Some said it would be too dangerous for students walking to nearby schools. Some said to improve Metrorail first. One person said Montgomery County should be more concerned with putting people on bikes.
Whatever the reason, many of the roughly 50 Chevy Chase residents at a meeting on Tuesday about the Planning Department’s Bus Rapid Transit proposal had already come to a conclusion: They really don’t want the thing near their neighborhood.
During a two-hour meeting with Larry Cole, the Planning Department’s lead planner of the Master Plan for the transit system, homeowners from the west side of Wisconsin Avenue’s “Green Mile” didn’t hold back.
Cole’s plan, which will soon go before the Planning Board for deliberation before heading to the County Council later this summer, calls for a Bus Rapid Transit corridor along Wisconsin Avenue with existing curb lanes dedicated exclusively to buses between Bradley Boulevard and the District line.
Members of the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association and some from surrounding communities say they are worried about traffic interruptions, safety problems and details of how buses will work in specific places, details that Cole repeatedly said won’t be worked out during the Master Plan stage of planning.
That drew groans and muttering from the crowd.
“We would say you’re doing it backwards,” one resident told Cole. “If you can’t address the nuts-and-bolts it seems [wrong] to address a Master Plan.”
Confusion over the Master Plan process and the separate roles of the Planning Department, County Council and the County’s Department of Transportation has caused a fair bit of anxiety in Chevy Chase West.
Marie Park, who testified against the BRT system south of Bradley Boulevard in front of the Planning Board, helped organize the meeting “in order to get more information,” from Cole before the Planning Board’s public commenting period ends on Thursday.
Park advised the group of a petition she’s circulating to make the Planning Board extend the commenting period until June 7 so more opponents from Chevy Chase West can make their opinions known.
Cindy Gibson, chief of staff for Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase), explained that councilmembers typically don’t meddle in the Planning Board’s deliberations on Master Plans by weighing in before those Plans are sent to the County Council. Gibson said she expects a County Council public hearing on BRT in September before a number of Committee worksessions and a full Council vote.
The Plan contains no timeline for starting the project, which at 79 miles and with 10 corridors across Montgomery County could fall in the $5 billion range. It is up to the county executive and the staff of the county’s Department of Transportation to engineer the actual corridors, come back to the Planning Department with designs and budget the necessary capital funding. The County Council would have to approve those recommendations.
Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At large) proposed the idea of a BRT system more than six years ago. Berliner has publicly called BRT a “game changer,” though the opposition to dedicated bus lanes in the “Green Mile” section of Chevy Chase is a more specific issue that has sprouted in the last few months. In 2008, the Chevy Chase West Neighborhood Association testified in support of BRT, at least instead of the Purple Line light rail.
It is unknown how the full Council will come down on the project, or even what form it will receive the Master Plan in after the Planning Board makes its recommendations. There’s also the issue of a new Council term around the corner.
Cole says population growth by 2040 makes the MD 355 Bus Rapid Transit corridor necessary to alleviate traffic congestion that will only get worse. But it will take a big shift in thinking to get residents out of their cars and onto buses, even if those buses would ostensibly provide enough convenience for people to ditch their cars along Wisconsin Avenue.