Posts about Marc Elrich
Montgomery County's transportation policy is descending toward incoherence. Policymakers want to put dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes on the county's highways. Yet they continue to prioritize expensive projects that will increase car volumes on those same roads.
A prime example of the contradiction between these 2 policies is a planned underpass taking Randolph Road under Georgia Avenue, near Glenmont Metro. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014.
Both Georgia and Randolph are part of all versions of the county's BRT proposal. But the underpass will get in the way of the future bus network. Buses on Randolph, unable to use a tunnel that gives them no place to stop, will have to slow down for a traffic light that cars can bypass.
To avoid the buses stopping in the turn lanes, the stops will have to be located on the far side of the light. Riders connecting to the other BRT line will have to double back on foot and wait for the light a second time.
Yet the county, which has already thrown $14 million of its own money at this project, urges the state to plow ahead with the underpass. It has not asked for a redesign to accommodate BRT. And, through its adequate public facilities ordinance, it blocked transit-oriented development around the Metro station until the underpass got funding.
Just this week, the County Council reaffirmed the adequate public facilities ordinance. It toned down some of the worst features, but the basic principle remains in place: it assumes that if only the county built the right road infrastructure, all traffic would flow freely. Almost a century of road building has proven that's not the case, but that truth hasn't yet penetrated into the policy.
Indeed, the two elected officials who initiated the county's turn toward BRT, Councilmember Marc Elrich and County Executive Ike Leggett, are also the strongest partisans for what Elrich calls "free-flowing highways." That's a contradiction, because if highways actually could flow freely, buses would move at full speed, and Bus Rapid Transit wouldn't be necessary.
In recent decades, the county has accomplished much while building rail transit and new roads at the same time. The Red Line has been a stunning success, and the Purple Line promises to match it. But rail lines are expensive and transportation budgets are getting ever tighter. Montgomery's leaders have chosen to de-emphasize further expansion of rail beyond the Purple Line.
The county switched its preference for the Corridor Cities Transitway from rail to bus and has found no room among its transportation priorities for the state's plan for all-day service on MARC. Many see the BRT network as a way for transit to keep growing in an era of fiscal stringency.
BRT simply won't work if we pretend that we're still in the 1950s and keep trying to move more cars at higher speeds (a strategy that is doomed to failure in any case). It requires rebuilding roads and neighborhoods for a more livable urban future, where people rank ahead of automobiles. Striving after two contradictory goals on the same roadways is a recipe for failure.
Montgomery County has tried several times to find a working "adequate public facilities ordinance," rules that aim to ensure new buildings don't jam up roads. They've never succeeded, and a new version won't either.
At a County Council meeting Monday, legislators struggled with another proposed revamp of the law, which the county DOT originated and the Planning Board endorsed with some changes. This version would junk rules the county adopted 5 years ago, which supplanted a law from 2003, which replaced yet another system of regulation that preceded it.
None of these rules got rid of traffic jams because all share the same fundamental flaw. They measure how fast cars move, rather than whether people can get where they want to go. If the supermarket is 10 miles away, and it takes 15 minutes to drive there, you pass the test. If the supermarket is 1 mile away, and it takes 5 minutes to drive there, you flunk.
There are 2 ways to get new construction approved under this sort of test. One is to locate the building far from everything else. The other is to build new highways or widen old ones. This is a recipe for more sprawl, more asphalt, and more driving. Rather than relieving traffic congestion, it makes more of it.
The proposal now before the Council, called Transportation Policy Area Review or "TPAR," doubles down on this failed strategy. It would create a new pot of money, collected from developers who build in areas with congested roads, under the control of the county's car-centric, highway-loving Transportation Department. In addition, the proposal would still require developers to widen nearby roads if intersections back up.
Edgar Gonzalez, the department's number two, told Councilmember Hans Riemer that passing the legislation would commit the county to a long list of controversial road projects, especially the hotly-disputed Midcounty Highway extension. The legislators were divided Monday over whether they should tie their hands in this way.
Riemer and George Leventhal argued that the County Council should retain flexibility in making spending decisions. Nancy Floreen, on the other hand, insisted that money from the road congestion tax should only be spent to move cars. She pointed to a bicycle bridge over Veirs Mill Road, funded under the current law, as a misuse of funds.
