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Learn about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) tonight and tomorrow night

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) is studying options for a new BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) service along MD 355 called FLASH.

MCDOT invites you to a public Open House to learn more about FLASH on MD 355 and to see the results of the extensive evaluation and preliminary engineering of the alternatives, including ridership, benefits, impacts, and estimated costs.

They look forward to answering questions and collecting your valuable input. Your feedback will help inform the selection of a Recommended Alternative.


Wednesday, June 26   6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Activity Center at Bohrer Park
506 S. Frederick Avenue
Gaithersburg, MD

Thursday, June 27   6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
B-CC Regional Services Center
Wisconsin Room
4805 Edgemoor Lane
Bethesda, MD
Learn More

Bus Rapid Transit is Gaining Traction Across the Country

In an article on Governing, Wes Guskert, President and CEO of The Traffic Group, declared that rapid transit has most of the benefits of light rail at a fraction of the cost.  He writes that ” BRT usually costs 20 percent of a light rail system but can capture 80-85 percent of those who would ride light rail.”

The article also notes that a rapid transit system has all of the amenities of modern rail, including Wi-Fi, level boarding and off-vehicle payment systems while retaining vital flexibility.

Nationally, BRT has resulted in a 400 percent return on investment along transit corridors. The thriving HealthLine BRT in Cleveland delivered more than $4.8 billion in economic development, $114.54 for every dollar spent on the line.

When you look at the data, rapid transit down Route 355 appears to be both a smart money move and smart transit move.

A brief primer on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

With the Transit Task Force public forum on September 30 and the recent release of the Transit Task Force Draft Report, there’s a lot of chatter online and in the real world about how MoCo creates, funds, and manages an RTS. So  I thought it would be helpful to write a quick blog post to provide some background on this complex topic.

What makes a Rapid Transit System (RTS), also known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) work the best?

Graphic from www.itdp.org

Graphic from www.itdp.org

 

Here’s one example of a successful BRT line. The 9.2 mile RTA HealthLine in Cleveland was financed primarily by the state of Ohio, the federal government and naming sponsorship from the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital.  This BRT encouraged billions of dollars of redevelopment projects along the corridor, and in just three years, ridership has increased more than 60 percent over the bus routes that formerly ran along the corridor.

There are now 402 BRT corridors and bus lanes, stretching over 5,229 kilometers worldwide.  According to The City Fix, every day, in 195 cities across the globe, nearly 33 million people use bus rapid transit.  From 2004 to 2014, BRT nearly quadrupled in size, growing particularly fast in rapidly urbanizing countries such as China, Brazil, and Indonesia.

You can learn even more about BRT by reading one of our previous blog posts, Tell me again what this BRT-thing is all about?

141 cities around the world are currently planning or constructing new BRT systems.  Will MoCo be one of them?

See, people will ride Bus Rapid Transit

Route 355

If Friends of White Flint had a nickel for every time we’ve heard “People will never ride Bus Rapid Transit,” we’d never have to fundraise again. But fortunately for the White Flint area, the facts contradict this belief.

In Alexandria, ridership of their Metroway Bus Rapid Transit is consistently 15 to 20 percent higher than projections for initial ridership, even with the recent cold weather.

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation reportBRT systems are extremely effective in increasing transit ridership levels. In Las Vegas, the MAX system is responsible for at least a 35 to 40% increase in ridership along its corridor of operation.  The Boston based MBTA  route experienced a whopping 66% increase in ridership by switching their limited routes to BRT lines.  In Los Angeles, 32 % of their Rapid Transit System trips came directly from new transit travel, indicating that their services attract a large number of “choice” riders.

All this means there is no reason to think that a Rapid Transit System along Route 355 wouldn’t be equally successful in the Pike District.

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Interactive Worldwide Map of Successful Bus Rapid Transit Corridors

 

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy created an interactive map that labels successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors worldwide. The ITDP created a BRT Standard that these programs must meet.

The ITDP uses elements to define BRT , which include a dedicated right-of-way, busway alignment, off-board fare collection, intersection treatments, and platform-level boarding. The standard looks a various BRT corridors and scores how they fare within these elements.

The BRT standard focuses on BRT corridors instead of BRT systems because “quality of BRT in cities with multiple corridors can vary significantly.” BRT Corridors are defined as: “A section of road or contiguous roads served by a bus route or multiple bus routes with a minimum length of 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) that has dedicated bus lanes.” 

 

It is great to see so many successful BRT programs across the world. We hope that the BRT system planned for Montgomery County will include many of elements these successful programs maintain.

Daimler Weighs in on Bus Rapid Transit

Last week, auto giant Daimler participated in a Japanese forum focused on the successful model of Bus Rapid Transit. As a primary manufacturer of rapid transit vehicles, Daimler has participated in the development of these systems all over the world and, so, their perspective is unique.

Tokyo is considering Rapid Transit in advance of the 2020 Summer Olympics and Daimler did their part to show that it’s a smart transit solution.  As a piece in Autocar Professional (an Indian/Asian publication) noted:

Around 180 BRT systems are in operation worldwide. The fleets encompass a total of 40,000 buses that transport 30 million passengers every day. Besides being used for normal operations, the concept has proved its worth in connection with major events. For example, nine of the 12 Brazilian cities that hosted the World Cup used this kind of public transport.

