Showing posts with label Montgomery County BRT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montgomery County BRT. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


The Washington Post PR campaign on behalf of the Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit boondoggle continued in Sunday's Metro section.

To his credit, columnist Robert McCartney was critical of many aspects of the proposed 98-mile BRT system. He sums up his current position on the initiative as "abundant skepticism."

Still, there were some inaccurate statements presented, and the repetition of these falsehoods is obviously designed to make an impression on readers. So let's provide the facts once again.

McCartney quoted some of his own laudatory, pro-BRT language from 18 months ago, when he cheered the Emperor's New Bus as an "original, bold, visionary plan to solve gridlock in Montgomery County."

Okay. Even the 160-mile version of BRT that he was referring to was never going to solve gridlock. In fact, it was going to make it worse. Roads like Rockville Pike are already operating over capacity. The county itself is telling us roads will be an additional 70% over capacity in the future. But taking away car lanes for BRT would reduce the capacity of Rockville Pike by 33%, making gridlock 103% worse than it is today. So much for "solving gridlock."

McCartney continued by repeating the familiar falsehood we've heard so often in the last few weeks:

"BRT...has one big argument in its favor: It's the only way in the foreseeable future to add ways for people to get around much of Montgomery."

Survey says...! BRRRRRRNNNNTTTT!!!

Readers of this blog already have a greater foreseeableness than Mr. McCartney, because you know that we can also choose to build the Rockville Freeway, a new Potomac River crossing, M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended, and Northern Parkway. Those long-planned but never-built roads would reduce congestion on Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, Randolph Road, I-270, I-495, and Route 29, just to name a few. And every single one of those projects would cost less than BRT individually. The Rockville Freeway, for example, would carry more commuters per day than the entire BRT system - for far less money!

When you read Ike Leggett say "I don't think commuters are going to have much of an option other than to consider some form of BRT to obtain traffic relief," you now know that is simply not true.

In fact, when I brought up the Rockville Freeway at a town hall meeting, the county executive agreed that it was a needed road, and would provide "connectivity" required by existing and planned development in Montgomery and Howard counties. His concern was that there would be no money to pay for it. Fortunately, the funding options for the highways I mentioned are vastly greater than those for BRT, a bus system that can ultimately be funded only by you, the taxpayer. That's because an inefficient system of riderless buses qualifies for zero federal funds. The federal government has a stringent emphasis on how many people your project is going to move. Bang for the buck, you might say. And these unbuilt freeways each beat BRT's people-moving capability hands-down.

Now that's a "bold plan."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


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.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Apparently, some opponents of the proposed Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit system are big fans of American Idol and/or The Office.

The ratio of BRT fans to opponents was much closer at last night's Montgomery County Planning Board public hearing in Silver Spring than it was at the first public hearing last summer.  This time around, developer-backed groups turned out more speakers than last July, when opponents dominated the debate.  The meeting was certainly poorly advertised.

But the arguments remained the same.

Proponents, and certainly, developers, want the development BRT will allow, and the pain it will cause drivers.

One problem is, the type of community they want Montgomery County to be is not necessarily what a majority of taxpaying residents want. The idea that a small faction can impose itself on the majority, and in a winner-take-all fashion, is simply contradictory to not only the founding principles of America, but to reality itself.

In my testimony, I urged the Planning Board to put the Transit Corridors Master Plan in the context of the county as a whole. They are the county planning body, not the White Flint planning commission.

And we have to run the numbers - the real-world numbers.

With limited transportation money, and an indefinite structural budget deficit, we can't afford to waste money on a bus system that will worsen congestion.

For example, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' American Legion Bridge study showed that 23% of Maryland drivers using the bridge are headed to the Dulles area.

What that means in real terms, is that a new Potomac River bridge via the unbuilt Rockville Freeway or I-370 would reduce Legion bridge traffic by nearly a quarter. BRT proponents' most Fantasy Island projection of congestion relief, by contrast is 15%. The contrast speaks for itself, especially when the BRT system under discussion will cost $5 billion.

But let's examine that BRT traffic "relief" using real numbers, not Planner Larry Cole's fantasy numbers.

