Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2018

Kevin Harris Testifies at Bus Rapid Transit Hearing

The following is the testimony of Kevin Harris in a hearing on the County’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system held on 27 February 2018 before the County Council.

My name is Kevin Harris and I’m a resident of Silver Spring.  I’ve been a member of the Route 29 BRT Advisory Committee for three years.  I have a Masters in Community Planning and served as a Senior Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.  I have also had excellent experiences with BRT systems, notably in Bogota, Colombia, visiting my wife’s family.

But the hard truth is: one size does not fit all.  Each potential site for a BRT system corridor has its own unique characteristics that need to be carefully evaluated.  The current debate where one is placed into either a “pro” or “anti” BRT box oversimplifies complex transportation planning issues and is antithetical to an informed debate.

A careful evaluation of Route 29 has already occurred.  I participated in an advisory committee with the State for three years and their experts concluded that they could not recommend BRT.  But this study wasn’t good enough for our County Executive because he, and many others, only support studies that provide them with the answers they want.  The County Executive, without the knowledge of the citizens he chose to advise him, hired a hand-picked contractor named Sabra-Wang to deliver the answer that he wanted:  BRT was right for Route 29.

The truth of the matter is that there is no unbiased data that supports the proposition that the current or future proposed BRT proposals will reduce either congestion or transit travel times.  What we have is an expensive, poorly planned mish-mash of bus on shoulder and bus in mixed traffic.  It is transportation planning that is as dull as a butter knife.

The public transportation solution that best fits the transportation and congestion challenges facing Route 29 is MetroExtra.  The initial capital cost for implementing MetroExtra would be 10% of the cost of BRT and deliver riders to the same stations, along the same routes, at the same speed, without eliminating local bus service or incurring $21 million more in debt.

Millions of dollars have been spent on studies.  Montgomery County is in a fiscal crisis; we face a $400 million deficit over the next six years.  You have the choice to recognize fiscal reality, tighten our belts, and still deliver excellent public transit by partnering with WMATA to implement MetroExtra.  What we should not do is take out the County’s credit card to pay for expensive transit solutions that are not backed by any supporting data.  The County’s growing debt burden may force the County to sacrifice investments in education, affordable housing, and many of the social programs we hold dear, including support services to seniors and low-income and immigrant populations.

At a time when we’re facing a $400 million dollar shortfall over six years, we should be looking for ways to provide service at the highest level in the most cost-effective manner, not redesigning highways through political proclamations.  The taxpayers are tired of watching the Council whipsaw back and forth on this issue.  They deserve better.  Implement MetroExtra.  You can save the taxpayers a ton of money and provide excellent bus service at the same time.  It’s a win-win.

[Harris lives on Edgewood Avenue and serves on the NFCCA Board.]   ■

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