$1000 OR MORE
PER YEAR IN
Oversized Montgomery County
Rapid Bus Network Would
Drain Wallets, Existing Metro System
Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!
Can anyone stop Montgomery County's runaway rapid bus proposal? Despite a serious "Emperor's New Clothes" problem, not a single journalism outlet in the DC region has spoken out against the BRT plan, or even provided an in-depth critique.
Yesterday, it was revealed that the "Montgomery County Rapid Transit Task Force" is considering tax plans that could charge Bethesda condo and single-family home owners well over $1000 per year, according to the Washington Post. This whopping tax increase would be just to pay for BRT.
With that kind of abuse of county taxpayers ahead, someone needs to speak out soon. Strangely, the BRT process - nominally public - has provided no forum for public input, even as the task force has dragged out its deliberations for a year.
There have been a handful of presentations, a jumble of different and confusing plans, but no public comment or involvement. And much like the panels of developer agents testifying about the Rockville Pike plan before the Rockville Planning Commission, no dissenting opinions are being permitted.
Allow me to present the very first critique of perhaps the most audacious fiscal and tax boondoggle in Montgomery County history.
First of all, you can't have a few elected officials ram a $2.5 billion dollar transit project through, with a back room plan presented and voted on with one public hearing in 2013. This process needs to SLOW DOWN. NOW.
Second, there is no credible evidence that people will ride rapid buses once they are in service. If they've got the miracle numbers, why not share them with us?
Third, on routes such as Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue and Georgia Avenue, BRT is a duplicative service. If you believe people will switch from a faster subway to a slower bus, then you are taking revenue from the already struggling Metro system. But if people don't switch, the buses will be empty. Either result is a complete waste of money.
Fourth, if we can so easily raise revenue for BRT, why wouldn't we just raise enough to add capacity to the Red Line north of Grosvenor and Silver Spring?
Fifth, likewise, we could take just a fraction of the $2.5 billion, and buy more Ride On and Metrobus vehicles. Run them one behind the other on 355, for example, and you'd have the same 5 minute service intervals.
Sixth, we don't have highway capacity for these buses on many of the proposed routes. You can't take a car lane for rapid buses, and no one can take seriously the bizarre suggestion that they would knock down buildings in downtown Bethesda to make room. Ridiculous. It ain't gonna happen.
Seventh, why hasn't a figure been released for the time savings BRT will provide users? Will it be 2 minutes faster? Five? Zero? And will you be willing to pay $1000 a year more in property taxes to arrive 2 minutes faster on a bus? Is there anyone who would answer, "Yes!" to that question? Put your hand down, Warren Buffett. Most recent discussions have suggested that much of the system will run in regular traffic. If that's not a waste of money, I don't know what is.
Eighth, the primary muscle behind BRT (aside from some councilmembers' desire to point to this massive albatross and say, "look what I accomplished, now vote me to higher office") is - guess who - the developers! Just wait. We'll soon hear that neighborhoods along BRT are now eligible for "Transit Oriented Development." This means suburban, residential areas in Aspen Hill, Olney and Rockville will have their commercial areas bulldozed for "town centers" to tower over their backyards. And you'll pay for the developers to profit, to boot.
Ninth, what exactly will force the public to use BRT? We have a good bus system now, but people don't use it. Do we have to spend $2.5 billion to either subsidize laziness, or even worse, find out no one will use a rapid bus, either? I say laziness because, I've been used early in my life to walking a few blocks to get a bus to a Metro station. I've waited 30 minutes (and even 60, when the bus didn't come) in cold and/or heavy rain, often without a bus shelter to get under. Do you need to pay $1000 a year to subsidize people who think they are too special to do that? Are they made of sugar? Are they going to melt? Deal with it. I'm tired of being lectured about buses by people who don't ride them, when I've logged more Metrobus hours than they have combined!
Tenth, county and regional "smart growth" gurus keep talking about "walkability" and "pedestrian safety." How does making roads even wider, and thundering buses down the middle of them, make major roads easier and more quick to cross on foot? Hmm.
Eleventh, why are corridors like River Road excluded from BRT? The waits for buses are longer there than some of the roads proposed for BRT service.
Twelfth, how does it make any sense for Bethesda residents to pay for the BRT anyway? Bethesda Metro Center is the southern end of the line on the proposed 355 route. Hardly anyone is going north out of Bethesda in the morning, or south to Bethesda in the evening. Most downtown Bethesda residents will either commute by car, bicycle, or they will walk to the Metro and take the Red Line downtown. So what are we paying taxes for, exactly? Bethesda is getting virtually no use of the proposed system. Downtown Silver Spring residents could justifiably say the same thing.
The fact is, we have a great bus system now. Except for outrageous actions by the county council - who cut weekend and holiday service on Ride On Route 90 (Shady Grove Metro-Damascus), stranding non-driving Damascus residents in town on those days - you can actually get around quite well. We have Metro. And we have cars, but an incomplete highway system.
The Post said "County officials and task force members say (BRT) is the most affordable option available to move commuters along increasingly congested corridors such as the Midcounty Highway, Randolph Road and Rockville Pike."
Really? "Survey says... BRRRRNNNNNNNNNTTTT!!"
Come on. Midcounty Highway is not even a corridor, and MCDOT has already said BRT is unnecessary on Midcounty Highway Extended.
Rockville Pike? Again, add more conventional buses. Synchronize the stoplights. Use Metro, and/or add more Red Line capacity for less than $2.5 billion.
Randolph Road? Build the Rockville Freeway for a sliver of what the BRT would cost, and you move the long-distance, cross-county traffic off Randolph permanently. Combined with the already-scheduled interchange at the Randolph-Georgia Avenue intersection, the Rockville Freeway restores Randolph to A-1 operating capacity.
There are only a few corridors where BRT would make sense. One is Veirs Mill Road, but WMATA already has a solid plan to improve bus service along that corridor for far less than the cost of BRT.
Route 29 is another. Along with the Corridor Cities Transitway, a BRT line there would be a good pilot project. Will people really ride a bus just because it comes every 5 minutes in the middle of the road?
Even there, however, it's worth a try to promote what we've already got. Humorously, the Post claimed that the only way to reach a popular Indian grocery store on Old Columbia Pike is by car.
If this mystery store is the one I'm thinking of near the intersection of Old Columbia Pike and Briggs Chaney Road, it is served by no less than 4 - 4!! - buses: the Z6, Z8 and Z9 from Silver Spring Metro, and Ride On 39.
I've done my homework. With $1000 more in property taxes on the line for the biggest boondoggle in county history, it's time for county officials and the local media to start doing theirs.
Labels: Bethesda, BRT, Bus Rapid Transit, Metrobus, Montgomery County, property tax, Rapid Transit Tax, Ride On, Rockville Freeway, task force, transit, wmata