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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.

BRT Open Houses — Learn More About Rapid Transit Along Route 355

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) invites the public to attend two open houses to learn more about and provide input on plans to develop Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along Rockville Pike/Hungerford Drive/Frederick Avenue/Wisconsin Avenue (MD 355).
  • The first Open House is scheduled for Thursday, April 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School Cafeteria, 4301 East-West Highway, Bethesda.
  • The second Open House will be held Tuesday, May 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Gaithersburg High School Cafeteria, 101 Education Boulevard, Gaithersburg.
Additional BRT information is available here http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/rts/index.html

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Our Testimony on Rapid Transit in the 2017 Operating Budget

 Below is the testimony Friends of White Flint will be providing to the County Council today during one of the public hearings on the 2017 Operating Budget. You can read County Executive’s proposed operating budget here. The budget includes funding for rapid transit and express bus service along Route 355.

My name is Amy Ginsburg, and I am the Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization with more than 1,300 supporters, including residents, businesses, homeowners and civic associations, and property owners.  Our only mission is to ensure the full implementation of the White Flint Sector Plan so that the promise of a walkable, transit-oriented, smart-growth community is achieved.

Rapid Transit is indispensable for improving the quality of life for a growing White Flint population and to attracting businesses and retailers to the Pike District. Transit oriented development—-and the revenue it generates—-is necessary for the economic health of both the White Flint community and Montgomery County.

The White Flint Sector Plan calls for phased-in development. Non-Auto Driver Mode Share goals must be achieved before moving to the second phase of development.  A Rapid Transit System along Rockville Pike is essential to reaching those mode share goals and allowing the promise of the White Flint Sector Plan to be fulfilled. In fact, 7,400 residential units are linked to developing an RTS along Route 355.

Moving forward with RTS is vital for both the County and the White Flint area.  Studies have shown that after factoring in the cost of RTS, the County will net $871 million in revenue over twenty-five years.  Investing in transit makes the County more financially stable and more attractive to both businesses and residents.  BRT along the White Flint/Route 355 South Corridor would generate the highest projected ridership. By 2040, riders would take 35,000 daily trips on a rapid transit system along Rockville Pike.

I urge the Council to commit to funding Bus Rapid Transit studies and Implementing BRT service as the County Executive outlined in his operating budget.   Friends of White Flint very much hopes that the Route 355 BRT studies will be fully funded through the locally preferred alternative stage.

As an interim improvement, prior to the full implementation of the Route 355 BRT, Friends of White Flint also supports the plan for Ride On Express Bus Service along 355 from Lakeforest Mall to the Medical Center Metro Station.

The White Flint area has the density, commercial development, and support to be the successful first rapid transit line in Montgomery County.  BRT on Route 355 will give the County its best return on investment and allow everyone to see how a Rapid Transit System helps create a vibrant, thriving community.  Please support BRT funding in the 2017 Operating Budget.

From all of us at Friends of White Flint, thank you for your continued support of transit and the White Flint Sector Plan.

County Will Move Forward With Rapid Transit without Transit Authority

Ike Leggett announced that Montgomery County will move forward with planning, building, and operating one or two bus rapid transit corridors, despite his decision to at least temporarily ditch plans for an independent Transit Authority to build and operate the system.

In a press release, he said “Expanding our transit reach is critically important to creating 100,000 new jobs in White Oak, around Shady Grove, in White Flint and Wheaton. I still believe that, ultimately, we will need an entity that can that raise the resources needed. However, in the here and now, I have instructed my Department of Transportation, while continuing its work with the State on Bus Rapid Transit, to explore less-expensive alternatives that we could pilot on one or two routes.”

According to Bethesda Beat, the County Executive hopes to get a recommendation from MCDOT for the first one or two routes that would “at least be considered in the budget cycle that would come out next spring,” though he didn’t specify which corridors country transportation planners are considering or how the system would be paid for.

The Washington Post reported that Leggett hopes that if opponents see the bus lanes in limited operation, they might be more inclined to support a transit authority.

Of course, Friends of White Flint will be working with all of you to advocate for Route 355 being one of the first one or two routes that would be in that spring budget cycle.

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?

