NFCCA

Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2012

To BRT or Not To BRT — More Questions Unanswered

By Jim Zepp

The planning for a County-wide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) aka Rapid Transit Vehicle (RTV) aka Transitway system is being fast tracked for important decisions anticipated by the County Council some time next Fall.  A BRT uses dedicated lanes on which special bus-like vehicles travel in a limited-stop manner faster than cars and other vehicles in adjacent traffic lanes.  The BRT vehicles may also leave their dedicated lanes for part of their route to enter residential neighborhoods and other locations where dedicated lanes may not be practical or feasible.  To facilitate their travel speed, the BRT vehicles may also have the ability to control traffic lights as they approach intersections.

Last year the County Executive had appointed a Transit Task Force (TTF).  Its mission is “to advise the County Executive on how to achieve his vision, and to be advocates for developing and implementing a world-class, county-wide, rapid transit system that is safe, efficient, and effectively moves people throughout the county.”  [Original website no longer available; try www.montgomerycountymd.gov/brt instead.]

Last Summer, the TTF issued a report recommending a network of BRT routes that would travel on 16 major roadways, including both Colesville Road and University Boulevard (see map at right).  According to its advocates, this would be the most extensive BRT system in the world and could serve as a national model and resource center for other communities considering similar systems.

To attract riders, the new BRT vehicles will have to be stylish and comfortable and offer relatively frequent service, unlike the County’s Ride-On bus system.

Last Fall, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) began a study to determine how the BRT system might be implemented on the various County roads (www.montgomery planning.org/transportation/highways/brt.shtm).  This includes whether existing traffic lanes, any medians, or properties along the rights-of-way would be used for the dedicated BRT lanes; which intersections the BRT vehicles should be able control traffic lights; and other system configuration questions.  The construction of the BRT system would be done in phases, with Colesville Road likely to be included in the first phase.  These recommendations will be passed to the TTF, which will make its own recommendations to the County Executive, who, in turn, will present a plan to the County Council.  Currently, some time in the Fall is being targeted for the Council to vote on this plan, which does not leave much time for many important decisions.

For example, the initial planning analysis for the 16 mile Purple Line took more than three years.  MNCPPC has been asked to study, take comments, hold hearings, and make recommendations on the 150-mile BRT system in less than nine months.  Consequently, shortcuts are being taken to meet this very ambitious schedule and many questions will remain to be answered or problems to be discovered later for a very expensive undertaking.

One aspect that seems to be suffering from the very short timetable is public participation.  Even though Four Corners will probably be one of the earliest communities to be impacted by the BRT construction, the closest public hearing is planned to be held in Wheaton.  The TTF appears to be reneging on its originally stated plans for public input in its efforts to expedite the process to get its recommendations to the County Executive.  Access to a consultant’s concept plan that was produced for the TTF that contained information related to the expected right-of-way widths for the BRT lanes has been denied when citizens following this issue have requested it.

So while there may be benefits to building the proposed BRT system, there are many unknowns that may be ignored in the rush to get approval or important details that will receive little public notice or discussion until after it is too late to change matters.  Expressions of concern to the County Executive’s Office, Council Members, and the TTF would at least let them know that the rushed and poor planning of this major public project has been noticed.

The Woodmoor-Pinecrest Civic Association’s Traffic Committee has been actively monitoring the progress of the BRT’s project planning.  A representative of that group has been invited to the NFCCA’s April meeting to brief our community on the status of the various studies and meetings and their recommendations for future involvement.   ■


   © 2012 NFCCA  [Source: https://nfcca.org/news/nn201204g.html]