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BRT Supporters: Planning Board’s Proposal ‘Not Acceptable’

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 7/22/2013, 2:10pm  ET

Potential look for a Bus Rapid Transit vehicle in Montgomery County, via County Planning DepartmentA group of Bus Rapid Transit supporters say the master plan approved by the Montgomery County Planning Board should be redone and the county should move immediately to create pilot BRT projects.

The Action Committee for Transit sent a letter to the County Council today saying the Board’s Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan will actually make it more difficult to create exclusive lanes for a new bus system that transit supporters hope would coax people out of their cars.

The plan outlines recommended road treatments for 10 bus rapid transit corridors, including a route that would run on Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue through White Flint, North Bethesda, downtown Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

It will to the County Council on Sept. 10 for a public hearing. The most controversial aspect of the Plan is the idea of reserving existing regular traffic lanes for rapid transit buses, which would mean one fewer lane for drivers.

But in the letter, ACT President Tina Slater said the Planning Board already made that scenario less likely with a traffic analysis requirement. Transit supporters have argued the system is the best way to reduce congestion:

Eliminate the concept that creation of bus lanes requires “acceptable” traffic conditions. The idea behind BRT is exactly the opposite — it’s when roads are congested that dedicated bus lanes ensure that people will have an alternative to sitting in traffic.

ACT would also like to see more lanes repurposed as bus lanes and all reversible median lanes — a single bus-only lane that would run one way in the morning rush and the opposite direction in the afternoon rush — eliminated from the plan. The letter also asks that the plan be sent back to the Planning Board so it can develop a plans for a third MARC commuter train track.

To make up for the delay, ACT wants the County Council to “order an immediate trial run of BRT” by dedicating existing lanes for buses on Veirs Mill Road, Route 29 in Silver Spring, New Hampshire Avenue in Takoma Park, Georgia Avenue near its intersection with the Beltway or Rockville Pike in White Flint:

The proposed master plan has it exactly backwards when it says that existing lanes should not be turned into bus lanes unless the flow of car traffic will be “acceptable.” If traffic is moving at acceptable speed, buses can move as fast in the regular lanes as in bus lanes. It is where car traffic is slow that buses move faster in their own lanes. Requiring “acceptable” traffic conditions where bus lanes are created would keep bus lanes out of the places where they will do the most good. Decisions must be based on what will move the greatest number of people, not the most cars.

Thus the plan should include more repurposed lanes, especially on three corridors that the Institute for Transportation Development Policy says will be among the four most successful: Route 29, Georgia Avenue and Veirs Mill Road. These roads are already home to the county’s most-used Metrobus routes. (BRT on Route 355, the fourth corridor identified by ITDP, should move forward in parallel, beginning with the median busway in White Flint which is already in the master plan.)

Opponents of dedicated bus lanes don’t think enough drivers will opt for buses for over cars, meaning the county’s most congested roads could become more congested with one fewer lane.