Genuinely Interesting Info from Last Night’s BRT Open House

Below you’ll find ten of the informational boards from last night’s MTA/SHA/Montgomery County BRT Open House at BCC High School. (There is one more open house on Tuesday, May 3 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at Gaithersburg High School. )  At the Open House, a wide variety of state and county rapid transit experts were available to answer questions and gather public opinions. You can see all of the information provided and learn more about this BRT process at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/RTS/md355openhouses.html.

Here are two quick interesting Rapid Transit facts from last night’s presentations. Non-work trips account for 88% of overall existing travel along Route 355. Projected increases by 2040 along Route 355: population up 33%, employment up 31%, traffic up by 20%, peak period travel time increases by 30%

Look at the final image to find out how you can tell the BRT planners what you think about BRT along Route 355.

 

 

It’s not just MoCo who is looking at BRT — so is our competition across the river

Officials are proposing a bus rapid transit system along Route 7, connecting Tysons Corner and Alexandria. Planners estimate the BRT system could attract about 10,000 daily riders as it passes through 11 miles of Tysons, Falls Church, Seven Corners, Bailey’s Crossroads, Mark Center, and Alexandria.

Falls Church City Councilman Dave Snyder said, “We’re trying to be realistic. In the areas where the highway has the capacity, we will do [dedicated lanes]. But in areas like the city of Falls Church and parts of Alexandria, it is just simply not feasible because those roads are already two lanes in each direction.”

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Also, the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway officially opened recently, upgrading Metroway bus service to bona fide bus rapid transit in Arlington.  Arlington’s Transitway section includes a new all-day dedicated transit lane in Potomac Yard, a peak period transit lane in Crystal City, and seven new transit stations.

Metroway runs between Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations. For much of its route between Crystal City and Potomac Yard, it runs in dedicated bus lanes, making it the Washington region’s first real foray into BRT.    The Alexandria portion of the transitway opened in 2014. Arlington’s portion through Crystal City opened April 17.

Montgomery County  must not let Virginia get the jump on Rapid Transit. Just like BRT can help solve Virginia’s transportation problems, rapid transit can have a significant impact on traffic and life in the Pike District.

What do you think about BRT on Route 355?

The County Council debated Rapid Transit Systems the other day, and there appears to be two different points of view on Bus Rapid Transit.

According to Bethesda Beat, Mark Elrich said, “And here we are, seven years since I put this thing on paper and Virginia is rolling out BRT lines and we’re at planning. I think we need to see some kind of urgency because people are going to eat our lunch if we do not provide transit. If we cannot be competitive and move people, we’ll get killed.”  Taking a different point of view, Hans Riemer suggested that the pilot projects suggested by the County executive could enable the county to “have a limited-stop system operating in 2016.”

A fast, efficient, reliable BRT is part of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.  I’d argue it is an essential component of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan. But if it’s not done right, if it becomes regular bus service with pretty new buses that’s just a bit better than Ride-On, the needs of the residents and businesses in the Pike District will not be served.

What are your thoughts? Is some Rapid Transit better than none or will only true Bus Rapid Transit meet our needs? Do buses need dedicated lanes or will the ability to change traffic signals be sufficient? What do you think is the right answer for transit and rapid transit in the White Flint 1 and 2 sectors?

 

 

 

Our testimony to the Transit Task Force

Below you’ll find the testimony I’ll give tonight at the Transit Task Force Public Forum.  Tomorrow, look in our e-newsletter for a story about what happens at tonight’s public forum. (What? You don’t receive our weekly eblast?  Then sign up and stay up-to-date about everything in the White Flint area!)

My name is Amy Ginsburg, and I am the Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization with nearly 1,300 supporters, including residents, businesses, homeowners 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 in the Pike District.

