Montgomery County’s Ambitious Bus Rapid Transit Plan Becoming Less So

Montgomery County's original BRT plan called for 92 miles of bus routes. Red lines denote bus lanes that would operate in medians, blue lines denote dedicated bus lanes that would run on the curb and purple lines represent routes where buses would run in mixed traffic. Image: Greater Greater Washington

When Montgomery County, Maryland, set out to develop a bus rapid transit system about five years ago — they went big. The proposal that surfaced last year called for 10 routes totaling 92 miles, much of it built to a high standard with buses traveling in dedicated lanes.

It could be a model for communities across the country, but only if the county sticks to its guns. In a troubling sign, planners are now setting their sights lower, Dan Reed at Greater Greater Washington reports:

Last November, planners proposed a 92-mile system where buses had their own lanes, whether in the median or in repurposed car lanes, on all or part of each of the 10 routes. But some residents and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation resisted calls to take away street space from cars.

The latest draft of the plan, which now has 79 miles of routes, has backed away from that recommendation. Under the current proposal, the only places that would get “gold-standard” BRT with dedicated lanes are Route 355 and portions of Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue that have wide medians.

Project planners say the new iteration of the proposal is more realistic, since certain areas don’t have the concentration of housing to justify dedicated bus lanes. But transit advocates point out that the original plan was meant to encourage more walkable development along the corridors.

While the plan maintains dedicated bus lanes — including center-running lanes in the median — on important stretches, Reed writes that the changes risk sending the signal that project opponents can water down the plan further:

The Action Committee for Transit, an advocacy group for transit, wrote a letter urging them not to “water down” the BRT plan. “To be worthy of support, the bus rapid transit plan must put bus lanes on the most congested roads, not the least congested ones, and include lane repurposing as a major component,” it says.

It’s good that planners want to take a realistic approach, but to those who don’t want BRT on their street, the plan’s evolution sends a different message: yell loudly enough, and it’ll go away or get watered down. That’s a bad precedent for our public process, but worse for drivers and transit riders who will continue to be stuck in traffic.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland says a new Scion ad portrays cyclists in a disturbing light. Urban Cincy reports that industry experts are hailing a “parking revolution” across the United States. And Transit Miami highlights some of Miami Beach’s innovations in transportation.