service already runs along Route 7 and there is even an express service. Frequencies on both could be increased (with the express getting all day service) and advertised to potential riders.

Meanwhile other features like bigger stations and dedicated lines could come along gradually. As Seven Corners adds more housing and a street grid, Fairfax could begin painting dedicated lanes and building nicer bus stations. This could also happen towards Alexandria and Tysons as sections of Route 7 come up for redesign.

We're still quite early in the planning stages. Right now, the governments involved need to think about if they're willing to fund the project. But if they can get it done, the project could be a big hit right out the gate since many communities along Route 7 already have what it takes to make up a great transit corridor. They just need the transit to prove it.

Transit


Crystal City's Metroway BRT is open and carrying passengers

The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway officially opened on Sunday, upgrading Metroway bus service to bona fide bus rapid transit in Arlington.


27th & Crystal station. All photos by the author.

Metroway runs between Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations. For much of its route between Crystal City and Potomac Yard, it runs in dedicated bus lanes, making it the Washington region's first real foray into BRT.

The Alexandria portion of the transitway opened in 2014. Arlington's portion through Crystal City opened yesterday, Sunday, April 17.

Through Potomac Yard, the transitway runs in a totally exclusive busway—a completely separate road from the regular lanes.


27th & Crystal station.

Stations in the busway have substantial arched roofs and attractive wall panels.


South Glebe station.

Through Crystal City, bus lanes and bus stations hug the curb.


18th & Crystal station.

Since northbound buses run a block away from southbound buses, bus stations are smaller through this section. They're more like large bus stops.


23rd & Clark station.

Crystal City is pretty quiet on Sundays, so there weren't many opening day riders, and buses only came every 20 minutes. During the week there'll be a lot more riders, and buses will run every 6-12 minutes depending on the time of day.

Head over to Crystal City and check it out! Or see more pictures of both the Arlington and Alexandria transitway sections via Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Both DC and Arlington open bus lanes this month

April is going to be a huge month for bus lanes. On Monday, April 11, DC will open a four block stretch on Georgia Avenue. Then on Sunday, April 17, Arlington will open the Crystal City transitway.


Crystal City transitway station. Photo by Arlington.

Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue's bus lanes will run just four blocks, from Florida Avenue to Barry Place. They'll be curbside lanes, with normal bus stops on the sidewalk.


Location of Georgia Avenue bus lanes. Image from DC and Google.

Four blocks is short, but this location is specifically one of the slowest stretches WMATA's busy 70-series bus line passes through. Bus lanes here will speed the entire line.

Just as importantly, this will be a test project for DDOT to study, and to learn about bus lane implementation. In May, crews will add red paint to the roadway to make the bus lanes more visually obvious. By adding the red surface later, DDOT will gather data on whether the red really does dissuade car drivers from using the lanes illegally.


Red-painted curbside bus lane in New York. Photo by NACTO.

If Georgia Avenue's four block bus lanes prove successful, they could provide a model for the citywide transit lane network envisioned in moveDC. They could also one day form the backbone of a future Georgia Avenue streetcar.

They're short, but they're important.

Crystal City

Get ready for bona fide BRT.

On Sunday the 17th, Arlington will open the second half of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, better known as Metroway. The first half opened in 2014 in Alexandria, and was the Washington region's first foray into BRT.

The new Crystal City transitway section will run from Crystal City Metro south to Alexandria, where it will join the existing busway. It'll be a mix of curbside bus lanes and fully exclusive bi-directional busway.


Crystal City transitway. Image by Arlington.

The DC region once had 60 miles of bus-only lanes. With these projects finally happening, and others like 16th Street on the horizon, it's exciting to see a reborn network begin to take shape.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Who needs Metro? Duck Rapid Transit is the answer to the Blue Line crunch

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Metro's total shutdown earlier this month forced many people to travel by other means for the day. But maybe that's just the way things should be. All the time. It would be much cheaper to get around using existing water infrastructure if the region built Duck Rapid Transit (DuRT).


Concept rendering of a possible Washington-area DuRT line from the from the Institute for Tub and Duck Policy (ITDP). Base duck photo by Jonathan Chen.

DuRT would be perfect for the Washington region, especially the overburdened Blue Line. With minimal investment, passengers could ride aboard a high-speed fleet of DC Duck Tours' amphibious boat/bus vehicles, running primarily on the Potomac River but also on dedicated Duck Occupancy/Toll (DOT) lanes in both Virginia and DC. Travel times would be competitive with Metro.

"Why isn't now the time to ask whether we should keep investing in the Metro system?" asked Thomas O. T. B. Fired, a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. "Any reasonable metric shows it's not a good form of transit compared to other ones."