Rockville Pike is currently 70% over capacity.

The draft plan takes 2 lanes from the Pike, reducing vehicular capacity by 33%.

Okay, now we're 103% over capacity.

Now, pretend that the wildest, most fantastical BRT projection came true, just for the sake of argument: Under that dreamy scenario, 15% of drivers "get out of their cars" and start commuting by bus.

That brings us down to 88% over capacity on Rockville Pike.

So, we've spent $5 billion, and increased road rage, and pollution through idling car engines, and...

...traffic is now 18% worse than if we had done nothing!

Does this make sense to you?

Anyway, the majority of turnout last night was from Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring.

Civic associations from Woodmor-Pinecrest, Locust Hill, Bethesda Crest, Chevy Chase West, and Chevy Chase Valley expressed serious reservations about the plan as drafted.

The Montgomery County Sierra Club, the City of Takoma Park, Indian Spring Civic Association, Hillandale Civic Association and Greater Colesville Civic Association were in favor of the BRT plan.

Michelle Riley of the Woodmor-Pinecrest association said her neighborhood will be the most-affected residential area in the county, if BRT goes forward. Riley said the system makes little sense for Woodmor, as the major traffic is related to the Beltway, not the routes targeted for BRT.  She also warned of property seizures below New Hampshire Avenue.

Locust Hill and Chevy Chase West shared concerns about losing already-limited neighborhood access due to BRT lanes and turn restrictions.

The Bethesda Crest HOA noted that BRT would eliminate an existing Forest Conservation Area along their community.

While Tony Hausner of Indian Spring supports BRT, one position I do share with him is that zoning along BRT routes should not be changed. Of course, such protection will never be extended to existing residents, as redevelopment of the Georgetown Square and Wildwood Shopping Center are just two of the secret developer objectives with BRT. The others, of course, are to build cities in the country at Science City and Olney, as well as Burtonsville.

There were some 1984-esque arguments made by the Sierra Club. First, that BRT will reduce emissions. That is patently false. BRT could well be powered by fossil fuels. No one has committed to clean fuel buses.  Secondly, it is a scientific fact that traffic jams actually increase smog and vehicle emissions. BRT will worsen congestion by 18-33%, at a minimum. Meaning up to 33% greater pollution in Montgomery County.

They also repeated Rollin Stanley's old line, "They're coming." This refers to armies of new residents who are en route to live in Montgomery County in the coming decades. This is complete bunk as well.

Our population can only grow as much as our Planning Board and County Council allow it to. We have absolute control over our own destiny - and density - despite the theatrically-panicked claims of developer-backed politicians and citizens.

Finally, the Sierra Club parroted a popular developer talking point: "More young people are not using cars. They prefer high-tech."

Yeah. Okay.

As this plays out in hipster urbanization journals, kids are forgoing cars so they can have iPhones instead.

I'm assuming the Sierra Club hasn't seen the "Cars of GW" slideshow that went viral online. For a less elite example, visit the Montgomery College parking lot in Rockville at 11:00 AM. I rest my case.

Oh,  and those coveted smartphones the kids are "saving up" for? Anyone who has attended a movie recently knows that parents buy these phones for kids long before they can even get a license.

And I'd like the anti-car elites to tell us if their $70000-to-start jobs have "must have own transportation" as a requirement in the job announcement?

Get out in the real world with working people and find out what it's like, and why cars are often a necessity. There's a reason why a Baltimore non-profit gives low-income single moms cars so they don't have to use transit anymore. Time and access to more employment opportunities equals more income.

I was glad to see Debra Alfarone of WUSA9 covering the hearing last night. This story has been under-the-radar too long.

One sentence of my testimony ended up in the 11:00 news report.  In light of the need to move over a million people in Montgomery County, and the anti-car arrogance of the draft BRT corridor plan, I said "an anti-car attitude at this point is counterproductive."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Montgomery County Planning Department Master Planner Larry Cole told the Rockville Planning Commission last night that a bus rapid transit line along MD Route 355 would take "13-21%" of its ridership from Metro.

