Rapid Transit Public Hearings This Week
September 26, 2013
Tuesday night, the Council held its first of two public hearings on the Planning Board draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, a component of our Master Plan of Highways, which includes recommendations for a rapid transit network, establishment of Bicycle & Pedestrian Priority Areas, and MARC Brunswick Line expansion.
We heard from approximately forty people last night and expect to hear from about the same number tonight.
The Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan recommends ten rapid transit routes throughout the County, rights-of-way that will be reserved, and locations for stations. The plan also recommends a variety of treatments on each corridor. The premise behind this plan is fairly straightforward -- our traffic is bad now and going to get worse. We do not have the option of putting in more subways or light rails. We have only one real, cost-effective and proven option -- state of the art rapid transit -- if we are to responsibly address one of the most chronic and significant issues our County faces. A state of the art rapid transit system will help move people more efficiently, take cars off the roads, help our environment, and better position our County for the future.
Based upon the communications we have received, it seems that there is a fair amount of misunderstanding as to the nature of the decision our Council will make in response to the recommendations of the Planning Board. As with all master plans, the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan will provide a general framework and a guide for future facility planning and design work. At the end of the Council's review and eventual action on this plan, three things will be voted upon: 1) identification of future rapid transit corridors; 2) reservation of right-of-way for potential future use; and 3) approximate location for rapid transit stations. What will not be voted upon are the following: 1) specific corridor treatments (i.e. median, curb lane, mixed traffic); 2) the amount of right of way that will actually be utilized; and 3) funding sources.
It is important to reflect upon the county's process for planning a capital project whether it be a road project, a transit project, a library, or a recreation center. For all capital budget items, a project or a facility must first be identified in a master plan. The Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Department of General Services then begins the facility planning phase. Engineering begins, including detailed surveys, analysis of impacts, refined cost estimates, and study of intersection configurations. Public outreach and public meetings are an integral part of this phase.
After 35% engineering is completed, the project will go to the Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee for review. If both the County Executive and the Council approve of the project's design advancing, the project receives funding for the design phase. Permits are then obtained by DOT which enable the agency to do more detailed right-of-way planning. In addition, the County Executive holds a public hearing before the Executive Branch's Hearing Examiner. The County Council again reviews the project and considers funding for construction, taking the County Executive's recommendations into consideration. The Council then holds a public hearing before making any capital budget funding decisions.
As you can see, each stage of the project planning process requires public outreach and provides opportunities for public input. There are several reviews by both branches of government and multiple opportunities and vehicles for community feedback. The decision before our Council is a prerequisite for moving forward, but not one that in any way predetermines future decisions regarding the specific treatments on any particular route or roadway. I hope this explanation helps our community understand what is and what is not going to be decided by our action on this plan.
The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, which I chair, will begin reviewing the Planning Board draft plan at 9:30 am on October 7 and is tentatively scheduled to meet again on October 11, 14, 18, and 21. All meetings are open to the public and viewable on the Council's website.
I appreciate all the comments I have been receiving and will take them into consideration as my committee reviews the plan. If you or your community has questions and/or concerns about the plan, please contact me. My staff and I will do our best to address them. Likewise, if you would like me to come speak to your community about rapid transit this fall, I would be happy to do so. Please call my office at 240-777-7828 with your request and we will arrange a time.
In the meantime, here are a few links I hope will be useful:
|Planning Board Considering Rapid Transit Network
June 27, 2013Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
The Planning Board is currently reviewing the Staff Draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, a component of our Master Plan of Highways, which includes recommendations for a rapid transit network, establishment of Bicycle & Pedestrian Priority Areas, and MARC Brunswick Line expansion.
The Planning Board will likely make its recommendations to the Council by the end of July. I encourage you to attend the Planning Board's work sessions and listen to their discussions. If you can't attend in person, you can always watch the Planning Board's worksessions on their website either live or at a later date. The Planning Board has already held a few worksessions on this plan and is tentatively scheduled to discuss the Master Plan again on July 11 and 22. Just like at the Council, all Planning Board sessions are open to the public and available for viewing on the Planning Board's website.
If you haven't already, I hope you will take some time to read the draft of the rapid transit network proposed by the County's Planning Staff or about Bus Rapid transit systems generally on the National BRT Institute website. I have also included a fact sheet I created below in order to provide you more information about rapid transit, our County's planning process, and some answers to frequently asked questions.
I will be back in touch with you this fall when the Council begins its review of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan. In the meantime, I want you to know that I appreciate all the comments I have been receiving, will take them into consideration, and encourage you to contact my office should you have any further questions or concerns. My staff and I will do our best to address them.