A Rapid Transit System is critical to creating an energetic, prosperous community in the Pike District. RTS is indispensable for improving the quality of life for a growing population and to attracting businesses and retailers to the Pike District. In fact, 7,400 residential units in both the White Flint 1 and White Flint 2 sectors are linked to developing an RTS along Route 355.

We need to provide Montgomery County with the ability to efficiently and quickly create the kind of walkable, transit-friendly community so important to our future. Just as bread needs a baker, RTS needs a Transit Authority which we believe is a strong option for managing this complex system.

Moving forward with RTS is vital for both the County and the White Flint area.  Many employees and residents, especially millennials, want to ditch their cars; RTS will enable many of them to do just that. Traffic doesn’t attract business to Montgomery County; transit options and walkable communities like the Pike District do.  Creating jobs is the key to enabling Montgomery County to remain competitive and sustainable in the future. RTS is key to attracting those businesses and creating those jobs. In fact, studies have shown that after factoring in the cost of RTS, the County will net $871 million in revenue over twenty-five years.

There are many thorny issues to work out, including funding, but I urge Montgomery County government to make rapid transit on Rockville Pike a top priority.  We believe that Bus Rapid Transit on Route 355 should be the first line.  A successful Rockville Pike line will demonstrate how RTS can have a positive impact in a highly visible manner.  Fortunately, the White Flint area has the density, commercial development, and support to be a successful pilot.  Such a pilot program on Route 355 will make it easy to see a Rapid Transit System creating a vibrant, thriving community.

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

 

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?

Recommendations of the Transit Task Force

Below you’ll find the Recommendations of the County Executive’s Transit Task Force Draft Report that was released yesterday.  You can read the full report here and learn more about the Transit Task Force here.  (You can testify at the September 30th  on the public forum on the Transit Task Force Draft Report by calling 240-777-7165.)

Bottom line, the 75-page report concludes that subject to a broad range of conditions and limitations that address labor, funding, and governance concerns,  the Task Force recommends the creation of a new transit authority empowered to develop and operate a Rapid Transit System. An RTS network will address critical transportation, economic, environmental and social needs in the County, and the faster we create a RTS, the better the County will be. The Task Force urges enabling legislation to be introduced in and adopted by the General Assembly.

More specifically, the Task Force recommends:

The enactment by the General Assembly of enabling legislation authorizing Montgomery County to establish a transit authority, subject to certain terms, provisions, conditions and limitations as listed below:

That the governing board of the transit authority consist of up to 7 members, appointed for staggered 4 year terms, with several suggested criteria for appointment.

That the County Council be authorized to establish special tax districts consisting either of the entire County or specifically defined areas within the County.

That the transit authority be authorized to impose special real property taxes within special tax districts, the revenues from which would be dedicated to the use of the transit authority for transit. The transit authority would impose such taxes and set tax rates annually, subject to the veto of the Council.  The maximum rate be set at 7¢ per $100 of assessed valuation.

That the transit authority be authorized to impose a new excise tax, taxing the privilege of leasing property defined as “commercial property” within the County. Revenues from such an excise tax would be dedicated to the use of the transit authority for transit functions assigned to it. The transit authority would impose such taxes and set tax rates annually, subject to the veto of the Council. The maximum rate be set at 30¢ per square foot of gross commercial space leased or being marketed for lease.

That all dedicated transit revenues be used only to fund transit authority activities.

That the transit authority be required to submit to the Council and Executive a multi-year capital improvement program, an annual capital budget and an annual operating budget, each of which shall be subject to the review and approval of the Council.

That the exercise by the transit authority of the power of eminent domain be subject to Council approval consistent with Title 12 of the Real Property Article of the State Code.

That the Council’s implementing legislation require the transit authority to submit to the Council annual independent financial audits and periodic management audits, to be published for public review, and adopt reasonable performance metrics for the transit corridors after they are operational.

That the Council subject the transit authority to County Ethics laws; to review of its personnel, functions and activities by the County’s Inspector General; to the County’s Open Government initiative, and to a requirement to develop and periodically report performance metrics.

