Many Not Ready To Give Up Traffic Lanes For Bus Rapid Transit


Despite high ridership projections and a traffic situation that most agree is going to worsen, the reaction hasn't been kind to a plan that would take away a lane of regular Rockville Pike traffic and dedicate it to buses in a Bus Rapid Transit system. The Draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, which lays out Montgomery County Planning Staff's recommendations for a 79-mile, 12-route BRT network throughout the county, has met resistance from residents and from members of the County Planning Board since it was presented Monday night. At issue is the proposal to use the two median lanes of northbound and southbound MD 355 between the Beltway and the D.C. line exclusively for buses. "To me, this document screams that we don't care what happens to drivers and I'm not comfortable taking that position," Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier told lead Planning Staff member Larry Cole. The Board rejected the BRT Draft and asked for additional language to put drivers at ease. Cole says the county can not add an extra lane to maintain the existing three lanes of regular traffic because the road travels next to the secure Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, NIH and through the developed Bethesda Central Business District. The Draft projects the demand for a Rockville Pike BRT as higher than anywhere else in the county. With projected 20 percent increases in the county’s population, number of workers, transit work trips and vehicle work trips by 2040, planners say daily ridership on the “MD 355 South Transitway” would hit between 44,000 and 49,000 southbound riders and between 22,000 and 34,000 for northbound riders. But there's skepticism of a plan that would rely on drivers to give up their cars and opt for a mass transit system. Cole presented the plan at a Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee meeting on Tuesday. After, some of the same residents who complain about the notorious bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic of Rockville Pike came out against the idea of taking away one regular traffic lane in each direction. One argued that while a BRT system could work for a commuter, it wouldn't be convenient enough for him and others who might be going multiple places for shorter periods of time, such as the doctor's office, the movies or a restaurant. Already there were some residents who said the buses would be too big, too loud and create too much pollution, even though Cole said no decisions have been made on what type of buses to use. The Draft will be brought back to the Planning Board for approval and public hearings before heading to the County Council in the summer. Flickr photo by thisisbossi

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