Marc Elrich, who has long considered "free-flowing" automobile traffic a paramount objective, initially agreed, saying he was "sort of where Nancy is on certainty of where money is spent." Elrich later backtracked somewhat, saying that improved transit could be a better way to keep cars moving than new highways, but he reiterated his belief that sidewalks and bus shelters should not substitute for road-building.
A companion tax on developers that would fund added Ride-On bus service is also before the council. Sharp questioning from Roger Berliner established that this tax would not, as claimed, put autos and transit on an equal footing.
Gonzalez and Planning Board chair Françoise Carrier conceded that the level of transit service the proposal defines as "adequate" The debate over who should determine spending priorities comes just months after the Council overruled the Transportation Department and deferred 3 highway projects to pay for a new Bethesda Metro entrance and a bike trail. Since then, the county bureaucracy has done little to gain public confidence. The debacles of the Silver Spring Transit Center and the Woodmont Avenue road closing in Bethesda suggest that now is not the time for legislators to lessen their oversight.
The debate over who should determine spending priorities comes just months after the Council overruled the Transportation Department and deferred 3 highway projects to pay for a new Bethesda Metro entrance and a bike trail. Since then, the county bureaucracy has done little to gain public confidence. The debacles of the Silver Spring Transit Center and the Woodmont Avenue road closing in Bethesda suggest that now is not the time for legislators to lessen their oversight.
Last night, the Montgomery County Council affirmed its support for the Purple Line, Capital Crescent Trail, and building the Bethesda Metro's new entrance as soon as possible, rather than waiting 6 more years. But the decision didn't come without a fight from County Executive Ike Leggett.
Leggett's budget stripped funding for the Metro entrance until 2018, and he's been lobbying against restoring the funding. The entrance is a key part of the Purple Line project, to allow Purple Line riders to easily access the Metro station.
Leggett says Montgomery County needn't start funding the entrance until after Purple Line construction starts. But councilmembers say that Montgomery needs to show its support for the project by following through on its portions of the project. More than that, the benefits of a new entrance go beyond the Purple Line.
Last night, in the straw vote, the council unanimously agreed to defer 3 road projects which Cavan Wilk argued aren't necessary right now: Montrose Parkway East, Goshen Road South, and part of Snouffer School Road.
Marc Elrich (at-large) joined in, but not without a few complaints. The Examiner wrote:
"It's becoming harder to tell when you're entering Montgomery County and leaving another jurisdiction," said [Elrich], saying that the difference in road quality between Montgomery and neighboring counties used to be obvious.Repairing roads is important, but perhaps instead of spending lots of money just to make sure Montgomery's roads are even better than perfectly usable ones in neighboring jurisdictions, the county could invest in signs to help people know when they've crossed its borders.
The vote repudiates Leggett, who argued in a letter that those 3 projects are absolutely necessary because of growing population and congestion. One point he ignores, however, is that the Bethesda entrance and Purple Line also respond to growing population and more severe congestion.
The entrance makes sense on its own as well
The Purple Line is the primary reason for building this entrance, but there is ample reason to push ahead with the project even ignoring the Purple Line. Since before the station opened, people have bandied about the idea of adding a second entrance. There are many reasons to build it.
It would reduce crowding: Bethesda is one of Montgomery County's densest job centers, and it continues to grow. New housing, offices, and retail mean increasing demand for the station. Already the third busiest Metro stop in Maryland, ridership will grow, and the station needs improved accessibility to accommodate this growth.
It would provide an alternative during escalator replacement: The escalators at Bethesda Metro station are scheduled to be replaced in 2014. Considering the depth of Bethesda station, closing escalators will potentially be very disruptive. A second entrance would ultimately make replacing escalators a much safer and easier proposition.
The entrance will take years to build, so it may already be too late to build it in time for the scheduled 2014 escalator replacement. However, if Montgomery started on the second entrance soon, then it might make sense for Metro to push the escalator project back a couple of years.
At Dupont Circle, Metro is currently replacing the escalators at the 19th Street entrance. Luckily that station has a second entrance, but Metro trains still bypass the station if anything goes wrong with the north entrance.
