Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bus Lanes

Transit


Here are the busiest bus stops on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue

The map shows where riders are going on Metro's busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.


Map from DDOT.

It's a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC's densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It's not surprising then that 16th Street's riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It's easy to see why DDOT's streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Dedicated lanes and growing pains

As we seek safer streets and better transit in the greater Washington area, we encounter some big questions and little battles for how to best accomplish smarter, greater growth. Show up to support the steps we must take to realize this vision at events around the region.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Meetup for 16th Street bus lanes: This Wednesday, March 13, the Coalition for Smarter Growth kicks off its campaign for dedicated rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street NW with a happy hour from 6 to 8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar, located at 1518 U Street NW. Dedicated rush hour bus lanes would help to relive overcrowding and shorten commuting times. Most mayoral candidates support the lanes. Do you? You can click here to RSVP.

After the jump: talk about Metro with David and Eleanor Holmes Norton, support bike lanes in Alexandria, get an update on Red Line rebuilding, have some one-on-one time with DC planning officials to discuss the zoning update, learn more about DC's Southwest Ecodistrict, and discuss the impact of Metro Momentum in Maryland.

Metro roundtable with David and Congresswoman Norton: What do we need and what should we expect from Metro as riders in the 21st century? GGW's David Alpert and fellow panelists will explore that topic this Tuesday, March 11 from 6 to 8 pm, at a public roundtable discussion at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.

Organized by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the discussion will cover pertinent long-term Metro issues, including ridership, financing, and timeframes for construction, all in preparation for the development of a surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

Joining David to discuss the future of Metro are General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles; Klara Baryshev, the chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee; and Jackie L. Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. To submit a question for the panel to address, email NortonMetroRoundtable@mail.house.gov and make sure to include your name and address.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Speak out for King Street bike lanes: Almost 60 percent of residents spoke up for King Street bike lanes at the last Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Now, the issue will go to the Alexandria City Council once again for a public hearing and final vote on Saturday, March 15 from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at City Hall, 301 King St #2300. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition for those who would like to express their support in advance of the meeting.

Another chance to learn about DC's zoning update: The DC Office of Planning will continue to host open houses on the expected update to the zoning code through Friday, March 28. At each open house, you will have the chance to sit down one-on-one with Planning staff to learn more about the update and have any lingering questions answered. The remaining scheduled open houses are as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Implementing the SW Ecodistrict vision: Plans for DC's Southwest ecodistrict envision connecting the National Mall to the waterfront and creating a more sustainable neighborhood and prosperous local economy.

Join speakers Diane Sullivan, senior planner at the National Capital Planning Commission, and Otto Condon, urban design principal of ZGF Architects, at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, March 20 for a lunchtime discussion about next steps of implementation. The event is free but registration is required here.

Talk about Metro Momentum in Maryland: How will Metro Momentum serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Join Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Metro's Office of Planning, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and local leaders to talk about Metro's plans to serve a growing Washington region, and to learn how you can get involved.

The event will take place Thursday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. Advance registration is requested here.

Politics


A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transitpeople have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritizationwhich means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthalsnot to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes.
Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Evans:

Shallal:

Politics


Ward 1 candidates: Graham is hot on buses, not on streetcars

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 1 on the DC Council. See all of the discussions here.


Images from the candidate websites.

Jim Graham, the councilmember for Ward 1, has always been a staunch supporter of bus transit. But he's much less sanguine about DC's plans to build a network of streetcars.

Graham pushed to keep bus fares down when on the WMATA Board, and he proposed the Circulator route that runs from McPherson Square to U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Woodley Park.

I asked Graham if we should have dedicated bus lanes. He said:

I was very much an advocate for creation of express bus on 16th street and on Georgia Avenue [the S9 and 79 buses]. Both of those happened while I was involved. It's good but there's still terrific bus bunching. ...

Metro/WMATA has always treated the buses like stepchildren. They're kind of assigned to the coal bin of Metro. And it's been a slow process pulling the bus transportation out of that second-class status and into first-class status. We're not there yet. And I think a dedicated lanebecause I think rapid bus makes a lot of sense.