If Fired had his way, he said he would close Metro. He was previously quoted by the Washington Post's Kendrick Bunkle saying he'd fill in the tunnels with dirt, but we now know Bunkle misheard him and he really meant DuRT.

Here's one possible transit line alignment, with stops at eight existing Metro stations: Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Pentagon, Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Dupont Circle, and U Street. A future stop could also be added at the Watergate complex.

The idea garners mixed reviews

The Georgetown Business Improvement District, which spearheaded a study of a gondola from Rosslyn, is eager to see an analysis. "I just want a feasibility study of DuRT," said BID director Stone Jerlieb. However, some residents immediately inveigled against the idea on the local listserv. In response to counter-arguments that this is far in the future, local neighborhood curmudgeon, Ima Ghenstytt, said she had to be opposed "just to be sure."

It's also unclear if Georgetown could even get a DuRT stop, but the BID isn't worried. "The line for Georgetown Cupcake starts in Foggy Bottom, anyway," said Bill Footsfield, BID Coordination Coordinator.

In addition to new Duck Loops at each of the stations, the route would require the construction of ramps to connect dedicated lanes along existing roads like I-95, Virginia 110, and New Hampshire Avenue to waterways like Backlick Run, Cameron Run, and the Potomac River, including a funicular ramp near Key Bridge.

Local transportation innovator Gabe Gross also roundly applauded the idea, saying, "This is a bold step towards having fully accountable public-private partnerships operate all of America's transit. Also, having more transportation options improves the region's resilience in the face of imminent disasters, like floods and electrical cable insulation."

DC Ducks could receive the same fares and public subsidy levels that the Blue Line currently receives, but DuRT operating costs would be lower than Metrorail, since the vehicles can be powered primarily by stale bread crumbs.

The DC government actually considered DuRT under former DDOT head Tan "Danger" Lini. That concept would have further extended the line to Columbia Heights by making the Meridian Hill Park fountain into a log flume. But that plan foundered after the National Park Service told DC it would require a public EIS process that would conclude, at the earliest, on April 1, 2036.

Some park advocates also opposed the idea at the time. Referring to the alignment near the Watergate, Ivana Park, co-chair of the Committee to Re-Engineer Extant Plans (CREEP), said, "The 1930 landscape plan for this area does not show the canal being used for boat transportation, so this use would plainly violate the historic nature of the C&O National Historical Park."

Will people ride it?

A major criticism of DuRT nationwide is whether riding on a duck boat carries a stigma as compared to more upscale-seeming vehicles. For that reason, some cities have tried using swan boats instead.

Miami politicians recently asked to replace a duck project, long in planning, to swans. "People don't like to take ducks," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, "unless they have no alternative."

But proponents like Yorick Yoffe of Citylab argue that these are myths, and if a good-quality DuRT line were built, people would ride it.

The US has not successfully built a DuRT line without it devolving to a bathtub-sized project through "DuRTy Creep," but proponents hope a Backlick Run/Potomac River line could be the one that finally succeeds.

Roads


Rockville misses the forest for the trees with its plan for an 18-lane mega main street

Rockville Pike could one day become a 252-foot-wide mega boulevard with 12 car lanes, 4 bike lanes, 2 bus lanes, and over 50 feet of landscaping. But in designing a street with more than ample room for cars, bikes, and buses, planners abandon any hope the street will be walkable.


The plan for Rockville Pike. Image from Rockville.

Everybody gets a lane!

Rockville Pike is one the most important retail strip highways in the Washington region. Like most 20th Century retail roads, it's designed for cars, and it carries a lot of them.

Rockville wants to make it a more urban main street, so planners there are drawing up a redevelopment plan. It's a laudable goal, and it's not easy on a high-traffic state highway like Rockville Pike.

At first glance, this plan has all the components of a good complete street design: Tree-lined sidwalks, protected bikeways, a center-running dedicated busway. Every mode gets all the street width it could possibly want.

And why not? Why go through the political headache of forcing the community to make the difficult choice between fewer car lanes versus bikes or BRT if you can fit everything in? With a mega boulevard like this, everybody gets what they want, and nobody loses. Right?

Wrong.

Walkability loses, and it's the most important factor

At 252 feet wide, the new Rockville Pike will be practically impossible for pedestrians to cross. It will take multiple traffic light cycles and multiple minutes for anyone to cross.

Instead of a main street, Rockville will have a barrier. And that is a big problem for the rest of the plan.

Transit oriented development doesn't work unless it's walkable. If Rockville Pike is too wide, development on one side of the street will be effectively cut-off from development on the other side. Riders won't be able to easily access the BRT stations. People will drive for even short trips. The concept of a community where people don't need to drive everywhere will break down.

If you can't walk, other multimodal options don't work. Pedestrians are the linchpin to the whole thing.