It would put more of Bethesda within walking distance of Metro: A new southern entrance would greatly expand the area of Bethesda that is within walking distance of the Metro stop. Properties further south along Wisconsin Avenue would come into easy walking range, while those already in range would have their access to transit greatly enhanced.
Additionally, the new southern entrance could provide a direct connection to the Capital Crescent Trail, one of the most popular multi-use trails in the region.
If delayed, it might not be ready for the Purple Line: Deleting funding from the six-year Capital Improvement Plan would push construction of the new entrance back to 2018 at the earliest. The Purple Line is scheduled to open in 2020. Pushing back funding might mean that the new entrance wouldn't be ready for the start of service on the Purple Line.
Without that direct connection, riders will face a walk of several blocks to change trains. Such a disincentive would have a strong negative effect on ridership.
The Maryland Transit Administration, which is building the Purple Line, says that construction on the second entrance must start in 2016 at the latest in order to be ready to open with the Purple Line. Pushing construction back 2 years is a bad idea for that reason alone.
Under Leggett's proposed timeline, there is no room for error. Any additional delays would result in the Metro entrance not being ready for the Purple Line. Not having a southern entrance to Bethesda station on the Purple Line's opening day would severely reduce the light rail's utility, and might even delay the opening of Purple Line altogether.
The design can be ready: One argument for waiting is to make sure the design is right. The entrance will open onto the Purple Line station in the Bethesda tunnel, and the county needs to decide the elevation.
Under initial plans putting the Capital Crescent Trail into the tunnel, engineers would excavate the floor of the tunnel to place the Purple Line below the current grade. If the trail doesn't go in the tunnel, as MTA now recommends, the station would be at the level of the floor today.
The County Council's Transportation and Environment Committee recommended last week to construct the Purple Line without deepening the tunnel.
While the full council hasn't yet voted on a final decision, that will come soon, and final design for the station can move ahead.
Montgomery County needs to fund the second entrance to make sure it's ready for the Purple Line, and improve mobility in Bethesda. The county is committed to getting the Purple Line built, but even if the Purple Line never opens, Bethesda residents and commuters will benefit greatly from an alternative to the current entrance.
Bethesda generates much of the employment and tax revenue for the county to pay for schools and other services. The new entrance and the Purple Line benefit all residents, even those who might never ride the Metro to Bethesda or take the Purple Line.
Two weeks ago, Montgomery County released a study saying that a proposed Bus Rapid Transit system could drastically improve local commutes. The plan could do even more for commuters by sending lines to current and future activity centers in the county.
Councilmember Marc Elrich first proposed creating a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network in 2008. On May 4, planning consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff presented their report on the concept to the County Council and identified what they saw as the best places for BRT in Montgomery County.
The consultants outline a 148-mile BRT system that goes farther than earlier proposals by Metro, with 16 routes and 150 stations. The system would cost around $2.5 billion to build excluding right-of-way acquisition costs. It would take between $144 million and $173 million a year to operate.
According to their findings, the network would carry between 210,000 and 270,000 riders a day in 2040. (By comparison, an average of 717,000 people rode the entire Metro system on an average weekday last February.) 85,000 riders would switch to BRT from other modes of transportation, and 65,000 riders would come from just two routes, serving Route 355 between Clarksburg and Rockville and between Rockville and Bethesda.
Parsons Brinckerhoff looked to successful BRT systems in places like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Eugene, Oregon for inspiration. The study assumed that two-thirds of the system would run buses either along dedicated guideways or special lanes separated from other vehicles, while the rest would run in mixed traffic. In addition, hundreds of intersections would get improvements like Transit Signal Priority or queue jumpers, which would help speed buses through.
Unlike existing bus services in the county, which can stop as often as every block, the proposed system would place stations a half-mile to a mile apart. Stations would be substantial, with places for riders to wait and ticket machines, so drivers don't have to collect fares. Additionally, they would be located to accommodate people who arrived on foot, transferred from other buses or the Metro, or drove there.
According to the study, BRT on major roads like Rockville Pike and Connecticut Avenue would be as fast as, and in some cases faster, than driving. A trip between Clarksburg and Rockville, which currently takes over an hour, would be only 45 minutes long. Meanwhile, the 55-minute trip between Burtonsville and Silver Spring would drop to only 38 minutes.