When we compare the cost of rapid bus to light rail, and we compare the problems of light rail to the relative ease of rapid bus, I think it's a very strong case. The notion of light rail running down Harvard or light rail running down 18th Street in Adams Morgan? It's... it's quite a profound change.

Because people forget that streetcars break down. I think nobody remembers that they break down. I rode streetcars in the '50s and '60s and they broke down. And when they broke down there was such a terrific backlog of traffic and congestion as the car had to be pulled away. That's just in the nature of things. Look at the Metro trains!

Not to mention the fact that you've got the trolleys taking up an awful lot of roadway space, and that's going to create other challenges.

"H Street is perfect" for streetcars, he said, in part because it is "very broad." But there's also a debate about whether H Street should one day have dedicated lanes (Charles Allen would like to consider it, while Darrel Thompson doesn't think it would work, for example). Graham said:

I was 12 years on the Metro Board. (I don't want to say too much about that right now.) But I became convinced that if we had really good rapid bus, people would be very happy to use it. And we wouldn't have the enormous cost of capital investment that we have related to trolleys. Trolleys in some ways are sentimental and they're kind of exciting and new. But rapid bus can deliver, and we know plenty of examples where it has delivered.
Nadeau wrote in an email, "I'm fully supportive of a streetcar for Georgia Avenue and excited about the conceptual drawings circulated last week. It's a great opportunity to strengthen a commercial corridor that has largely been forgotten by our current leadership."

As for the 16th Street bus lane, she said in the interview that not only does she think it's a good idea, as Graham does, but she is pushing to make it a reality (unlike, she says, her opponent):

One of the things I'm working on right now is the 16th Street [bus] lane. That was a proposal that came up in 2009, 2010 when Graham was chair of the transportation committee, and it still has not been studied and implemented. ... When that study was done, 30% of all traffic on 16th Street was the bus. And now, it's more than 50%.

Watch the whole discussion with Graham about transportation here, including conversations about car dependence, parking, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

Politics


Hear the candidates: Ward 6 on transportation

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 6 on the DC Council. See all of the segments here.


Images from the candidate websites.

DC's Ward 6 has a lot of transportation options, from Metro to buses to Capital Bikeshare to walking and much more, and soon will get another: a streetcar on H Street. What do the candidates for DC Council think about the streetcar and other ways to improve transit?

Both Darrel Thompson and Charles Allen said the streetcar project has been delayed too many times. "It's moving; it's not moving fast enough, some could certainly argue," said Thompson. "I remember in 2007 when the streetcar was promised to be running in 2010," said Allen. "Then it was 2011, then 2012, then promised in 2013, and now here we are in 2014." But Allen was bullish on the streetcar's promise, especially if and when it connects beyond H Street and Benning Road.

It's going to be up and running. It will be. And I think it's going to be great for H Street. What I want to do is work to make sure that H Street line isn't just a novelty, isn't just a track that runs up and down the block and is a fun ride but doesn't create the transit connection that you need. ...

I've got to keep an eye on how do we expand that line down Benning Road and into Ward 7. The streetcar works when it connects neighborhoods. So we've got to have that line that connects east and into Ward 7. We've also got to get it over the bridge and into downtown.

This is the first line and it's going to be the one that everyone is watching. But to the extent it's a novelty ride, I think we do a detriment to all the good work and the hard work that's gone into protecting and supporting our streetcar system.

Allen also spoke about the importance of a north-south connection from Southwest to downtown and Shaw and north through the rest of the city.

Darrel Thompson, meanwhile, spoke positively about the streetcar but also with some trepidation. "It's a good idea," he said, but, "We want to make sure it doesn't impede traffic flow. We've got to work out some of the kinks. We've got to make sure that some of the parking challenges that folks have are met. ... So I think it's a great idea, and we'll work out some of the kinks and make sure it works smoothly, and then we can expand to other parts of the city."

What about a dedicated lane? "It'd be great if we could open up 4 more lanes for more streetcars," Thompson said, jokingly. "We've got limited resources... and the challenge is making sure we accommodate as many people as possible as best we possibly can."

