Last week BethesdaNow.com, a newsblog featuring local and breaking news, ran an opinion piece questioning aspects of Bus Rapid Transit, particularly along the southern stretch of MD355. I had the opportunity to submit a counterpoint:
Bring On Bus Rapid Transit
After reading Mr. Hawkins’ opinion on Bus Rapid Transit through Bethesda, I felt compelled to share a different perspective on the proposed system: mine. My work on the redevelopment of White Flint has not informed my opinion of transit as much as my daily life around this county, as well as more than 10 years commuting downtown.
While I’d dispute the Red Line being called “reliable,” I believe that point is a distraction from the heart of what Bus Rapid Transit could mean to our area.
When Metro came to Montgomery County, its primary focus was to move suburban commuters quickly to their downtown workplaces. It was not designed to move people around Montgomery County for work, errands or dates. That’s what the Bus Rapid Transit network would do. It would offer county residents a reliable option for getting around without a car. Metro functions like this downtown where there are shorter distances between stops — measured in blocks instead of miles, as they are here. This type of modality will be replicated by BRT and, as a network, each corridor’s connections add to the value of the full system.
I do believe that Mr. Hawkins is right in thinking that reliability is key in any transit network. For residents to be willing to leave their cars behind, they need to know that they will reach their destination when they need to be there. A bus that sits in the same traffic as everyone else will not achieve this goal. For this reliability, Bus Rapid Transit requires dedicated lanes. In constricted areas, like Bethesda, this might mean repurposing a lane from traffic to transit.
This is usually where our first reaction is to panic at the idea of taking away a car lane: Won’t that just make traffic worse?
In looking at the impacts in other jurisdictions, not only does it not make traffic worse but repurposing a car lane for reliable transit alleviates the strain on our roads so that everyone moves faster. Montgomery County’s BRT plan proposes repurposing a lane where forecast bus ridership exceeds how many cars that lane could move. In short, this is about moving more people with our existing infrastructure, which makes sense to me.
Have you ever felt like traffic is so much better when school is out of session? Two years ago, a regional studylooked at why our traffic seems so much looser during the summertime. Researchers wanted to know exactly how many cars needed to leave the roads in order for us to feel such luxurious drive times. What they foundwas stunning: “[a]t the same time that delays dropped by 18% between June 2011 and July 2011, total driving — measured in vehicle-miles traveled, or VMT — decreased only 0.6%.”
So, when fewer than 1% of drivers make other choices on how to get around, we see an 18% improvement in traffic. This image from The Atlantic offers some visual insight into why this is.
Bus Rapid Transit is also a fiscally responsible solution to our traffic problems, which are only projected to worsen exponentially.
For perspective, it costs about $250 million per mile to construct Metro and light rail costs about $75 to 125 million per mile. New roads are expensive, too. A single roadway interchange will set us back up to $100 million. Bus Rapid Transit, by contrast, is estimated to run about $17 million per mile. Mr. Hawkins points out that BRT is subsidized by taxpayers, but forgets that roads are much more heavily subsidized than transit.
I understand loving our cars. I’m the girl who drove all over New York City when I lived there because transit was such a foreign concept to me.
But as I run around our county for my work and my kids, I would love to have a reliable option beyond driving everywhere. Evidence from other regions that have invested in providing a range of reliable transit, walking, and bicycling options see significant shifts away from driving — if you build it, they will come. I believe Bus Rapid Transit is the right call and leaving an important downtown center like Bethesda out of the plan will put it behind the curve.