Sixteen BRT corridors were studied by Parsons Brinckerhoff:
- Veirs Mill Road between Rockville Town Center and downtown Wheaton.
- Georgia Avenue between Wheaton and Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.
- Georgia Avenue between downtown Silver Spring and downtown Wheaton.
- A line between Rockville Town Center and the Life Sciences Center in Gaithersburg.
- Muddy Branch Road between Lakeforest Mall and the Life Sciences Center, both in Gaithersburg.
- Connecticut Avenue between Aspen Hill and Medical Center in Bethesda.
- Rockville Pike (MD 355) between downtown Bethesda and Rockville Town Center.
- Frederick Road (MD 355) between Rockville Town Center and Clarksburg.
- New Hampshire Avenue between White Oak and Fort Totten.
- Old Georgetown Road between downtown Bethesda and Montgomery Mall.
- Randolph Road between White Flint and Glenmont.
- University Boulevard between Wheaton and Langley Park.
- Colesville Road/Columbia Pike (US 29) between downtown Silver Spring and Burtonsville.
- The InterCounty Connector between the Life Sciences Center and Briggs Chaney.
- The North Bethesda Transitway between Montgomery Mall and Grosvenor.
- Midcounty Highway between Shady Grove and Clarksburg.
In order for the system to work, the study says, BRT has to have special branding, distinct from the current Ride On service, so riders know that it's special. Los Angeles' Metro Rapid system, which uses special colors and signage to denote different kinds of bus routes, is a good example of that. The study also recommends that Montgomery County encourage higher-density, mixed-use development around BRT stations, so people can walk to transit and other amenities, thus reducing traffic.
There are a lot of great ideas in Parsons Brinckerhoff's report, but the discussion of land use actually raises one of the biggest issues with their proposal. Councilmember Elrich's BRT plan, which came out three years ago, brought fast, frequent transit to all parts of Montgomery County, including on the east side. A number of places targeted for new development or job growth, like Kensington or White Oak, would be served by multiple BRT lines. Yet the new proposal focuses on the Upcounty, and on just delivering BRT passengers to Metro stations, without considering where people are coming from and where they want to go.
In the study, five lines serve the I-270 corridor north of Rockville, which is where most new development in Montgomery County will take place in the coming decades. But there are limited connections between that area and the rest of the county, particularly the east side. The only direct, east-west connection in the plan, outside of the Purple Line, is a line along the InterCounty Connector, which will most likely produce park-and-ride lots, not walkable neighborhoods.
Other east-west lines stop short of important destinations, like a Randolph Road line that only runs between White Flint and Glenmont. That line should continue to White Oak, home to the new Food and Drug Administration campus, a new Washington Adventist Hospital and the massive proposed LifeSci Village development.
Likewise, a line along University Boulevard between Langley Park and Wheaton should continue west to Kensington, where it could meet the proposed Connecticut Avenue line while serving a redeveloped town center there.
The BRT system should be designed to reinforce existing activity centers as well. Many of the lines simply end at a Metro station, forcing riders to transfer to get to more significant destinations. For instance, the Connecticut Avenue line runs only between Aspen Hill and the Medical Center Metro station. While some riders will only want to go that far, others who want to go to Bethesda would have to transfer to the Red Line, possibly discouraging them from using the service.
In addition, the North Bethesda Transitway, which has been on the books for decades, would connect Montgomery Mall and the job-heavy Rock Spring Park area with Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro via Tuckerman Lane. But riders going to the rapidly-growing White Flint area, already a bigger draw than Strathmore, would also have to transfer.
Councilmember Elrich's Bus Rapid Transit plan promises to be a triple threat: it'll beat congestion, provide new opportunities for development and do so without breaking the bank. Nonetheless, the plan needs refining if it's going to have a lasting impact on the way we live, work and get around. With a few improvements, we'll be well on our way to making Montgomery County one of the most progressive and innovative communities in the country.
In the DC area, bus rapid transit is sometimes seen as the choice of people who don't really want transit to succeed.
Democrat Martin O'Malley and local environmentalists lobbied for light rail on the Purple Line, for example, while Republican Bob Ehrlich's push for BRT was largely seen as an effort to "obfuscate, alter, study and delay" progress.