Earlier, when we talked about dedicated bus lanes and cycletracks, Thompson said he thinks DC should "look at every option out there and build it where it's feasible," but that we "also have to remember that some people still need to be able to drive and park." He does favor "maximizing the existing infrastructure we have, and if that means isolating a lane for bus traffic, that's a good thing."

Allen, meanwhile, does want to see both streetcar and bus dedicated lanes. "I don't view streetcar or bus rapid transit as mutually exclusive," he said. "On H Street, the concern that we've got is that we're running the streetcar right though traffic. ... As we plan for the streetcar moving forward, I think we would like to to look for how you have a dedicated lane, a dedicated space, for so that it is a quick & reliable mode of transportation."

In addition to lanes, Allen cited limited-stop services like the X9 on H and Benning which help people move much more quickly along a corridor.

Watch the full transportation exchanges below to get the fullest understanding of the candidates' thoughts, including on bicycling and how councilmembers should and should not respond to resident opposition to projects (such as the once-controversial Lincoln Park Capital Bikeshare station).

Transit


Here's how bus lanes might fit on 16th Street

Transit advocates want bus lanes on 16th Street, and DDOT's latest MoveDC plans call for them, but at a recent community forum, Ward 4 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser expressed skepticism that they're possible.

Here's how they might be able to work.


Image by the author using Streetmix.

Yes, 16th Street really is that wide

16th Street is 50 feet wide, curb to curb, for pretty much its entire length. But those 50 feet are arranged in three different configurations, depending on the location.

North of Arkansas Avenue, 16th Street has two lanes in each direction with a raised median down the middle. The presence of that median makes this section the hardest to change.

Between P Street and W Street, 16th Street only has four lanes and lacks a median. But it's still 50 feet wide. The four lanes are just excessively wide.

Between Arkansas Avenue and Park Road, 16th Street's same 50-foot width is split into five 10-foot lanes. This section is the most informative, and illustrates how a bus lane might fit in.


Two sections of 16th Street. Same width, different lane configurations.
Image by the author using Streetmix.

Flexible lanes are the key

There are many demands on 16th Street. Residents want on-street parking. Drivers want two lanes open for cars in each direction. Transit riders want bus lanes.

Ideally we could accommodate all that on one street and still keep it pedestrian-friendly. But with exactly 50 feet to work with, compromises are necessary.

At off-peak times, both car and bus traffic on 16th Street moves pretty well with just one lane in each direction, leaving the curbside lanes for on-street parking. It's only at rush hour that more lanes are really necessary.

The solution so far has been to restrict parking at rush hour, allowing the curbside lane to carry traffic at peak times. But north of Arkansas Avenue and south of W Street, where 16th Street is configured with only four total lanes, that solution leaves out a dedicated bus lane.

Using the five lane configuration, however, allows the curbside lane to become a bus-only lane at rush hour, while leaving the center reversible lane as a 2nd general traffic lane. For the most part, everybody gets what they want.

Theoretically, DDOT could apply this configuration to the existing five lane stretch of 16th Street more or less immediately. And although the median north of Arkansas Avenue is hard to change, restriping the four lane section south of W Street should be relatively easy.

And while a peak-period bus lane between P Street and Arkansas Avenue might not be as great as a full busway all the way from Silver Spring to K Street, it would still be one heck of an improvement over current conditions.

Will this actually happen?

Of course, what's theoretically possible and what's practically achievable aren't always the same. DDOT would need to study this much more closely before implementing it.

One potential holdup is that 10 feet is awfully narrow for a bus lane. Usually bus lanes are 11 or even 12 feet wide. But 10-foot lanes seem to be working now between Park and Arkansas, so why not further south as well?

A pilot project on the existing five lane section might help determine if this is a workable configuration. Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta suggested a pilot project in December. According to Putta, DDOT staff "said they were interested." That's certainly encouraging.

