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?

Help CSG support transit in Montgomery County

The Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) asked for our help getting the word out about their Transit Day of Action on September 9th, and we’re happy to do so.

Montgomery County’s proposed Rapid Transit System and other great new transit investment ideas can really improve transportation and make our community more sustainable.  CSG believes too many regular bus and Metrorail riders in Montgomery County aren’t aware of what’s in the works. That’s why they’ll be fanning out on September 9 to spread the word and gather petition signatures urging the Montgomery County Council to build the BRT system.

They want to make sure that the voices of transit riders are heard as we enter a critical phase of debate. But your help is going to be important – they can’t talk to all the transit riders in these three stations all by themselves.  CSG is looking for volunteers to help out for an hour or two on September 9 during either the morning, midday, or evening rush hour at the Rockville, Shady Grove, and Silver Spring metro stations

Sign up here to volunteer for the CSG Transit Day of Action.

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.

RTS on 355

RTS Map

Let me translate that.  This post is all about the planning process for a Rapid Transit System (RTS), formerly known as Bus Rapid Transit or BRT, on Rockville Pike.  Communities for Transit has helpfully compiled extensive information about RTS in Montgomery County on this website.

Why do we need a Rapid Transit System?  Quite simply, there really aren’t any other good options. RTS provides a cost-effective, practical solution to the problem of moving a rapidly growing population. In the next 30 years, Montgomery County is projected to grow in population by more than 200,000 new residents. Without more transit, including RTS,  traffic congestion will grow by 70%.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to drive on Rockville Pike with 70% more congestion. I’d much rather hop on a sleek, fast, reliable RTS.

There are three stages in the planning process for the Route 355 RTS.

Stage I – Data Collection/Initial Analyses (6 months) December 2014– June 2015

Stage II – Initial Conceptual Design (12 months) June 2015 – June 2016

Stage III – Final Conceptual Design (6 months) June 2016 – December 2016

 Friends of White Flint will keep you apprised of all that’s going on with RTS, so if you’ve not signed up for our weekly e-newsletter, you can do so here.

Tonight’s Hearing on the Independent Transit Authority

I thought I’d share with you our testimony that we will give tonight to the Montgomery County State Delegation concerning the Independent Transit Authority.  If you want to send your own comments, you can do so easily through the Coalition for Smarter Growth by clicking here.  They have also created an informative fact sheet about the Independent Transit Authority that you may find helpful.

Below is our testimony:

My name is Amy Ginsburg, and I am Executive Director of the Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit organization with more than 1,100 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.

We support the legislation that enables the formation of an Independent Transit Authority that in turn will create and operate a Rapid Transit System along Route 355 and elsewhere in the County.  RTS is critical to improving the quality of life for a growing population and to attracting businesses and retailers to the Pike District. Building a Rapid Transit System is a crucial step in creating a vibrant, prosperous community in the White Flint area.

Just like bread needs a baker, an RTS needs an organization whose focus is transit. The Independent Transit Authority is an innovative way to provide that dedicated concentration to public transit. Essentially, it provides Montgomery County with the ability to efficiently and quickly create the kind of walkable, transit-friendly community so important to our future sustainability. The Independent Transit Authority will result in a faster design and build out of the indispensable RTS along Route 355.

Without a government body providing a singular focus to transit, there will likely be long delays in creating the Rapid Transit System in the County, including along Route 355, delays that will be detrimental to the successful transformation of the Pike District. Therefore the Friends of White Flint is strongly in favor of this legislation to create an Independent Transit Authority.

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