Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Advisory Board supports Rapid Transit concept, requests full consideration of community concerns

The following is text of a June 18, 2013 letter from the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board to the County Executive and County Council regarding Rapid Transit proposals. 

Dear County Executive Leggett and Council President Navarro:

Over the past few years, the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board (WMCCAB) has had several opportunities to learn about and study the proposed countywide transit system, often known as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Rapid Transit.  On several occasions we have heard from County leaders on the issue, including Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street, Transit Task Force chair Mark Winston, and, most recently, Larry Cole, who is the lead for the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan.  We have also received feedback from the community, including residents of Chevy Chase West and representatives of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

The WMCCAB supports the broad vision of using Rapid Transit along key transit corridors to hold steady or improve current levels of congestion.  The early Rapid Transit plans were broad and ambitious and should be commended for their long-term vision.  The Planning Board’s current exercise, selecting and phasing specific transit corridors by identifying the necessary right-of-way and recommending station locations, is an important one.  See Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan at 12 (April 2013).  But we also understand that the current plan will not address many of the specific details of BRT that will be necessary for the system to be accepted by the broader community and to thrive and succeed.  Much of that work will be done in future planning documents and will require years of study and attention.
Two of the corridors being considered by the Planning Board are within the WMCCAB’s area: MD 355 South and the North Bethesda Transitway.  We understand that these two corridors, along with MD 355 North, are considered the likely first corridors where Rapid Transit will be implemented.    Rapid Transit along the North Bethesda Transitway is particularly important because, unlike Wisconsin Avenue, its current mass transit options are limited to standard buses.  Its connection to White Flint, which will see substantial growth over the next 30 years, also commends it as a key corridor for transit.

WMCCAB believes that the phased approach, providing proof of concept along specific corridors and then adding more, is a sound one.  It is also important that the Rapid Transit system actually built lives up to its promise.  Studies have shown that the more rail-like a Rapid Transit system is, the better the ridership.  See, e.g., U.S. Department of Transportation, Bus Rapid Transit Ridership Analysis (June 2005) available at http://www.nbrti.org/docs/pdf/WestStart_BRT_Ridership_Analysis_Final.pdf (describing the effect of sleek, rail-inspired design on ridership).  The important elements include not just vehicle design, but level platform boarding, easy to use fares paid before boarding, and prioritized or exclusive use of a right of way.

The ambitious, long-term plans for Rapid Transit are important and a focus on the broader goals for the plan is understandable at this stage.  Still, it is important that the County continue to listen to the concerns of specific communities and do everything possible to address the issues those communities raise. 

In our region, residents of Chevy Chase West have been particularly vocal about their concerns over safety and access issues.  Among the concerns is that because ingress and egress to Chevy Chase West is limited to Wisconsin Avenue, removing existing lanes could make turning out of the neighborhood for northbound travel on Wisconsin Avenue impossible. 

Similarly, residents of Friendship Heights have expressed concern that Wisconsin Avenue is already heavily congested and that adding dedicated Rapid Transit lanes would create an unremediable vehicular bottleneck along a route that cannot sustain, or be widened to, accommodate more.  As residents have explained, the Friendship Heights area is a transportation hub with a bus terminal, Metrorail station and taxi stand all in close proximity.  To situate a RT station across from the bus terminal could compete with the existing Red Line trains, Metrobuses and Ride-On buses, while further blocking vehicular traffic and compromising pedestrian and bicycle safety. 
The concerns of these communities must be addressed and we appreciate that the Planning Board staff has been engaging with concerned residents on these issues.
Rapid Transit corridors are an exciting, long-term plan for our County.  Rapid Transit will require many years of work, substantial funding, and the cooperation of the community for it to succeed.  We thank you for your attention to this letter and look forward to continuing to engage with you on this issue.


Marc Korman, Chair, Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board

Monday, June 10, 2013

Medical Center/355 Crossing Project public meeting - June 18

The BRAC Integration Committee (BIC) is scheduled to hold a meeting on June 18th at 7 p.m. at the BCC Regional Services Center to deliver brief updates on BRAC-related items. On the agenda is a public presentation by Montgomery County Department of Transportation on the MD 355 Multimodal Crossing Project at the Medical Center Metro Station. The meeting is open to all.

The 355 crossing project, associated with the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), is fully funded by the Federal government. In December 2011, $90 million from the U.S. Department of Defense was allocated to projects addressing traffic congestion following the move of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to Bethesda.