As for Bowser, she sent this statement in an email to Ken Archer, who had tweeted about the news:

I never said I don't support bus lanes. As I recall, I believe I said I don't think it would work on 16th Street; though I was not responding to any specific proposal. My response was based on my many years of observing traffic patterns on the corridor-- but not actual data. I went on to say, which has unfortunately not shown up in your tweets, that signal prioritization is a strategy on the books, with funding that needs to be implemented. As I mentioned to you, I'm happy to review and consider an actual dedicated bus lane proposal that proves to help the most people.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


An H Street bus lane would help both transit & cars

Every day 33 bus routes converge on H and I Streets in downtown DC, making it the busiest bus corridor in the DC region. According to a WMATA report, a contraflow bus lane on H Street would dramatically improve travel times for both transit riders and car drivers.


Potential H Street contraflow bus lane. Image from WMATA.

At peak times, one bus per minute travels along H or I. At off-peak, it's a bus every two minutes. Today, all those buses mix with car traffic on both H and I Streets, which slows them down. Meanwhile, all those buses make several stops to pick up and unload passengers, which slows down car traffic trying to use the same lane.

Moving all the buses to H Street, which is less congested, and giving buses in the westbound direction a separated lane, would speed up both modes.

Since H Street is one-way going east, westbound buses would need a contraflow lane. There are no contraflow bus lanes in the DC region today, but they do work well in other cities around the US.


Contraflow bus lane in Pittsburgh. Picture from BeyondDC.

In its report, WMATA also studied bus lanes on both H and I Streets, as well as a traffic management alternative that wouldn't provide bus lanes, but would optimize traffic signals for buses. All the alternatives improved bus travel, and all of them either improved or maintained current car travel. But the H Street contraflow alternate provided the best combination of benefits, for relatively low cost.

Ultimately DC owns these streets, so the decision to actually implement bus lanes on them rests with the District, not WMATA. But Metro's report could push DDOT to begin its own study process.

Seems like a good idea.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Metrobus carries half of all 16th Street traffic

During the morning rush hour, Metrobus carries 50% of all of the people traveling on 16th Street NW towards downtown DC, despite using just 3% of the vehicles. However, it still gets stuck in traffic.


How people use 16th Street. Images by the author.

It will come as no surprise to regular riders of the Metrobus S1,2,4, or MetroExtra S9, but ridership has grown tremendously in recent years on 16th Street, from just over 16,000 riders per weekday in 2008 to about 20,500 this year. To keep pace, Metro has added lots of new service, most notably the S9 limited stop service in 2009.

In fact, Metro has added so much rush hour service on lower 16th Street that buses headed towards downtown DC now operate more frequently than any transit service in the region, including Metrorail, with buses arriving an average of nearly every 90 seconds.


Multiple S-Line buses crawl during rush hour near 16th and Irving Street NW.

And these buses move a lot of people. A recent analysis found that at the maximum load point, at rush hour into downtown DC, Metrobus services combine to carry about half all the people through the corridor with just three percent of the vehicles and using only eight square feet of available street space per person. These statistics are all the more impressive considering that buses currently have no priority over cars to improve travel times and reliability, leaving riders stuck in traffic.

By allocating roadway space on 16th Street based on the highest capacity and most efficient modes, dedicated bus lanes could allow bus speeds to increase, improving the travel times for riders. That could attract new riders, further increasing transit mode shares in heavily traveled corridors like 16th Street.

Fortunately, Metro is working with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to develop a new transit signal priority system for 16th Street that will help buses communicate with traffic signals and improve reliability and travel times. Metro will also work with DDOT to investigate the potential for exclusive bus lanes through the development of Metro 2025.

You can also provide your comment on exclusive transit lanes and other priorities through the District's Move DC Plan, which will map out surface transit improvements like these as a part of a long range transportation plan for the city.

Crossposted on PlanItMetro.

Transit


Planners water down Montgomery BRT in latest draft

Over the past 5 years, Montgomery County has envisioned building a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, making it a model for communities around the country. But transit advocates worry that the latest proposal takes another step backward from the vision.


Photo by the author.

Last November, planners proposed a 92-mile system where buses had their own lanes, whether in the median or in repurposed car lanes, on all or part of each of the 10 routes. But some residents and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation resisted calls to take away street space from cars.