But that's selling BRT short, according to a panel of experts at Brookings yesterday. For inspiration, they looked to Latin America, the motherland of bus rapid transit, housing 26 percent of the world's BRT systems, according to Dario Hidalgo of EMBARQ, the sustainable-transport arm of the World Resources Institute.
It all started with Curitiba, Brazil, which pioneered BRT in 1972, reducing congestion, improving air quality, and shortening travel times. The Curitiba system has been a model for others, including powerhouse systems like TransMilenio in Bogotá, which carries 44,000 passengers per hour per direction during the peak period. Car use has gone down, and traffic fatalities have declined by 56 percent.
"What's important isn't if the tire is a steel tire or a rubber tire," said Hidalgo. "What's important is the service that's provided to the people."
Logic like this flies in the face of entrenched biases in favor of one mode or another. Rail, especially, has its adherents among those who think buses are a lower-class form of transportation, ridden only by those with no other option. But more than 20 percent of TransMilenio riders own cars. "We can't be religious about modes," said Robert Puentes of Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program.
BRT is characterized by three principal traits, as articulated by ITDP Director Walter Hook in a Streetfilm about BRT released today.
- BRT runs on exclusive lanes, so it's not slowed down by traffic jams. (That allows the TransMilenio to average 20 miles per hour while New York City buses crawl along at under eight mph.)
- The station is on a platform at the same level as the floor of the bus. Usually, those stations are designed by architects and aren't substantively different from the experience of being in a rail station. Passengers pay upon entering the station, not the bus, speeding up the boarding process. Another time-saver is that all the doors open at once and passengers can board quickly en masse, like they do on a subway.
- BRT is that the buses have priority at intersections, often through some kind of priority signaling.
Hidalgo and other experts noted that one of BRT's best features is also one of its weaknesses: its fast implementation time. It can take decades to acquire rights-of-way and lay the track for a new rail system, but a city already owns its medians and can launch a BRT system relatively fast. In Latin America, Hidalgo says, it's often rushed to correspond to the election cycle, as politicians hurry to get it up and running in time to get re-elected. And rushing a complex transportation system won't usually yield the most ideal, carefully-planned system a city could hope for.
It's not surprising that the developing world has been the pioneer of BRT, since it is a far less costly system to build than rail. Operating costs of rail can be lower, since it requires fewer drivers for more cars. (Rapid transit buses can be articulated, but even the longest bus won't compete with trains.)
However, rail ridership has to be very high for the operating costs of rail to end up lower than BRT. And almost all of Latin America's BRT systems' vehicles and operational costs are fully paid for out of the farebox.
Mark Elrich, a BRT supporter on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, says when looking for ways to alleviate the county's notorious traffic congestion, he went looking for rail alternatives, not buses. He said he was biased toward rail. But he was eventually drawn to the flexibility of BRT, which allows one corridor to be used to travel southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening. But what really sold him was the price.
Sam Zimmerman, who spent 28 years in the USDOT and is now an urban transport advisor at the World Bank, says those costs shouldn't tempt those who want to lower them even further.
If you have a BRT plan and people are nervous about the costs, they'll say, 'Do you really need dedicated vehicles? It's OK to run a two-door articulated bus with the floor 90 inches off the ground. You don't have to spend the money on new buses. Do you really need a dedicated right-of-way? Run it in mixed traffic, we don't want to piss anybody off. Do you really need an architect-designed station? This is a bus! We'll get it delivered off the back of a flatbed truck.'Zimmerman said even environmentalists and livability advocates repeat slander about buses, saying that they're inherently polluting and noisy, as well as slow, unreliable, and uncomfortable. None of those things are true of well-designed BRT systems, he says.
At the end of the day, will it work as just another bus route? Sure! Will it be BRT? No. Now imagine if someone was proposing a light rail line and you said, 'Do you really need the track?'
You'll never get everybody out of their cars, Elrich said. But if you can get enough people to ride the bus enough of the time to reduce vehicle miles traveled by just 8.3 percent, Montgomery County would return to 2002 carbon emissions levels. Double that and you could get down to 1990 levels.
Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.
