Major Metro Budget Problems

Just in case you’re off the news until the world is a little less chaotic and news, less grim, I want to share with you Metro’s calamitous budget difficulties.

The combined ridership on Metrorail and Metrobus in September 2020 is down nearly 80% from pre-pandemic levels. The impact on Metro’s budget is significant. Safety precautions put in place to protect the health of employees and customers have added new expenses, while revenue from fare collection has dried up. No Metrobus fares have been collected since March 2020, and Metrorail fares, which typically account for two-thirds of Metro’s total revenue, are extremely low.

The service provided today is only possible thanks to emergency federal funding in the CARES Act, but that money will soon run out. Without additional federal help and facing a nearly $500 million deficit, Metro is proposing severe service cuts, including:

  • 19 stations would close — including Grosvenor-Strathmore
  • Metro would be closed on weekends
  • trains would come every 30 minutes on the weekdays except in busier parts of the District when they would come every 15 minutes
  • bus route service would be slashed by more than half 
  • Metro will close two hours earlier, at 9 p.m

Stay tuned to see what we can do to save this vital transit because cuts this deep could irrevocably harm our area.

BRT Debuts on Route 29

It’s not the headline I wish I was writing (BRT Opens on Route 355) but it does count as progress and is something to celebrate: Route 29 Bus Rpaid Transit (BRT) began operating last week. Known as FLASH, Montgomery County’s first BRT line is now transporting folks up and down Route 29.

A successful Route 29 BRT will make it easier and more likely for us to one day cheer the start of BRT service on Rockville Pike. While we had advocated for separated bus lanes the entire length of Route 29, the opening of this BRT line is a milestone that we are taking a moment to appreciate.

There’s been lots of news coverage, which I’ve listed below.

DCist: A New Type Of Bus Service Is Launching In Montgomery County This Week

Greater Greater Washington: Breakfast links: Bus Rapid Transit starts today along Route 29 in Montgomery County

Washington Post: The D.C. region’s most ambitious try at bus rapid transit is coming to Montgomery County

WTOP News: FLASH bus route to provide service in Montgomery County’s Route 29 corridor

Maryland Matters: Maryland’s First Bus Rapid Transit Service Opens

The return of the Grosvenor Turnback? Say it ain’t so.

The Covid-19 pandemic is costing Metro hundreds of millions of dollars. With ridership down by 80% from pre-pandemic levels and with no additional federal help, Metro has to make difficult decisions to balance the budget shortfall.  Metro is preparing to resume fare collection on Metrobus and cut costs by limiting the use of contractors, furloughing employees, and deferring some capital program expenses. But the budget shortfall is so large, some service cuts and layoffs will also be needed beginning this December.

Metro is requesting your feedback on its Fiscal Year 2021 budget amendments proposals that includes the return of the dreaded Grosvenor turnback. Metrorail is proposing a service adjustment during weekdays. Trains would operate trains every 12 minutes at all times. Additional Red Line trains would operate every 12 minutes between Grosvenor-Strathmore and Silver Spring (known as “turnbacks”), so that the Red Line would operate every 6 minutes in the core.

If you don’t want the Grosvenor Turnback to return, please give your feedback to Metro by 9 a.m. Monday, October 19, 2020 by taking the online survey and providing written comments.

Western Workaround Update

From MCDOT, the August 9, 2020 update:

As of July 8, 2020, Executive Boulevard between Old Georgetown Road and Grand Park Avenue at Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center is permanently closed; look for the “DETOUR” signs that are rerouting traffic. 

Corman Kokosing Construction Company presently uses the closed section of Executive Boulevard. as a material and equipment staging area.  No access to Old Georgetown Road exists from north/westbound Executive Boulevard after Marinelli Road/Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.  A right turn on Banneker Avenue from northbound Grand Park Avenue only leads to the Marriott Hotel back parking and loading areas.  Access to Old Georgetown Road will resume once the Contractor completes the new section of Grand Park Avenue from Banneker Avenue to Old Georgetown Road—tentatively scheduled for completion by late December 2020.  Look for updates regarding progress on Grand Park Avenue. 

