Monday, May 23, 2016

montgomery county will build bus rapid transit in four years

After nearly a decade of debate, Montgomery County wants to build a bus rapid transit line in four years, for 20% of the originally estimated cost. While it'll be a better bus service, it may not be so rapid.

27th & Crystal station
Montgomery County could get this, sort of. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Last month, the county announced its plan to build a 14-mile BRT line along Route 29 (also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike) from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Burtonsville. It's part of a larger, 80-mile system that's been studied since 2008 and was officially approved in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett wants to have this line up and running by the end of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The county also says they can do it for $67.2 million, compared to the $350 million county planners previously predicted.

How? Most bus rapid transit systems, like the new Metroway in Northern Virginia, have a separate roadway for buses that gets them out of traffic and provides a shorter, more reliable travel time.

On Route 29, the county envisions running buses on the shoulder between Burtonsville and Tech Road, where it's basically a highway. Further south, as Route 29 becomes more of a main street, the county would turn existing travel lanes into HOV-2 lanes for buses and carpools. For about three miles closer to downtown Silver Spring, buses would run in mixed traffic. This setup allows the county to build the line without widening the road anywhere, which saves on land and construction costs.

Map from Montgomery County.

The line would have other features that can reduce travel time and improve the current bus riding experience. Each of the 17 stations would feel more like a train station, with covered waiting areas, real-time travel info, and fare machines so riders can pay before getting on. At some stoplights, buses would get the green light before other vehicles. Buses would come every six minutes during rush hour, and every 10 minutes the rest of the time.

County officials estimate that 17,000 people will use the service each day by 2020 and 23,000 people will ride it each day in 2040. The line, which would be part of the county's Ride On bus system, would replace express Metrobus routes along Route 29, though existing local bus routes would remain.

Montgomery County would cover half the cost of building the line, while the other half would come from the US Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program for small-scale transportation projects. In addition, the grant would include money for sidewalks, bike lanes, covered bike parking at stations, and 10 bikesharing stations along the corridor. The county will find out if it's won the grant money this fall.

The project could give Montgomery County somewhat better transit now

This plan could bring better bus service to East County, which has been waiting for rapid transit since it was first proposed in 1981. The Metrobus Z-line along Route 29 is one of the region's busiest, with over 11,000 boardings each day, but riders face delays and long waits.

East County lacks the investment that more affluent parts of the county enjoy, and so residents must travel long distances for jobs, shopping, or other amenities. Residents suffer from poor access to economic opportunities: according to the county's grant application, 30% of the area's 47,000 households are "very low income." County officials hope that better transit could support big plans to redevelop White Oak and Burtonsville.

While not having dedicated transit lanes makes this project easy to build, it also makes it hard to provide a fast, reliable transit trip. Enforcing the HOV lanes will be hard, especially south of New Hampshire Avenue where the blocks are short and drivers are constantly turning onto Route 29 from side streets. And without dedicated lanes in congested Four Corners, buses will simply get stuck in traffic with everyone else, discouraging people from riding them.

The route also includes two spurs along Lockwood Drive and Briggs Chaney Road, each of which serves large concentrations of apartments where many transit riders live, but would force buses on huge, time-consuming detours. One possibility is that some buses could go straight up Route 29 while others take the scenic route. But that's basically how the existing bus service on the corridor already works.

This could make the case for rapid transit

This might be a temporary solution. The county and state of Maryland will continue planning a "real" bus rapid transit line that might have its own transitway, but that could take several years.

In the meantime, the county needs to build support for better transit. BRT has broad support across the county, but many residents are still skeptical. Supporters and opponents alike have been confused and frustrated by the lack of information on the county's progress in recent months.

By getting something on the ground now, Montgomery County can show everyone how BRT really works sooner, rather than later. Despite the shorter timeframe, it's important to make sure this service actually improves transit, and that residents actually know what's going on.


Robert said...

Metro proposed to add Metro Extra Express service on Route 29, which wouldn't cost $67 million to implement.

Aside from having stations, which would mean longer walks for lots of riders, how is the BRT proposal better or worse than Metro Extra Express? Metro Extra Express could run on the shoulders and HOV-2 lanes, too.

What we really need is Metro heavy rail tunneled under Route 29, just like it is under Georgia Avenue. Expensive, yes, but far better than the do-it-on-the cheap half way measures of light rail and BRT even with dedicated lanes. If Virginia can build Metro rail to Dulles, why can't Maryland do it up Route 29?

mel said...

The real plus to this latest BRT proposal from County Executive Leggett is that the groundbreaking ceremony will occur before he leaves office. It will also be right befor the next election when today's council members will be running for office, most for county executive.

*A* said...

Sweet, a Bus that gets stuck in the rest of traffic? Sign me up!
Since we know it's going to be anything BUT 'rapid', can we call this thing Terrapin Transit??

J Miller said...

[Long Opinion - Part One]

An incredible waste of time and money... that will mostly subsidize Howard County commuters and Percontee.