That the transit authority be empowered to enter into interjurisdictional agreements to promote both inter-county and regional transit service, and authorized to enter into agreements with municipalities where appropriate.

That the County government consider whether it wishes to sponsor legislation for enactment by the General Assembly to authorize a one-half cent sales tax for Montgomery County, the principal and income of which to be used only to fund transit authority activities.

That all county employees who are or could be members of a collective bargaining unit under County law, including but not limited to Ride On and Department of General Services employees, will remain as County employees.

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.

 

Transit Task Force Testimony

Transit Task Force Logo

In case you’re interested, I thought I’d share my recent testimony to the Transit Task Force.  (If you’re not interested, click back on Monday … and every weekday, actually … for another new post on a diverse range of topics relating to the White Flint/Pike District area.)

My name is Amy Ginsburg, and I am the Executive Director of Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization with nearly 1,300 supporters, including residents, businesses, homeowners 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 in the Pike District.

A Rapid Transit System is critical to creating an energetic, prosperous community in the Pike District. RTS is indispensable for improving the quality of life for a growing population and to attracting businesses and retailers to the Pike District.

We need to provide Montgomery County with the ability to efficiently and quickly create the kind of walkable, transit-friendly community so important to our future sustainability. An Independent Transit Authority is certainly a strong option to permit us to design and build out the RTS along Route 355 as quickly as possible.

Moving forward with RTS for Route 355 is vital for the County.  Delays will be highly detrimental to the successful transformation of the Pike District.  I urge the Transit Task Force to make rapid transit on Rockville Pike a top priority. In fact, we believe that a Bus Rapid Transit system on Route 355 should be the first line of the RTS.  A successful Rockville Pike line will demonstrate how RTS can have a positive impact in the community in a highly visible manner.  Fortunately, the White Flint area has the density, businesses and support to be a successful pilot.  Such a pilot program on Route 355 will make it easy to see a Rapid Transit System creating a vibrant, thriving community in the White Flint area.

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

Transit Task Force Public Forum June 17

The Montgomery County Executive’s Transit Task Force will host a public forum on Wednesday, June 17 at 6 p.m. in the County Council’s Third Floor Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, so residents can express their views on subjects before the Transit Task Force.

“This public forum gives residents an opportunity to comment on the organizational and financial issues contained in the earlier legislative proposal,” said Mark Winston, chair of the Montgomery County Transit Task Force. “Input from the community will help guide our deliberations over the summer to improve the legislation to help enable the County to implement the approved rapid transit network expeditiously and at the best possible price.”

The Transit Task Force has been reconvened to review the prior legislation and recommend how best to organize and finance implementation of a high-performance bus rapid transit system. The objective of the Task Force is to complete a draft report and possibly propose state legislation by early September.  Such additional documents will be the subject of a public forum, tentatively scheduled for September 2015, where input will be received prior to submitting a final report

Residents wishing to speak at the forum must sign up prior to noon on June 17. No sign ups will be allowed during the forum. To register to speak, call 240-777-7165, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Anyone signing up must provide their name, address and contact information.

It is planned that 40 people will be able to present their views during the public forum. Speakers will have three minutes to make their comments and are encouraged to submit written remarks – which may include additional information and materials.  Those who are unable to testify can submit written comments to the “Contact Us” portion of the Task Force web page. The record will be kept open until July 1, 2015.

The Task Force has made background information available to the public, including those wishing to express their views during the public forum. Included are the following documents:

1.       The draft state legislation that was introduced.

2.       A summary of the draft legislation prepared by County Attorney Marc Hansen.

3.       “Transit Task Force Debt and Budget Issues,” provided to the Task Force by County Finance Director Joseph Beach.

4.       “Transit Task Force VHB Report,” addressing organizational and transfer of functions issues.

5.       Other materials also are available, such as the original Task Force report.

 

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