Why is this important?

For two reasons. First, it highlights the duplication of existing subway service by BRT. In fact, Commissioner David Hill questioned Cole on that very point at last night's briefing at Rockville City Hall.

Secondly, it confirms my argument from the beginning of this sham of a process regarding BRT:  the duplicative service will attract mostly those who already use transit. In the process, it will slash the already insufficient revenue of the Metro system.

Where will that shortfall be recovered from? From you and I, the taxpayers. And again from you and I, in the form of future Metro fare increases.

It begs the question again - if the county has a magic $5 billion in extra revenue to pay for the BRT system, wouldn't that money be better spent on projects that will actually reduce congestion? These would include M-83 Midcounty Highway Extended, the Rockville Freeway, a new Potomac River bridge, expanded MARC service, the Purple Line and an extension of Metro to Gaithersburg and Germantown.

In contrast to those projects, the ridership, density and demand numbers for BRT simply don't add up.  With no solid evidence that drivers will "get out of their cars," it's safe to assume Metro ridership will be the target audience for the Emperor's New Bus, thereby providing no congestion relief.

What could ultimately end up happening, is a small BRT ridership, taken in even greater numbers from Metro than Cole's projections suggest, riding $5 billion buses along a now even-more-congested Route 355. And Metro in even worse financial straits than ever.

Rockville Planning Commissioners were understandably skeptical of Cole's presentation.

Commissioner Jack Leiderman asked Cole if he was attempting to "punish" drivers by removing 2 car lanes from 355 for BRT. Cole arrogantly responded that drivers "don't own" those lanes.

Mr. Cole, those of us who live in Maryland not only own those lanes, but we paid for their construction, and continue to pay for their maintenance.

Cole made the mistake of comparing the seizure of 2 lanes for BRT to HOV Lanes on I-270. Anyone who actually drives on 270 knows that the HOV idea was a complete failure, and does continue only as a punishment for drivers. The HOV lane is that one which you turn to the left and see hardly anybody in, while you're crawling or at a complete stop on 270. Not only is traffic still jammed, but you're moving even slower, thanks to the loss of 25% of capacity in the Express lanes.  And during rush hour, many HOV drivers are using the lane illegally.

Cole wasn't done making odd comparisons.

When a skeptical Commissioner Dion Trahan quizzed Cole as to how losing already-jammed lanes would reduce gridlock, Cole referred to Ballston in Arlington.

Cole repeated a popular urban myth among "smart" growth advocates, that traffic on Wilson Boulevard in Ballston and Clarendon has actually decreased, despite massive, dense redevelopment.

This is an apples to oranges comparison, and complete bunk. First, the "less traffic" argument is hardly accurate as it relates to Arlington.

But, more importantly, there is no comparison whatsoever between Wilson Boulevard and 355.

The daily traffic count on Wilson is around 15,000 vehicles.

The daily traffic count on Rockville Pike is 43,000 to 46,000 cars.

Wilson is a lower-capacity road than 355.

And Wilson is not an arterial road of the scope of 355.  355 carries heavy traffic from Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Montgomery counties along a corridor that has only one alternative, 270.

In contrast, drivers traveling west-east into Washington through Arlington have many parallel routes to choose from.  Rockville Pike is not Wilson Boulevard, and you can't make it so just to satisfy ideology or developers.

Speaking of which, Cole seems to favor both. Cole's recent suggestion to kill the grade-separated Montrose Parkway certainly revealed an anti-highway, pro-developer bias. That's not a good starting point for a planning department that is supposed to ensure adequate mobility of citizens via a multimodal transportation system.

But there's more ideological dreaming, "behavior-modification" scheming, and development cheerleading going on than planning in Cole's department.

Asked by the commission's chair, Jerry Callistein, why no planning has been done for BRT parking, environmental studies, BRT-Metro transfers, BRT vehicle storage, etc., Cole essentially responded that the dog ate his homework. It's hard enough to get the BRT plan passed without worrying about those little details, Cole suggested.

Unsatisfactory answers were the rule in a presentation on an unsatisfactory boondoggle of a BRT proposal.