To be sure, some level of compromise is always needed. If walkability were the only factor that mattered, all streets would be pedestrian-only. We add in car lanes, bike lanes, and transit because we have to make longer trips possible, and that's a good thing.

But there's a balance, and 252 feet veers so far to accommodate long distance travel that it seriously sacrifices short distance walking. In so doing, Rockville undermines the very foundation on which its redevelopment plans rest.


The Rockville Pike plan is wider than Paris' famously wide Champs-Élysées. Photo by Justin.li on Flickr.

Make pedestrians a priority

The Pike needs to be narrower. Assuming the sidewalks, busway, and three general car lanes each direction are sacrosanct, that still leaves a lot of potential fat to trim.

Are the service roads really necessary if the plan also includes new parallel local streets? Do we really need redundant bi-direction bikeways next to both sidewalks? Could we possibly reduce the 74 feet of various landscaping, buffer, and turn lanes?

These would be difficult trade-offs, to be sure. But there are massive negative consequences to an uncrossable mega boulevard.

If Rockville wants the new Pike to work as multimodal urban place, pedestrians need to become a priority.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Which transit expansion ideas are possible? Which aren't?

From time to time, WMATA's planning office takes a look at proposals for transit projects that may seem far-fetched and considers whether they could really happen. The agency recently said it doesn't foresee Metrorail expansion down to Occoquan or out to Chantilly, but that new BRT routes and MARC and VRE expansion are real possibilities.


Metrobus Priority Corridor Network Plus. All images from PlanItMetro unless otherwise noted.

Using computer models to predict the area's population in 2040, WMATA's Planning and Development Office looked at how the proposals from politicians, interest groups, and others fit— or don't—into the region and with WMATA's overall long-term plans for carrying the most people most efficiently and for a reasonable cost. The modeling helps to predict how many people might ride if the idea were came to fruition, where the passengers might come from, and so on.

A recent PlanItMetro post addressed WMATA expansion proposals, tunnel and infill station ideas, and various other plans for bus, streetcar, and light rail in the region.

Evaluating these future proposals now is one way to help guide future planning toward creating useful, cohesive transit for everyone to use.

Metrorail reinforcements are atop the wish list

WMATA's own proposed 2040 network plan centers around a core system loop, which would add more train tracks around downtown in order to increase service on top of what currently exists. WMATA seems mainly focused on easing crowding at existing stations without expanding the system farther out.

The loop would help solve some the congestion issues like trains backing up into Rosslyn on the Orange/Silver/Blue lines, and help handle growth around Navy Yard to L'Enfant Plaza.


What WMATA hopes Metrorail looks like in 2040.

WMATA looked well beyond Metrorail

Obviously, WMATA can't act like an insular agency; it's only one of the many forms of transit that exists in the region, all of which should be able to work together. Some of the non-Metro ideas evaluated focused more on creating new bus routes and making better use of existing express and HOV lanes. They include new bus routes, and making better use of existing express/HOV lanes.


Possible new commuter bus lines.

WMATA is recommending expanding the region's commuter bus services, including down to Waldorf, service from Loudoun up Route 15 to Frederick, and from DC out to Annapolis. Projects like these would complement the rail and other bus systems in the area, with some of the routes relieving crowding on rail.

The biggest benefit WMATA's planners noted is that buses can use existing infrastructure with relatively minor changes and would be much cheaper than building a new rail line. The modeling WMATA used suggested these additions could increase commuter bus ridership in the area up to 24 percent by 2040.

Another proposal that WMATA examined looked at how just increasing walkability around rail stations would impact bus and train ridership. This would be similar to the work Fairfax County is doing to turn Tysons into an area more hospitable to walking, especially around the new Silver Line stations.


Increasing walkability around Metro stations.

Better walking paths and sidewalks within a mile of Metro stations could increase ridership by over 200,000 people per day (11%) by 2040, and increase bus ridership by 18%. The planning office noted that core rail capacity would need to increase due to the number of new riders by doing this.

Not all of the proposals are doable

Some of the ideas evaluated are a bit more out there, like the 21-mile new Brown Line. Here, the planning department considered a subway line that would start at Friendship Heights, cut through downtown DC via Georgetown, then head up to Silver Spring between the existing Green and Red lines, and continue on to White Oak:


A proposed Metro Brown Line.

WMATA's planners decided not to recommend this one for further study for a number of reasons. They found that the line wouldn't significantly help to cut down existing crowding on the other lines, nor bring down congestion at the big transfer stations. Also, the office estimated that this would bring in up to around 100,000 daily riders by 2040, but only 55,000 of those would be new to Metrorail; 40,000 would be taken away from bus services, making it hard to justify the line.

While the WMATA document doesn't mention it, this proposal also would have incredibly slim chances of ever being built just for cost alone. The amount of track, both aboveground and tunneled, plus the hundreds of rail cars needed to support the 21-mile line would be immense.