And just imagine the traffic impacts... which is all we can do because the MoCo Council has decided to skip critical BRT related traffic studies - voting to override regulations put in place to protect the citizens from the impacts of this size/type of project without proper review. I find that sickening, quite frankly. And infuriating. The level of hubris demonstrated by our officials here is staggering.

Here's a question: If this is going to be so great why can't they do the studies to **prove** it? What are they trying to hide? (I'll give you a hint: massive traffic on 29) What will be the delays for regular traffic on 29? The questions unanswered are huge:

- How much will this impact an already nightmare of a ride during rush hour?
- How will HOV enforcement (presumably with police vehicles with lights on) affect traffic due to rubbernecking?
- With large numbers of HOV violators how would BRT vehicles provide any benefits over traditional, less expensive, express buses?
- How will this affect cut-through traffic in neighborhoods like Woodmoor, North Four Corners, etc.?
- How will people enter/leave their neighborhoods when traffic/BRT lanes make current accessways (like Crestmoor, Southwood, Dale, Noyes, Lexington, Indian Spring, Franklin, etc.) inaccessible or overly difficult to use during peak times?
- How will increased bus traffic affect smaller roads like Lockwood?
- What will the impact be to the intersections at 29 - NH Ave. - Lockwood - FDA Dr.?
- With Lockwood carrying increased traffic how will that affect Burnt Mills Estates and other nearby neighborhoods like Quaint Acres?
- What budget additions will be made to increase maintenance on roads carrying heavier bus traffic? (heavier vehicles tear up roads quickly)

So many unanswered questions.

Ultimately... They lost me when they decided to blow off the research requirements. It's all very suspicious. I don't appreciate elected officials overriding regulations set in place for decades to push ill-conceived pet projects (with huge development components... of course!).

Instead of wasting millions...maybe we can do something along 29 and NH Ave that doesn't include adding 60,000+ densely packed residents in an already densely packed area. Maybe the MoCo Council could focus on fixing/maintaining what has already been (over)developed. They can start with my neighborhood's roads (just off Rt. 29) - which look like ISIS shelled them. Or repair the dozens of crumbling and invisible speed bumps that wreck our car suspensions. Or develop some signal timing strategies that can speed traffic during peak times (especially at 4 Corners which is a disaster most times of the day... or the gridlock on University Blvd.... or the mess that is now Fenton/Wayne... or the backups/gridlock through most of Silver Spring, etc.).

Perhaps we could determine how many people using the 29 corridor are from *Howard County* and maybe work with them and the State (and get them to kick in $$$) for a better planned inter-county project(s)? A simple license plate survey would demonstrate exactly what percentage of the indigenous MoCo population is clogging the roads between Georgia/29 and the ICC. (The ICC... which... if I recall was supposed to "End Gridlock!" Man... how'd that work out for us? Remember when they told us about how the ICC would greatly reduce the traffic on the Beltway?)

J Miller said...

[Long Opinion - Part 2]

I know you want 29 corridor transit improvements... and I do too. But this half-baked BRT concept is bovine scatology. The blown off traffic studies, a push for lots of new (tax generating) development without consideration to impact, and Percontee donations/activities with council members/MoCo Govt. should be all the red flags you need on this. Combine that with a county that seemingly cannot build anything on time and with quality... and you've got a recipe for *WORSE* traffic not better.

It's time we discuss and plan real options... long term options and not patchwork nonsense used to justify massive development. Rushing into things helps nothing.

And as for this voter... I can't wait to vote for term limits so we can replace Berliner, Elrich, Leventhal, and Floreen. I'm tired of their disrespectful behaviors in office. I don't think they are looking after their constituents... they're looking out for themselves and their political careers. Your mileage may vary. I'm sure if I donated a few thousand dollars to each one my issues would get a boatload more attention. But... I'm just a regular citizen... I'm not a big land holding business like Percontee or Marriott (who snookered the State and County for the Rockledge Dr. exit on 270. They promised jobs and then *broke the deal* shortly thereafter without any negative repercussions).

Let's hold them to what's right! Let's plan "East County" and do it right! I don't care that the 'Ike and Nancy Show' wants to push a shovel into the ground ASAP... I want to see it laid out completely - with all the (formerly) required research studies completed - so we're not stuck with a multi-decade boondoggle. Like the Silver Spring Transit Center. Did you see what poor planning and implementation did there?

Tanisha Brown said...

Up and running by 2019 LOL! How long did it take for the Silver Spring Transit Center?

Chris Brantley said...

Lets hope that we'll be able to realize the benefits of current mass transit innovations sometime in the foreseeable future:

Greg Sanders said...

I'm really excited about this idea, in part because one of Howard County's largest employers, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL), is just another 6 miles away up 29 and not that far from the Scaggsville/Maple Lawn Park and Ride. Presently, it's transit accessibility is fairly terrible and since the MD commuter buses don't serve counterflow commuters, it's hard to really make the case for shuttles.

Obviously as that's still a challenging last half-dozen mile problem, but it seems like with some support from Howard County and perhaps APL itself, this could pave the way for a few additional wins.