Monday, May 20, 2013

BRT supporters turn out for public hearing, but skeptics remain

Orange Line Platform, North Hollywood

Over 50 speakers packed the Planning Board auditorium in Silver Spring last night to offer comments on Montgomery County's proposed Bus Rapid Transit network. During a hearing that lasted over 3 hours, residents debated the merits of the 10-route, 79-mile system county planners envision.

A slight majority of speakers spoke in favor of the plan, saying BRT could give people a real alternative to driving and support projected population and employment growth. Many speakers highlighted the importance of transit in attracting new residents, particularly young adults who already flock to the county's walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods.

Skeptics of the plan had concerns about taking away space from cars on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase and Route 29 in Four Corners to give buses dedicated lanes, arguably BRT's most important feature. These corridors already have the county's highest transit ridership and are projected to carry the BRT network's most-used routes.

The Planning Board will discuss the plan and potentially make changes to it during a series of worksessions over the next several weeks. After that, they'll vote on whether to approve it. If it passes, the plan will then go to the County Council later this year for additional public hearings and worksessions and a final vote.

WTOP and BethesdaNow have additional coverage. Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who live-tweeted the event with myself and Ted Van Houten from the Action Committee for Transit, compiled this summary of the hearing on Storify. Below that, you'll find my testimony.

My name is Dan Reed. I'm an urban planner, a board member of the Action Committee for Transit, and I live on Route 29 in East County. I'd like to testify in support of Bus Rapid Transit on my street and elsewhere in Montgomery County.

7 years ago, I had a lousy bus commute to an internship in Bethesda. It regularly took over an hour and a half, most of which was spent going down Route 29 to downtown Silver Spring, where I’d switch buses. The experience inspired me to start writing a blog, Just Up The Pike, about ways to make the Route 29 corridor a better place to live and get around.

Through the blog, I met so many people in my community for whom transit is a lifeline, whether because they can’t drive, can’t afford to drive, or like me, want to drive less. They’re hungry for an alternative to traffic.

After riding the Orange Line BRT in Los Angeles last fall, I was convinced that it’d be a good solution for my street and the other 10 proposed BRT corridors in Montgomery County. I’m confident BRT will help get us where we’re going today and support future development, like White Flint on Rockville Pike.

However, BRT won’t be as effective if buses don’t have their own dedicated lanes, particularly in major chokepoints where it’s geometrically impossible to move everybody in a car. Places like Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, or Four Corners here in East County. It may sound counterintuitive to repurpose a lane for transit, but it guarantees a fast, reliable alternative to sitting in traffic. Without that, people who can option to drive will continue to do so.

Luckily, this plan proposes giving buses a dedicated right-of-way in many parts of the county, but in other areas, it shies away from making a firm recommendation, whether because of logistical difficulties or vocal resistance from a few neighbors. We can’t afford to be wishy-washy about this. People will continue to come here, and that’s a good thing. Basically forcing them to bring their cars as well isn’t.

Growing up in Montgomery County, I was taught that our community values diversity in all its forms. That must include a diversity of transportation options. This plan isn’t about taking away something from drivers, but putting those who ride transit on equal footing with them. I urge you to support this plan and to stand firm for dedicated lanes.

Thank you for your time.

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