The latest draft of the plan, which now has 79 miles of routes, has backed away from that recommendation. Under the current proposal, the only places that would get "gold-standard" BRT with dedicated lanes are Route 355 and portions of Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue that have wide medians.


The BRT network proposed in November. Blue represents curb bus lanes, purple is buses running in mixed traffic, and median busways are red. Click for an interactive version.


The current BRT proposal. Image from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

Planners removed repurposed lanes along Route 29 in Four Corners after vocal opposition from a small group of neighbors, but say it's because bus lanes would conflict with an on-ramp to the Beltway. On Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase, where neighbors say the buses would endanger their kids, curb lanes have replaced a median busway.

Meanwhile, dedicated lanes on Georgia Avenue between 16th Street and University Boulevard, on Randolph Road between Rockville Pike and Georgia Avenue, and Stewart Lane and Lockwood Drive in White Oak have disappeared altogether. These sections were part of a "Phase 2" in earlier drafts that was meant to be built in the future.

County transportation planner Larry Cole says that many parts of the county aren't currently dense enough to justify the expense and disruption of creating dedicated bus lanes, especially where streets are constrained by buildings or steep slopes. Likewise, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the world's leading experts on BRT, recommended that the county only pursue 4 of the 10 proposed routes where demand was highest.

Planning staff made the plan more ambitious because the Planning Board wanted an "aspirational plan to look beyond current land use," Cole says. "Phase 1 is what we, the staff, wanted all along. We didn't feel pressure all along. We're the ones who pushed the board to move Phase 2 to the appendix because it caused a lot of confusion and concern from the public."

Plan allows bikes, right-turns in bus lanes

The new draft does have some strengths. It calls for recommend "gold-standard" BRT, with dedicated lanes in the median, all along Route 355, which will support future development in places like downtown Bethesda and White Flint. And there are still repurposed bus lanes on Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. While these streets are already congested, they all serve areas with the county's highest transit ridership, meaning those buses will be well-used.

"We're not backing off on repurposing lanes," Cole said. "We've been pretty hardcore about that."

It also recommends letting bicyclists, emergency vehicles and right-turning drivers use the bus lanes, which lets more people use them without making them as congested as regular lanes. "If a bus was coming every 2, 4 minutes, that would be a safer place for [bicyclists] to be then in the general traffic lanes," says Cole.

Finally, the new draft also explains what the plan will actually do, like identifying areas where the county should put dedicated bus lanes, and what it won't do, like decide what kind of buses to use or how much fares should cost.

Cole notes that this plan simply gives policy direction to things that county and state officials can already do. "Some people are determined that nothing should happen," he says. "As far as curb lanes go, the reality is that [the Maryland State Highway Administration] could make that change today without the master plan."

We have to think big

Many residents support the county's BRT efforts, which grew out of a 2008 proposal by Councilmember Marc Elrich. Both planning consultants and task force of community and business leaders found could provide alternatives to driving and support future population growth.

The Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group for transit, wrote a letter urging them not to "water down" the BRT plan. "To be worthy of support, the bus rapid transit plan must put bus lanes on the most congested roads, not the least congested ones, and include lane repurposing as a major component," it says.

It's good that planners want to take a realistic approach, but to those who don't want BRT on their street, the plan's evolution sends a different message: yell loudly enough, and it'll go away or get watered down. That's a bad precedent for our public process, but worse for drivers and transit riders who will continue to be stuck in traffic.

Montgomery County is known for doing big things. 50 years ago, we created a visionary plan to direct growth into urban areas and preserve farmland. 40 years ago, we created one of the nation's largest subsidized housing programs. 30 years ago, we preserved almost 1/3 of the county as open space forever.

It's likely that each of those things encountered some opposition, but in the end they made this county a better place to live. BRT isn't a panacea, but it is right for the corridors that county planners have studied. And it could be the next big thing that Montgomery County's known for. That is, if we don't let a few naysayers dominate the conversation.

If the Planning Board votes to approve this plan, it'll go to the County Council later this month, with a public hearing to follow in the fall. Hopefully, they'll make sure that this bus doesn't stop prematurely.

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