The MD 355 Crossing Project is a design-build project, which will construct new entrances to the Metro Station and provide safe and efficient Rockville Pike crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. The project will include a bank of deep elevators on the Walter Reed side of Rockville Pike directly to the Metrorail platform, and a shallow pedestrian tunnel connecting Walter Reed to NIH and the Metrobus and carpool transit center on the west side of Rockville Pike.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bikeshare Public Meetings scheduled

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will host three public meetings in June on the extension of the Capital Bikeshare program into Montgomery County. Bikesharing allows travelers to rent a bike from on-street stations and drop it off at other stations within the bikeshare network. The meetings will focus on selected urban centers of Montgomery County where bikesharing stations will be installed in late summer 2013.

Information on bikesharing throughout the County will be available at each of the following meetings:

Bikeshare in Bethesda and Friendship Heights: June 24 -- 7 - 9 p.m. Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor La., 2nd Floor, Bethesda;

Bikeshare in Silver Spring and Takoma Park: June 25 -- 7 - 9 p.m. Fire Station 1, 8110 Georgia Avenue, 3rd Floor, Silver Spring; and

Bikeshare in Rockville, Shady Grove and the Life Sciences Center: June 26 -- 7 - 9 p.m. Executive Office Building Lobby Auditorium, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.

At the meetings, residents or employees in the County can learn how the bikeshare system currently works in the District of Columbia, Arlington, and Alexandria and how it will operate in Montgomery County. They will be able to review proposed Bikeshare Station locations in the Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Rockville, Shady Grove and Life Sciences Center neighborhoods.

For information on the public meetings, contact Margie Boumel at 240-777-7170. For more information on Bikeshare in Montgomery County, visit the new Bikeshare website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/bikeshare.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Advisory Board, BRAC Committee advocate for preserving commuter bus service to Bethesda

The following is testimony by Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board member and BRAC Integration Committee chair Ilaya Hopkins at the June 6 MTA Hearing on the Proposed Changes to the ICC commuter bus routes. The Advisory Board officially communicated their position on the topic in a May 31 letter.

My name is Ilaya Hopkins. I am a residential representative on the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board and Chair the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee and am here representing those groups. For six years, we have been working on ways to mitigate the traffic impact of BRAC and we believe it is short sighted for the MTA to propose eliminating an important piece of this puzzle – commuter bus routes that travel on the ICC.

Two things will stay the same:

1) Bethesda will be a job growth area

2) Desirable housing (big yard, two car garage, affordable mortgage) will not be easy to find

Not everyone is going to live where they work.

The area in and around Bethesda cannot handle more single occupancy vehicles which is why we have been promoting a wide variety of strategies to mitigate the traffic impact of growth, among them enhanced intersections, an improved metro station, better pedestrian and bike connectivity and promoting public transit useage.

It is true that you are trying to change behaviors and get people out of their cars. That is a hard job and it takes time. At the Walter Reed campus, they too are trying to change behaviors with very limited staff parking and many incentives and information for alternate ways to get to work.

Rather than propose eliminating Route 203 and other important routes, it is important to understand what is not working and try new approaches. In fact, that is what is happening with the ICC. The number of vehicles traveling on the ICC has not yet reached the projections. And yet, rather than propose closing the road to save on maintenance costs, there are actually proposals to reduce the toll to get more people to drive on the roadway.

What are some things the MTA could do? Be creative in thinking about alternatives to eliminating routes.

• Survey employees at Walter Reed and NIH to determine required arrival and departure times and other needs of the target commuting group

• Adjust schedules to accommodate those work shifts

• Examine pick up and drop off locations. Is there adequate parking for those who drive to the station?

• Advertise the route’s availability more widely in Bethesda and Columbia

• Stick with it knowing that it takes time. Even the threat of eliminating routes proves the skeptics right – that public transit is not reliable.

BRAC was implemented in 2011 but the Navy stated publically at that time that its work was not done. The Navy understands that it will take time to adjust commuting patterns and shift behavior as parts of the projects inside and outside the fence are implemented and the workforce grows and changes.

We need that same commitment from our state and the MTA that public transportation options will be available to serve this job center now and into the future. The mission of Walter Reed, the viability of the business community and the quality of life of the residents depends on it.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Build a high performing community workshop

The Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County is holding another workshop on building a high-performing community, this time for members of civic and non-profit organizations in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area. The workshop is on Saturday, June 8, from 10 am to 2 pm at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane, second floor, Bethesda). Free.

High-performing community organizations identify issues and priorities, disseminate information and bring people together to improve the places where they live, work, play and pray.

The workshop is designed as an opportunity for attendees to bring their own experience to the table while networking with others, exchanging ideas and entering into meaningful, results-oriented dialogue.

Anyone interested in attending should RSVP to yonelle@crcmc.org.