This morning's Washington Post contains an article on the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will be taken up by the Montgomery County Council today. Some information stated as fact in the article is actually untrue, unproven, or just subjective opinion. Let's correct the public record.
POST: (Headline) "Network of enhanced service envisioned on 10 roads to alleviate congestion"
FACT: There is no factual evidence whatsoever that BRT would "alleviate congestion." Journalism 101 tells us the media should never give authority to one view on an issue, particularly when there is no evidence to back up the assertion. The statement is false, and the headline should have been prefaced with "Advocates say..."
POST: The complete BRT system "would cost as much as $3 billion."
FACT: The Montgomery County Planning Department estimated a countywide BRT system would cost $10 billion. Concluding that was too expensive, planners reduced the size of the network by 50%. 50% of $10 billion is $5 billion.
POST: "It could be at least 2020 before construction begins on the first segment."
FACT: Not true. County master planner Larry Cole stated on County Cable Channel 6 this year that implementation in some areas could begin in early 2014, where major road alterations were not needed.
POST: "BRT is now regarded by many county leaders as the only rational way to address some of the worst commuter traffic in the country."
FACT: We've actually been rated as the worst commuting area in recent years. BRT is far from the only "rational" solution. For example, we know that about 25% of traffic on the American Legion Bridge is traveling to or from the Dulles area. If you built the long-delayed second bridge across the Potomac as an extension of either the ICC or the unbuilt Rockville Freeway, you would remove about a quarter of vehicles from that stretch of the Beltway. BRT can't remove anywhere near that amount of vehicles from roads. Would you spend money on a problem you know you can solve (Legion Bridge), or one that is purely speculative, like BRT?
POST: "[T]here is little room for new roads, [BRT] advocates contend."
FACT: Absolutely false. Rights-of-way exist for the Rockville Freeway, M-83 (Midcounty Highway Extended), new Potomac River crossing, and Northern Parkway. There are virtually no homes or businesses, if any, that would be demolished to build those roads.
POST: "'Nobody's going to widen any more roads or build another Wisconsin Avenue or Georgia Avenue...,' said council member Marc Elrich."
FACT: Interstates 270 and 495 both have room to be widened, as do Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue and many other state highways. During the 1970s, county leaders deliberately chose not to build critical roads that were designed to allow through traffic to bypass Wisconsin and Georgia Avenues: the Northwest and North-Central Freeways.
POST: BRT "is rooted in the notion that if you take away a lane for cars on a congested road and set it aside for [BRT], some motorists will abandon their cars."
FACT: At least they used the word "notion!" In fact, Cole, the county master planner, said during public hearings this year that planners think and believe that if drivers see a fast bus, they will switch to the bus. They have no data or MoCo-esque area that has implemented a BRT system, much less a successful one. You can't justify reducing the vehicle capacity of MD 355 by 33% when you just "think" or "have a hunch" about a wacky plan.
POST: "County planners...estimate that an exclusive bus lane on MD 355 from the Capital Beltway to Western Avenue, for example, could move about 600 more people an hour than car traffic."
FACT: There is no data that shows any such thing. And the speculation assumes that those 600 people will switch from cars to bus. In fact, the corridor in question already has rapid transit, the Metro Red Line. Subways move far faster than BRT. Yet, those 600 drivers they refer to have already declined to use rapid transit. Why would they suddenly choose to use an even slower "rapid" bus (which moves 12 miles in 48 minutes, according to the county's own data) that doesn't even travel to their destination, downtown DC (BRT will end in Bethesda or Friendship Heights)?
The real fact is, taxpayer money would be better spent on adding more capacity to the Red Line, extending the Red Line to Germantown, expanding MARC commuter rail capacity, and completing our unfinished highway system. There simply is no money to waste on BRT, which is being pushed to expand sprawl urbanization out to areas like Wildwood, Montgomery Mall, Aspen Hill, and Olney.