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Council Committee Begins Examination of Bus Rapid Transit Proposal

The council's transportation and environment committee began holding work sessions about bus rapid transit on Monday.

The proposed 81 miles of bus rapid transit in Montgomery County. Courtesy of MontgomeryPlanning.org.
The proposed 81 miles of bus rapid transit in Montgomery County. Courtesy of MontgomeryPlanning.org.
By Laura L Thornton

Could dedicated bus lanes help solve Montgomery County's traffic problem?

Discussion about the county's plans to construct a bus rapid transit (BRT) network in Montgomery County began on Monday, as the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee held the first of five planned work sessions on the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan

The master plan's main purpose is to identify the specific lines and approximate station locations for the proposed BRT lines, as well as the minimum rights-of-way required for the segments in each line, according to Neil H. Greenberger, legislative information officer for the county council.

"It is as ambitious as it is necessary. It would create, if all 81 miles along eight corridors were constructed, the most extensive rapid transit system in the country," Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner, chair of the committee, said before the committee's work session began on Monday. 

"For a community that has suffered through decades of some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation—traffic that is projected to only get worse, not better—rapid transit is considered ... to be our most promising, cost-effective option," he added.

"...At the heart of this plan and our future work ... is a critically important, yet simple, concept ... that, in using our scarce public resources—our roadways—we must prioritize moving people, not cars," Berliner added.

"It is a 'People First Plan' in effect," he added.

The plan proposes BRT lanes on 10 routes throughout the county—covering 81 miles of roads and serviced by 101 stations, according to the plan's website. The routes include Georgia Avenue through Silver Spring and Rockville Pike south to the DC border—a path with which many Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents disagree, Patch reported last spring.

The planning department says that the bus lanes would be a way to handle a projected 21 percent increase in population the county could face between 2013 and 2040 and a projected 70 percent increase in congested road lanes by 2040, according to independent planning consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The BRT lanes would compliment existing Metrorail routes, offering closer spacing between Metrorail stops as well as providing for faster transit between points not connected by Metrorail, county transportation planner Larry Cole told attendees of a public meeting in Chevy Chase last May.

The county's planning board also has recommended additional treatments, such as (in some places) single and dual dedicated median lanes, dedicated curb lanes, repurposed lanes and mixed traffic. 

But, "in this plan, those recommendations will have the equivalent of an asterisk that makes it clear those are the planning board's recommendations, not our conclusions," and will be considered by a future county council, Berliner said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic disagrees with the current plan.

"We strongly support BRT and have testified in favor of a regional BRT system, but we believe the plan before you is fatally flawed in multiple ways," Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson, AAA's managing director, said in testimony submitted last weekend. 

Because the plan repurposes current travel lanes to bus-only lanes, rather than creating new lanes for buses, the plan is "a recipe for even worse gridlock" than currently exists, he said.

The club also questioned whether the county could afford to construct and maintain the proposed BRT system, and whether there is enough population density for it beyond the I-270 and Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue corridors.

"We understand that the planners and some of the council want to change the transportation equation in the county, moving towards more pedestrian, bicycle and transit activity. We agree this is appropriate for current and future urban areas, but believe it must not be accomplished by doing serious damage to those commuters and residents who choose to use—or must rely—on their cars for much of their mobility," the club's testimony concluded. 

Three future committee work sessions will focus on individual groups of corridors, and there will be one additional work session for follow-up issues, Berliner said.

What do you think of the proposed plan for bus rapid transit in Montgomery County? Tell us in the comments.

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