After nine passengers died on the Red Line in 2009, we didn't throw up our hands and chalk it up to issues beyond our control. Instead, the region has seen serious debate and action
Why, then, do we take a more defeatist attitude toward the safety of our roadways? Why do our elected officials insist that there's no way to free our roadways of death and serious injury, while sparing no expense or energy on air travel or rail safety measures?
A nation with one of the world's lowest rates of roadway death and injury offers a different vision. It should challenge us to ask some difficult questions and examine the expectations we have of our road system.
Sweden, long known for its excellent road safety record, has led the way in creating a new paradigm for addressing this persistent public health problem. In 1997, the Swedish Parliament adopted the "Vision Zero" policy, which sets a goal of reducing roadway fatalities and serious injuries to zero.
While there will continue to be crashes on Swedish roadways resulting in recoverable injury, the underlying philosophy of Vision Zero rests on an ethical understanding that death and lifelong suffering from severe injury are not acceptable byproducts of our transportation system.
We accept this ethical standard for our freight rail, mass transit and air travel systems but each day, our roadway system gets a pass on unnecessary tragedy. Most crashes resulting in death or serious injury, involving all types of road users, are caused not by willful negligence on the part of the road user. They often involve everyday people on roads that put them at unnecessary risk.
It doesn't have to be this way. A generation ago, we recognized the role of vehicle safety and created a vehicle-based safety culture focused on seat belts, air bags, and anti-lock brakes. The safety culture then broadened to include operator behavior, with a focus on drunk driving, road rage, and distracted driving. It's time to systematically include roadway design in our safety culture.
At a Montgomery County Council transportation subcommittee hearing last month, council member Marc Elrich argued that the number of roadway deaths could never be reduced to zero.
"People will die as long as they do stupid stuff," Erlich said. "You can't make this world so safe that no one can be harmed."
In a follow-up, Elrich aide Dale Tibbitts added, "Of course we wish to make environment safe for everyone," listing various pedestrian safety initiatives in the county. "Despite all these efforts," he argued, "if a driver, a pedestrian or a bicyclist acts negligently, the County cannot prevent every tragic incident." Tibbitts continued, "When the police report to us that a person dressed in dark clothing stepped out in Georgia Ave on a dark night and was struck by a car traveling 35-40 mph and was killed, that is beyond the scope of what the Council can legislate and fund."
The "Vision Zero" philosophy does not envision a magical world where nothing bad happens on our roadways. Crashes will continue to happen. Suicides and reckless behavior will always lead to tragedy. But there are thousands of deaths and serious injuries each year caused not by reckless behavior but by a system that is dangerous by design, where pedestrians have to walk unreasonable distances to a safe crossing along high-speed roadways through populated areas.
At present, road users are operating within a system that encourages speeding, especially along corridors such as Georgia Avenue. As council member Nancy Floreen noted at the same meeting, "We should give greater thought to our design standards. Who's winning the speed battle? Shouldn't we do all we can to allow the pedestrians more respect than our systems currently allow?" This philosophy balances responsibility on two parties: roadway users and roadway designers.
The defeatist attitude that death and serious injury will always happen on our streets has become the conventional wisdom for our roadways, but not for our railways, airways or transit systems. We wouldn't be complacent if thousands of Americans died each year on our nation's subways or airplanes, but that's exactly what happens on our roads.
When it comes to preventing death and serious injury, we too often focus on individual behavior and vehicle safety but ignore the crucial role of roadway design, which leads to one of the deadliest ingredients in any crash: speed. Road design changes, such as traffic calming, have proven effective at improving road safety.
Most roadway deaths and serious injuries are preventable. Why have we convinced ourselves that they are not?
Cross-posted at Struck in DC.
I've found the Montgomery County Council frustrating. On important issues around growth, development and transportation, many councilmembers don't take much of a stand and vote in unanimous or near-unanimous numbers even on controversial and vital issues.
Many seem to prefer finding a consensus where they can vote unanimously or nearly-unanimously, regardless of the merits of that consensus. The I-270 battle was a good case in point, where advocates' opposition to SHA's plan got the Council to postpone a vote, then meet for a work session to agree on a compromise, which passed unanimously. As a result, most members avoided ever having to really stick up for or against something.
The County Council needs a strong advocate for Smart Growth and sustainable transportation issues. That would likely be Hans Riemer, if he is successful in his bid for one of the four at-large seats. Hans is a longtime Smart Growth proponent and an active member of ACT. He set out clear and excellent positions in his interview with Cavan.
