Thursday, April 11, 2013


Montgomery County Planning Department Master Planner Larry Cole told the Rockville Planning Commission last night that a bus rapid transit line along MD Route 355 would take "13-21%" of its ridership from Metro.

Why is this important?

For two reasons. First, it highlights the duplication of existing subway service by BRT. In fact, Commissioner David Hill questioned Cole on that very point at last night's briefing at Rockville City Hall.

Secondly, it confirms my argument from the beginning of this sham of a process regarding BRT:  the duplicative service will attract mostly those who already use transit. In the process, it will slash the already insufficient revenue of the Metro system.

Where will that shortfall be recovered from? From you and I, the taxpayers. And again from you and I, in the form of future Metro fare increases.

It begs the question again - if the county has a magic $5 billion in extra revenue to pay for the BRT system, wouldn't that money be better spent on projects that will actually reduce congestion? These would include M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended, the Rockville Freeway, a new Potomac River bridge, expanded MARC service, the Purple Line and an extension of Metro to Gaithersburg and Germantown.

In contrast to those projects, the ridership, density and demand numbers for BRT simply don't add up.  With no solid evidence that drivers will "get out of their cars," it's safe to assume Metro ridership will be the target audience for the Emperor's New Bus, thereby providing no congestion relief.

What could ultimately end up happening, is a small BRT ridership, taken in even greater numbers from Metro than Cole's projections suggest, riding $5 billion buses along a now even-more-congested Route 355. And Metro in even worse financial straits than ever.

Rockville Planning Commissioners were understandably skeptical of Cole's presentation.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman asked Cole if he was attempting to "punish" drivers by removing 2 car lanes from 355 for BRT. Cole arrogantly responded that drivers "don't own" those lanes.

Mr. Cole, those of us who live in Maryland not only own those lanes, but we paid for their construction, and continue to pay for their maintenance.

Cole made the mistake of comparing the seizure of 2 lanes for BRT to HOV Lanes on I-270. Anyone who actually drives on 270 knows that the HOV idea was a complete failure, and does continue only as a punishment for drivers. The HOV lane is that one which you turn to the left and see hardly anybody in, while you're crawling or at a complete stop on 270. Not only is traffic still jammed, but you're moving even slower, thanks to the loss of 25% of capacity in the Express lanes.  And during rush hour, many HOV drivers are using the lane illegally.

Cole wasn't done making odd comparisons.

When a skeptical Commissioner Dion Trahan quizzed Cole as to how losing already-jammed lanes would reduce gridlock, Cole referred to Ballston in Arlington.

Cole repeated a popular urban myth among "smart" growth advocates, that traffic on Wilson Boulevard in Ballston and Clarendon has actually decreased, despite massive, dense redevelopment.

This is an apples to oranges comparison, and complete bunk. First, the "less traffic" argument is hardly accurate as it relates to Arlington.

But, more importantly, there is no comparison whatsoever between Wilson Boulevard and 355.

The daily traffic count on Wilson is around 15,000 vehicles.

The daily traffic count on Rockville Pike is 43,000 to 46,000 cars.

Wilson is a lower-capacity road than 355.

And Wilson is not an arterial road of the scope of 355.  355 carries heavy traffic from Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Montgomery counties along a corridor that has only one alternative, 270.

In contrast, drivers traveling west-east into Washington through Arlington have many parallel routes to choose from.  Rockville Pike is not Wilson Boulevard, and you can't make it so just to satisfy ideology or developers.

Speaking of which, Cole seems to favor both. Cole's recent suggestion to kill the grade-separated Montrose Parkway certainly revealed an anti-highway, pro-developer bias. That's not a good starting point for a planning department that is supposed to ensure adequate mobility of citizens via a multimodal transportation system.

But there's more ideological dreaming, "behavior-modification" scheming, and development cheerleading going on than planning in Cole's department.

Asked by the commission's chair, Jerry Callistein, why no planning has been done for BRT parking, environmental studies, BRT-Metro transfers, BRT vehicle storage, etc., Cole essentially responded that the dog ate his homework. It's hard enough to get the BRT plan passed without worrying about those little details, Cole suggested.

Unsatisfactory answers were the rule in a presentation on an unsatisfactory boondoggle of a BRT proposal.


Anonymous said...

Arrogance is the idea that single cars with single passengers should be given priority, when there's actually many people who want to move through that thoroughfare and not have to do it in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Anonymous said...

5 billion is a lot of money for a bus line. Why not just expand Metrorail? How much is the silver line project costing?

Anonymous said...

Reducing a road by 33% on the hope/wish/dream that a third or more of the people in cars would say "let's take more time, money, effort by taking the bus" is the definition of insanity.

I would rather see a county wide plan for an above ground trolley... east to west, north to south, etc. use the 355 center island, make a real contribution. Instead... take the bus?

There is no real understanding of "smart growth". Simple examples like the bike lane alongside I-370. They said that the last 2 miles of it would have "damaged the environment" (the 3 foot bike lane alongside the brand new 6 lane highway would be a problem for the environment). It would have allowed 10s of thousands of people living near Shady Grove Road, north of Shady Grove Road (extending to G'burg and Montgomery Village), and east of Shady Grove (airpark and beyond) to reach the bike trail system that starts at Rockcreek Regional Park near Needwood and extends through Bethesda, DC, Mt. Vernon, into Virginia, etc. Smart growth starts with providing for all kinds of transportation options, and Montgomery County consistently does not do that.

Robert Dyer said...

The main cause of bumper-to-bumper traffic is the failure to complete the highway system in Montgomery County. BRT will not solve that problem, and reducing automobile capacity 33% on 355 will only make it worse.

Robert Dyer said...

I agree. $5 billion is a pretty hefty downpayment on a Metro extension to Old Town Gaithersburg, and Germantown. Or even using just some of that to pay for increased Red Line capacity, especially north of Grosvenor. Either subway expansion would be more effective than simply running an expensive bus next to an existing rapid transit line south of Shady Grove.

Robert Dyer said...

That's the critical part - offering a variety of well-planned travel options, and having people use the ones that work for them best. With BRT, the county is attempting to reduce mobility by sabotaging highway capacity. As you point out above, highways actually provide bicycle and transit facilities. I never hear the anti-highway people talk about it, but there are express MTA buses that zip east-west on the ICC today. That was not possible on the current Beltway/I-95.

Paula Bienenfeld said...

Contrary to what Mr. Cole said, the Transit Task Force did discuss the environmental implications, as shown in their meeting minutes, here

They discussed not pursuing federal funds because if they did, they would be required to follow the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements, which include public reviee and comments, and analysis of environmental impacts.