Report on Rapid Transit Systems

A new report, “Best Practices in Rapid Transit Design,” released jointly yesterday by Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth, draws lessons from successful bus rapid transit systems throughout the US and Canada. “As of 2015, there are more than 30 bus rapid transit systems in operation across the US and Canada and more than 25 others in planning. Many have been running since the early 2000s, and have greatly exceeded expectations for ridership and service,” said Pete Tomao, the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Montgomery County Advocacy Manager. “In Eugene, OR, for example, the Emerald Line has doubled transit ridership in the corridor it serves.”
The report identifies and describes over a dozen features of successful bus rapid transit, including:
Dedicated lanes
  • Dedicated lanes should be utilized along as much of the corridor as possible. Dual median lanes are considered preferable to a single median lane or curb lanes, though all improve transit service significantly.
  •  To keep dedicated lanes free from traffic, rapid transit systems can physically separate them with flexposts, low curbs, or colored paint (often red) to distinguish the lanes from general traffic.
  • An enforcement plan is essential to maintain traffic-free dedicated lanes.
Frequent, reliable service
  • At peak hours, vehicles should arrive every 5-10 minutes. At other times, there should be a maximum of 10-12 minutes between vehicles.
  • Service spanning 18-20 hours/day best serves a diversity of riders and trips.
  • Implementing Transit Signal Priority (TSP) at major intersections has proven essential to reducing delay for rapid transit systems around the country.
  • The schedules, transfers, payment, and routes should be well thought out and integrated with other routes and transit modes to enable seamless transfers. Stations
Stations
  • Stop spacing can vary between 0.2 miles in the most dense locations to over one mile, but to speed service, should generally be further apart than local bus stops.
  • Stations should be no less than 10’ wide (12’ preferable) and 60’ long to accommodate one articulated bus, and 140’ to accommodate two.
  • Stations can best speed and ease boarding for passengers with disabilities, strollers, and bicycles by having level boarding.
  • Stations should have machines for passengers to purchase fares before they board to speed boarding.
  •  People walking and biking to the station should have a continuous network of safe, accessible pathways on both sides of the street to enable safe, direct access to stations.
  • Improve passengers’ experience by including real-time arrival information, adequate lighting, safe access for people walking and biking to the station, clear route maps, seating, bike parking, and weather protection for colder climates.
Vehicles
  • Vehicles should ideally be articulated, 60’ long, have three or more doors, and have doors on both sides to be able to access curb or median stations.
  • Vehicles should have interior bicycle racks and Wi-Fi for passenger convenience.  Accommodations for people walking and biking 
DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT [PDF]

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Some good news and not–so-good news on the Rapid Transit System

A revised cost estimate decreases the cost to $1.6 billion for these four Rapid Transit System corridors: – MD 355 North, MD 355 South, US 29, and Veirs Mill Road. That’s about $230 million less than an estimate made two years ago. As always, though, the devil is in the details. The report prepared for the Montgomery County Transit Authority and titled “Review of Transit Finance – Revised 2015 RTS Cost Estimate” describes the reasons behind the cost reduction. The report lists these changes:

 One-lane median guideway on MD 355 North

 Combination of one-lane median guideway and curb lanes on MD 355 South, from I-495 to Bethesda Metro Station

 Mixture of two-lane median guideway and mixed traffic operation on portions of Veirs Mill Road

 MD 355 South corridor ends at Bethesda Metro instead of Friendship Heights

 Total number of buses was reduced from 153 to 88, reflecting initial service frequency

An essential question to answer: Will one-lane guideways and mixed traffic operations provide the fast, dependable service needed to make Rapid Transit a success? Rapid Transit that is neither rapid nor reliable will not work. Another essential question: How much less frequency will there be? If one significantly diminishes frequency, at some point you have an expensive system few will use.

The report also recommends that the Route 355 South corridor will be the second to last of these corridors to be built, not going into operation until FY24 — and that assumes all goes according to plan. The reports suggests the following order for funding and building: The CCT in Gaithersburg, Viers Mill, Route 29, MD 355 South, and finally, Route 355 North. Friends of White Flint has to ask, “How the heck is the most vital part of Montgomery County, the largest transformation of any area of the County, fourth in line?”

According to Bethesda Beat, among the seven potential revenue sources discussed by the task force’s Finance Working Group were a countywide real property tax surcharge, a property tax specific to areas that would benefit from the system and a county gas tax.

In an email to members earlier this month, task force Chairman Mark Winston suggested focusing on four scenarios to fund construction of the system:

 A countywide real property tax of 4 cents from 2017 to 2019 and 6.5 cents in 2020 and thereafter. The funds collected by the tax would be held in a special fund.

 A sales tax, gas tax or other type of excise tax.

 Creating special taxing districts in corridors that have bus rapid transit to impose a real property tax to properties within either a half-mile or quarter-mile of the system.

 A combination of a .5 percent sales tax, a countywide real property tax of 3 cents and a countywide excise tax

Stay tuned for more about the Rapid Transit System and updates from the Transit Task Force.

 

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.