The four incumbents are all definitely superior to the rest of the challengers besides Riemer. Those incumbents each have their pros and cons.
Marc Elrich has been a strong proponent of a Bus Rapid Transit network, pushing the idea tirelessly and making it a signature issue. However, he's also the strongest defender of traffic-based tests that in effect hinder walkable development.
Nancy Floreen pushed through the White Flint plan, one of Montgomery's biggest opportunities for meaningful transit-oriented development, and opposes the traffic-based tests that Elrich likes. On the other hand, she also opposes most rules that would limit development in rural areas far from transit. She generally advocates building in the county and is less discerning about what or where.
George Leventhal has been a leader in the fight for the Purple Line, and for transit in general in the county. Yet he also strongly supported widening I-270, and basically favors any transportation project of any kind in any location. Duchy Trachtenberg has been good on the environment and transit issues as well and not a road booster, but hasn't shown as much leadership on growth and transportation issues generally.
I'd recommend Montgomery residents (like my in-laws) vote for Mr. Riemer and decide among the other candidates based on the other issues, like schools, budgets, labor relations and many more. If you're not sure of some of the candidates, it's also fine to vote for only two or three. Leaving a blank or two on the ballot makes the votes you do cast count even more, as the top four total vote-getters win the seats.
Two district seats are also contested, which happen to be the two that had Montgomery's greatest development debates in the last few years. District 1 includes Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, and has significant numbers of residents who oppose the Purple Line and/or White Flint. Roger Berliner, the incumbent, has championed both projects a good future for his area despite the short-term political risk. Meanwhile, his challenger, Ilaya Hopkins, has chosen to throw her lot in with the antis. Mr. Berliner should be reelected to prove that anti sentiment doesn't drive Montgomery politics.
In District 2, the suburban and rural northern part of the County, former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson is the best choice for the open seat. He's been a strong proponent of Smart Growth on the Planning Board, and was largely responsible for the Agricultural Reserve, the large belt of (mostly) protected land at the County's edge, much of which is in that district. His support for the sprawl development at Gaithersburg West was more of a disappointment, but his multi-decade track record warrants your vote.
The other district members, Phil Andrews, Nancy Navarro, and Valerie Ervin, do not have primary challengers.
Montgomery Council Chair Nancy Floreen (at-large) argued passionately at a hearing Tuesday for relaxing the "adequate public facilities" rules that are standing in the way of walkable development at White Flint that has widespread community support.
I wrote about the absurity of clinging to a traffic model that says communities cannot function without wider roads, when our cities such as DC are living examples to the contrary. Floreen pointed out another such example: Rockville.
"Is the City of Rockville in balance?" Floreen said. "It doesn't use this test and it's a neighbor of Whtie Flint. Why let 9 Council members define this? ... We're using the wrong standards."
Barnaby Zall said that 30 seconds is what stands in the way of the County approving White Flint. The County Executive wants to prioritize the speed of traffic through White Flint above creating a great place there, and County Council staff were unable to make the plan work with the existing, broken metrics.
In this particular case, many people in the community support the plan. And for many Councilmembers, including Floreen, that makes a big difference.
Floreen said (as transcribed by FLOG:
I love the White Flint Plan. Because the community defined what it wanted and said the community character is what matters most. I have come to say that's how you should find out what matters.Based on comments, Councilmember Marc Elrich (at-large) seemed most hesitant to change the rules, while Councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1, which include the area) and Duchy Trachtenberg (at-large) support approving the White Flint plan.
I will lie down in the middle of Rockville Pike if you make the intersection at Strathmore any bigger. People can't walk across Strathmore because of the speeds drivers think they're entitled to. ...
We're letting the wrong standards drive us. I can't explain the difference between 30 seconds and 40. People who live within WF want to see some real improvements.
Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich believes that his proposed Bus Rapid Transit network is a key tool to deal with the huge amounts of traffic that the controversial Base Realignment and Closure plan (BRAC) will bring to military facilities in the county. Elrich cited two of his proposed BRT lines, from Olney and Germantown to downtown Bethesda, as key links from housing to BRAC jobs.