Corman Kokosing under the Construction Management at Risk (CMAR) contract proceeds with other work on Executive Boulevard in order to facilitate both new storm drain system construction, telecommunication & signalization infrastructure installation, and work on the extension of Banneker Avenue.  Banneker Avenue will cut across the Gables parking lot and eventually tie in to Old Georgetown Road just north of the MNCPPC Aquatic Center rear service entrance.  Future updates will provide progress on Banneker Avenue construction as the Contractor is only in the early stages of demolition and construction. 

The Berg Corporation, Corman Kokosing’s demolition contractor, is winding down the demolition of the old VOB Nissan Dealership property.  The final stages of demolition should be completed by late August 2020.  Large tractor‐trailer vehicles and dump trucks hauling away debris and excavated earthen material can only enter and exit the property via Grand Park Avenue off of the Executive Boulevard dead end.  Motorists and pedestrians in the area of Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, as well as the M & T Bank and Aquatic Center & Park at Marinelli Road, should pay special attention to the increased presence of large vehicles.  In addition, Corman has closed the northbound right lane of Old Georgetown Road in front of the VOB property.  Concrete “Jersey barriers” closing the lane will remain there until Corman completes the Grand Park Avenue extension.

Over the next month, Verizon crews will continue with their cable/wire splicing and other telecom work along Towne Road.  Verizon linemen and technicians in multiple vehicles will continue to install overhead cable and work in manholes in that project area.  Verizon should complete the overhead work on Towne Road by early September, weather permitting.  In addition, look for Verizon crews working in other parts of the White Flint West project area including on Banneker Avenue, Executive Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road.  Keep an eye out for their own lane closures and flagging operations as they are separate from Corman Kokosing and affiliated sub‐contractors’ construction operations.

Anchor Construction, a Corman‐Kokosing subcontractor, continues with their PEPCO related work on Towne Road between Montrose Road and the cul‐de‐sac.  By the end of August, Anchor will complete their work in this area.  The sub‐contractor will wrap up placing six-inch fiberglass conduits in various configurations.  Still, at any time, Anchor crews could be roadway saw cutting, excavating, placing shoring, installing conduit, backfilling, and/or restoring roadway pavements.  Additionally, the Anchor Crew on Towne Road will move over to the northbound lanes of Old Georgetown Road between Nicholson/Tilden Lanes and Grand Park Avenue; the Crew will begin other PEPCO related work there.  Please be patient with their lane closures and subsequent delays on Towne Road, Montrose Road, Montrose Parkway, and eventually Old Georgetown Road. 

Corman Kokosing’s own crews continue with Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) sewer and water line upgrades known as Contract “G” and Contract “E.”  As a reminder, all nighttime construction operations have been suspended.  The contractor will provide seven days’ notice before they resume nighttime operations; look for any future updates regarding night work.  The WSSC construction activities instead are proceeding during the daytime hours of 6:00 am to 2:00 pm in the northbound and southbound lanes of Old Georgetown Road north and south of Executive Boulevard, as well as the grassy area in front of the PALLAS Apartment Building. 

Affordable Protected Bike Lanes

From Greater Greater Washington and Spin

As a StreetsBlog USA’s says, “The delineators most of our cities use to separate vulnerable road users from car traffic…kinda suck. The COVID-19 era is the perfect time to think outside the box and find something better.” Build a Better Barrier contest was sponsored by micromobility company Spin in response to the surge in active transportation during the coronavirus pandemic. 

An ultra-affordable bike lane made out of recycled car tires by WeClaim won first place. It’s environmentally-friendly, too. Spin says the WeClaim design will be made available for free to communities, and will need little more than “a simple template, [a few] used tire[s], a few basic hardware store parts, common tools, and a bit of elbow grease” to install and maintain.

Here are some other ideas:

“The Chain” Bike Lane Delineator, designed by team Culture House lead by Aaron Grenier, features a bike lane shielded from car and bus traffic by a large, waist-high lane delineator that resembles a large bicycle chain. The links in the chain form the barrier while the pins of the chain are anchored into the ground.
The Streetbloc, designed by Dayton Crites, features a protected lane, shielded from car traffic by a waist-high barrier made out of neon pink-and-orange blocks that resemble Legos. 
The Saris “Wave” delineator is one of a tiny handful of road barriers that both provide meaningful protection to the vulnerable *and* aren’t hideous to look at.
“The WAVE” bike lane barrier creates high-comfort bike facilities, is easy to implement, and is highly customizable. The modular design of the WAVE allows other features to be easily added to the bike lane, such as intersection foot rests, breaks for accessible parking or bus stops, and planters.