The planning office also looked at the idea of a Beltway line following 495 around DC (and also rejected it):


A proposed Metro Beltway Line.

This proposal was estimated to serve 115,000 riders per day (1,700 per mile) by 2040, below their ridership recommendations for building a new line, and would only add 25,000 new transit riders (the rest would be stolen from other public transit options).

These proposals and many, many more can be found at the PlanItMetro blog. Which ones are your favorite?

Transit


Meet the O-Bahn, Australia's streetcar-bus hybrid

An unusual transit system in Australia combines the flexibility of buses with the speed and smoothness of rail. In Adelaide, South Australia, the O-Bahn, a hybrid of a bus and rail system, connects downtown to the northeastern suburbs.

O-Bahn buses drive on fixed guideway bus lanes that steer the buses for the drivers. Once the buses reach the suburbs, they fan out onto conventional streets, eliminating the need for passengers to transfer to other buses. This is the O-Bahn's primary advantage over streetcars and other rail transit.

As these express buses leave central Adelaide on conventional city streets, they cross the city's historic ring park and travel a mile with general traffic until they enter the bus-only O-Bahn. The O-Bahn is a set of concrete running pads set far enough apart to carry the buses' rubber tires. The outward-facing wheels run along the guideway's curbs and steer the bus for the bus driver.


O-Bahn bus with exterior guide wheel. Photo by the author.


O-Bahn curving through suburban Adelaide. Photo by the author.

Why not build a normal bus-only road?

The O-Bahn provides a few advantages over a conventional bus lane. The automatic steering means the bus pavement can be narrower, since there's no need to account for driver error. This is important as the buses can reach speeds of 60 mph. The O-Bahn runs through a linear park along the River Torrens and minimizing the environmental impact was a significant consideration when the state government selected the mode in the 1970s.

This slightly narrower guideway will come in handy as the state government extends the O-Bahn through a proposed tunnel under the historic ring park that encircles the central city. A narrower tunnel requires less disruption to the parkland above.

Much like rail, the fixed guideway's construction provides for a smoother ride, but this is only a marginal advantage over an ordinary concrete road.

For more on transit developments in other cities and around the world, check out Greater Greater Washington's articles about Cape Town, Dallas, Hartford, Johannesburg, Oakland airport, San Diego, and San Juan.

Transit


Montgomery County says it can't build BRT, but there's money for new roads

Earlier this month, Montgomery County leaders released plans to fund transportation over the next two years. There's $300 million for building new roads, but not enough money to keep BRT moving forward or to increase current bus service.


BRT in Crystal City. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2013, Montgomery County approved a plan for an 81-mile bus rapid transit network. The idea was to alleviate congestion and keep Montgomery economically competitive. The first phase of BRT along Veirs Mill Rd, MD 355, and US 29 would intersect with key master plans like those for White Flint and White Oak while also providing rapid transit along a major east-west connector (Veirs Mill).

By 2040, Montgomery will have 70% more congestion, 40% more jobs and 20% more residents. Better transit, which BRT would achieve, is a way to address this coming challenge.

But recent attempts to actually fund it have met resistance. Many supporters of the system are worried about stalled progress. Now, BRT funding from the state is set to run out, and BRT's future in Montgomery could be in doubt.

Money that could bring BRT to Montgomery is currently set aside for roads

Every two years the County Executive submits a plan for capital improvements in what's called the Capital Improvement Plan. The CIP is a budget that encompasses 6 fiscal years and is amended every two. While council staff notes road funding has been down in recent years, it acknowledges that it still dwarfs that of other jurisdictions in the region.

One road in particular stands out as particularly expensive: Montrose Parkway East. With a price tag close to $140 million, Montrose Parkway East is 20 million dollars more expensive than it was two years ago. The project is in the Pike District, an area the county wants to encourage walkability, but building the road would only invite more people to drive.

Montrose Parkway East is an even more questionable use of public funds, considering the county has transit modeshare goals. Development of White Flint is literally dependent on transit, so why are we building a $140 Million road there?

There's still hope for funding BRT in Montgomery

There are ways to move BRT forward without moving money away from road projects: Council staff has suggested implementing special taxing districts, others have suggested working through existing systems and creating a pilot corridor, while County Executive Ike Leggett proposed creating an independent transit authority to fund it.

But transit advocates can push legislators to stop spending money on road projects, and instead invest that money in things like BRT. It takes a vote of at five council members to approve or modify a proposed improvement plan in the CIP, and six votes to amend a previously approved capital program.

If Montgomery officials are serious about a transit oriented future, they must reallocate funds from projects like Montrose Parkway East and put them toward making BRT a reality.

Montgomery County residents can testify at a public hearing on Feb 11 and contact their lawmakers via the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

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