Councilmember Elrich clearly sees Bus Rapid Transit as a piece of our region's future mobility infrastructure plans. Back in December, he articulated a plan that would implement BRT in selected Montgomery County corridors. While BRT has its own unique strengths and weaknesses and should never be used as a direct substitute for heavy rail, light rail, or streetcars, it can be a complimentary piece of the regional transportation system.
On a positive note, Elrich seems to understand that BRT is not BRT without its own dedicated right of way:
Elrich said although he had not had detailed discussions with Navy Med about the project, he thought the necessary 20 feet of right-of-way could be obtained along the east-side curb along Route 355 at Navy Med. ... The BRT lines would feature dedicated lanes in the median or curbside, real-time travel information for customers, and flexible routes, with six to eight minutes between stops at each station.The biggest danger is for political pressure to convert the BRT late into first an HOV lane, then just another general traffic lane. Any asphalt is inherently attractive to cars' unquenchable desire for more asphalt. Motorists, often through civic associations, will call their Councilmembers and lobby for any dedicated bus lane to be opened up for all vehicles. This would then negate the entire point of BRT. The lines would become as slow as the Q2 or the 30s lines because of the car traffic.
This happened with the Shirley Busway, in the median of I-395 in Virginia. The Shirley Busway began as a bus-only lane. Then it became a bus and HOV lane. Next, hybrid vehicles could use it too. Now, the lane is becoming a HOT lane. Our region is not the only one that has devolved dedicated bus lanes. The New York State DOT just coverted bus lanes to bus-and-HOV, slowing buses, on the Tappan Zee Bridge north of New York City (via The Overhead Wire).
Elrich is also touting "flexible routes" as a positive feature. However, flexibility is also a drawback of BRT and such a "feature" could doom a BRT system to failure. Developers hesitate to invest in transit-oriented, human-scale street grid development near BRT stations because of the possibility of a route change in the middle of the night. Transit is most convenient, efficient, and cost-effective when it connects and/or operates completely within walkable urban human-scale street gridded places.
Convenient, efficient transit cannot coexist with a low-density car-dependent environment except as commuter rail or commuter bus. And those commuter services still need dense job centers at one end of their routes. No bus or train can go to every little subdivision and strip mall and be convenient enough to attract riders who also own automobiles.
Asked by The Gazette if the Olney and Germantown lines specifically would help move large numbers of BRAC employees, Elrich indicated that generally speaking the system accounted for connecting population centers with employment centers, and that these routes could move more new BRAC employees than the proposed Purple Line light rail project between New Carrollton and Bethesda. BRAC is expected to bring in about 2,500 new jobs to Bethesda.Mr. Elrich doesn't seem to understand the connection between transportation and land use. His environmentally-friendly vision of creating a BRT should be applauded. However, he is trying to do the impossible: build a mass transit system that is convenient for all residents of the miles and miles of car-dependent un-places in Montgomery County. He is trying to envision a system that improves upon the status quo, rather than acknowledging that the land use status quo is the problem. The fundamental characterics of a low-density car-dependent land use arrangement is inherently prohibitive to transit that is convenient enough to attract riders of choice from their cars. When he talks about his BRT vision, he acknowledges that traffic is a problem and touts his vision as a tool to address it. However, just like every other car-dependent place, the traffic is a symptom of an arrangement that requires its residents to drive for every basic life function. Building a BRT system won't change that. However, enacting policies that provide incentives for human-scale street grid development around transit hubs will. However, the problems associated with lack of development around bus stations would rear their head in such a scenario.
Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, however, noted that the general idea for BRT is not new, and that the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority was already looking into similar ideas. She also mentioned cost figures and ridership numbers as potential problems. Floreen is chairwoman of the county's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.While transit advocates often disagree with Councilmember Floreen about transportation issues, she has a valid point in this case. Despite the fact that the separate jurisdictions in our region have their own county and city councils, we have all prospered together with regional transit cooperation. The Metro has been an unquestionable success in our region for a variety of reasons, one of which being the improved access to jobs and amenities across jurisdictions. Because of our positive experience with regional transportation, it would be a better idea to plan a complementary BRT system on a regional scale , while focusing development on heavy rail Red Line stations and on future light rail Purple Line Stations.
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