Municipalities are impressed by the fact that BRT systems generate lower construction and maintenance costs than other means of transportation with a comparable passenger capacity. In addition, express bus lanes can be set up more quickly than tram or subway lines. The barrier-free stops that are typical of BRT systems make it easier for people whose mobility is impaired to enter the buses. Lastly, the advance ticket sale feature reduces waiting times, thus making the system even more appealing for operators and passengers.

“BRT has been a success story on all continents. We are sure that the concept will also effectively complement the mass transit infrastructure in Japan,” says Gustav Tuschen, Head of Development at Daimler Buses.

Montgomery County is in the process of creating its own Rapid Transit System to join this worldwide revolution in transit.  It will offer more options to our residents and address our ever-worsening traffic.  Right now, the County is looking for a few good people to participate on community advisory committees to help shape the system.  Please consider nominating yourself!  Applications are being accepted until November 21st and it’s absolutely critical that engaged and interested folks have a voice in this process!  Click here for more information on the advisory committees – and how to apply. And, click here for the full piece from Autocar Professional.

Why MoCo Needs Bus Rapid Transit

As most of us are aware, the Greater Washington, D.C. area is known for having some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. Montgomery County, however, is taking action to change this pattern of traffic in the D.C. area. As we have discussed in many past posts, MoCo is bringing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program to the county.

Councilmember Roger Berliner and Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board Francoise Carrier reinforced the need for this BRT program in an article for the Washington Post back in December 2013.

To start off, they pointed out that building more roads in the county will not decrease our traffic. So this leaves only so many options for the county, those often labelled “transit-oriented” options. BRT is not a new program for the US and MoCo can certainly follow these successful examples. BRT is a great option “[b]ecause it is the least costly, most flexible and fastest solution to implement.” The county shifted their focus from a light-rail option contemplated under the Corridor Cities Transitway project to connect Montgomery County when it found that BRT was a more viable, easier, and faster solution to move people around the county. The county found that building a network of bus transit routes or corridors connecting areas of high traffic congestion and demand will be more successful in decreasing traffic.

The BRT relies on a dedicated bus lane, in order to make the bus rapid and reliable. MoCo plans to have 80 miles of dedicated bus lanes, which will be the “largest network of dedicated lanes anywhere in the country.” The main goal for the BRT program is to appeal to people who are drivers. MoCo is taking a person-centered or “person throughput” approach that many community planners and developers choose to use. This means that the plan is focused on how to move people, not how to move cars. Berliner and Carrier ask that residents give as much community input as they can because this project will bring many changes to communities and neighborhoods throughout the county that we hope will be positive for all residents.

To ease tensions and issues that may arise from change, the BRT system will come in phases. The hopes are to start in the most critical and crowded corridors: Route 355 (Rockville Pike) and Route 29 (Columbia Pike).  Bringing a dedicated bus lane to Rockville Pike will help decrease traffic congestion and safety issues for our present and future residents of the White Flint district. The rapid transit system for allow for more county residents to frequent stores, restaurants, and services in the county without the use of a car, which we hope will bring economic and social growth to the county. For White Flint district specifically, we hope the rapid transit system will allow for all types of county residents to frequent our amenities and services, not just those with access to a car.

Therefore, to increase the county’s ability to be a powerful agent of change for transit-oriented development, Berliner and Carrier plea for residents to understand that the BRT system is “worth doing.” This article is a reminder of why BRT is so important for the D.C. area. Friends of White Flint is a strong supporter of the BRT program and we are looking forward to the implementation of the network.

Want to learn more about how it will affect White Flint?  Come to our Annual Meeting on May 29th and hear from Communities for Transit’s David Hauck.  His presentation lets you visualize exactly what we’re talking about!

Many Montgomery County Residents Support the Bus Rapid Transit Plan

A recent article from Aaron Kaut of Bethesda Now highlighted t a poll commissioned by The Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities for Transit and completed by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research to see how Montgomery County residents support the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan. In November, the BRT proposal was passed by the Montgomery County Council “to study and design 10 BRT corridors throughout the county.”

The organizations polled 400 Montgomery County residents and found that “71 percent of likely Montgomery County voters support a BRT system, while 22 percent oppose it.”

The poll took place from January 22-23rd, 2014. The survey polled individuals twice, once at before and once after being informed of the pros and cons of the BRT proposal.

Some of the arguments that were tested include:

  • The highest rated argument for the BRT was the cost compared to other transportation systems, with 80% agreeing that BRT is the most affordable option.
  • 78% agreed that the BRT promotes walkable communities with mixed-use spaces like what is being created here in the White Flint district.

Check out more of the arguments and statistics from the poll here.

County Council Approves Bus Rapid Transit Routes

Yesterday, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the 10-route, 81-mile Bus Rapid Transit system we have been working toward.  Now that the routes are set, the more detailed work begins on the treatments for them.  Public engagement is going to be necessary moving forward, with advisory groups for each route.  We’ll keep you posted as things develop but, in the meantime, find more details on Greater Greater Washington!  And, do take the time to thank our Councilmembers for their boldness in moving Montgomery County forward!

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends!

Thoughts on Bus Rapid Transit

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.