Advocates push for a bike lane on Old Georgetown Road from 495 to Executive Blvd.

Right now, it’s especially important that people can get to their destinations safely. Although a growing body of research points to public transit not playing a role in COVID-19 transmission, it can be expected that ridership will be slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, whether due to unfounded fear or increased telecommuting.

WMATA officials say bringing more trains back online, opening stations, and instituting new cleaning regimes may mean that the system won’t be fully operational until sometime in 2021. Likewise, MCDOT has said that it will take a minimum of two months to get Ride-On bus system back up to regular, full-run status, in part because they are prioritizing the health and safety of the drivers.

Rather than an explosion in personal vehicle use, advocates are calling on Maryland’s State Highway Administration (SHA) to implement 19 miles of shared streets to promote greater connectivity of bicyclists and pedestrians, and make it safer for those who do not want to drive or do not have access to a car to make through Montgomery County.

One of those those streets is Old Georgetown Road/MD-187 from I-495 to Executive Blvd (2.6 mi)

Do you think Friends of White Flint ought to add its voice to the chorus of advocates? Do we want a bike lane from the beltway to Executive Boulevard on Old Georgetown Road?

Fear of Public Transit Got Ahead of the Evidence

Many have blamed subways and buses for coronavirus outbreaks, but a growing body of research suggests otherwise.

From The Atlantic

recent study in Paris found that none of 150 identified coronavirus infection clusters from early May to early June originated on the city’s transit systems. A similar study in Austria found that not one of 355 case clusters in April and May was traceable to riding transit. Though these systems, like their American counterparts, were carrying fewer riders at a lower density than before the pandemic, the results suggest a far less sinister role for transit than the MIT report described.

If transit itself were a global super-spreader, then a large outbreak would have been expected in dense Hong Kong, a city of 7.5 million people dependent on a public transportation system that, before the pandemic, was carrying 12.9 million people a day. Ridership there, according to the Post, fell considerably less than in other transit systems around the world. Yet Hong Kong has recorded only about 1,100 COVID-19 cases, one-tenth the number in Kansas, which has fewer than half as many people. Replicating Hong Kong’s success may involve safety measures, such as mask wearing, that are not yet ingrained in the U.S., but the evidence only underscores that the coronavirus can spread outside of transit and dense urban environments—which are not inherently harmful.

Hard-hit cities such as Milan that have reopened their transit systems have not seen subsequent infection spikes. Japan, which has some of the world’s busiest rail networks, had very few infections at all—only about 17,000, less than 1 percent of that of the U.S.—and no reported upticks in Tokyo since Japan began reopening its economy. Officials traced a post-peak outbreak in Seoul, South Korea, not to transit but to a lack of social distancing at the city’s reopened nightclubs.

Something that Japanese and many other Asian cities have in common is a long-standing culture of wearing face coverings in public. Scientists have not yet determined precisely how effective masks are at reducing virus transmission—and how safe transit would be if everyone wore them—but even imperfect face coverings appear to confer benefits when most people wear them. Buses and trains where masked riders silently browse their phones may prove less risky than other settings where patrons are talking loudly and singing.

It’s difficult for nuances like these to break through when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells American employers to encourage employees to avoid transit and to drive alone to work in offices, if possible. This message, which bewildered transit agencies scrambling to recover, fails to recognize the transportation realities of millions of Americans for whom owning and maintaining a car is simply unaffordable and impractical.

Read the entire article here.

Tomorrow — Executive Blvd. Closes

If you want to take one last sentimental drive on Executive Boulevard from Marinelli Road to Old Georgetown Road, today is your last chance to do so. Executive Boulevard closes tomorrow to construct the western workaround.

The western workaround will align Towne Road, Old Georgetown Road, and Executive Blvd. in a traditional four-sided intersection, improving the road grid.