Q: What do RTV and BRT mean?
The acronym RTV stands for rapid transit vehicles and BRT is bus rapid transit. RTV and BRT systems often have dedicated guideways or lanes, visible and permanent stations, and frequent, reliable service. A high quality RTV network utilizes specialized vehicles that can significantly improve an area's mobility, while offering the flexibility to meet future transit demands. There are best practices to be found across the country and around the world in places like Cleveland, Ohio, Eugene, Oregon, York Region, Canada, and Bogotá, Columbia.
Q: What are the benefits of an RTV system?
Adding another layer of transit options for county residents is beneficial for environmental, economic and quality-of-life reasons. First, traffic and gridlock are an ever increasing threat to our quality of life in the county. And studies show that roadway congestion is predicted to increase by 70% by 2040. We need to do something to preserve and enhance mobility throughout the county. Doing nothing is not an option.
Second, more people taking transit will improve the environmental health of our communities. By providing attractive alternatives, some people will choose to leave their cars at home and this will benefit everyone by reducing local air pollution from car emissions, a major contributor to climate change.
Finally, an RTV system is an investment in our economic future. A region with varied, attractive, reliable transportation options and good mobility is an attractive region in which to live and do business. DC, Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax are all building new transit systems. A healthy economy is vital to our county's future if we are going to sustain the level of services enjoyed by our residents.
Q: What would make RTV a more attractive choice for residents who could otherwise drive?
The existing buses all ride in lanes shared with all the other traffic so they move slowly, even more slowly than cars because they need to make many stops. Additionally, most have infrequent service, require cumbersome transfers and are often crowded and uncomfortable. While Metrorail runs frequently, its service is focused on getting into Washington DC rather than around the county. High quality RTV would allow residents to move around the county on a transit system that's reliable, not stuck in general traffic and runs with sufficient frequency. The proposed system is a complete network of north-south and east-west routes designed to move people from where they live to where they work. This system would attract new transit riders, not just those who currently ride the bus, by making it a desirable alternative to driving in stop and go traffic. In other areas of the country, these types of lines - not even systems - have dramatically increased ridership. The new Orange Line in Los Angeles County increased ridership by 51%. Ridership on the Cleveland "Health Line" increased 60% over the bus line it replaced.
Q: What is happening now to advance the RTV system and how can I follow the issues and participate in the process?
Montgomery's Planning Board is now reviewing the Public Hearing Draft of the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan. This is an update to our Master Plan of Highways, which hasn't been done in a comprehensive manner since 1955. The purpose of this exercise is to assess which corridors are most appropriate for rapid transit, providing an initial indication of where station's should be located, and what right of ways need to be dedicated for such a purpose. The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee and our full Council will take up the Planning Board's recommendations in the fall after public hearings and numerous work sessions. If the Council does approves this master plan, with revisions as deemed fit by the Council, it effectively becomes our County policy that rapid transit is in our future. It is a necessary precondition to the extensive work that would follow - figuring out how to pay for it, designing the routes with much greater specificity, and whether and how the network should be phased in. All of these decisions would be made with extensive public input.
Q: What will be the impacts to my neighborhood?
That will vary from one route to the next, but generally, the Public Hearing Draft does not call for significant road widenings and in many corridors, does not require any widening at all. Not all areas need two-directional dedicated lanes. In some areas, it may be worthwhile to repurpose a lane for short distances that is currently used for cars. In other areas, the RTV may have to travel in the car lanes along with the cars for a limited distance. Each area/route will require specific, appropriate solutions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every corridor will need a different design that will involve extensive community input throughout the design.
In general, the RTV vehicles should be cleaner and quieter than the multitude of cars currently on the road, and where dedicated curb lanes are present, it should be easier, not harder for cars to egress from their neighborhood roads onto major RTV corridors.
Q: Why don't we simply add on to Metrorail?
It's too expensive. Adding additional heavy rail (like Metrorail) costs about $250million dollars/mile to construct and light rail costs about $75-125 million/mile. Building new roads are also quite costly. For example, it costs between $30 - 100 million to construct a single roadway interchange. The cost of building a rapid transit system is approximately $17 million per mile and in many cases much less expensive when existing rights of way are used. We can build a high quality RTV system with many high quality attributes of Metrorail at a far lower overall cost.
Q: Why would we implement RTV in corridors where we already have Metro service?
Even with the addition of eight car trains (which the Planning Department assumes in its traffic modeling), studies still show strong ridership for a RTV system. In addition, an RTV can provide more frequent service at shorter intervals, with stations in between Metro stops in some cases. Additionally, RTV can provide useful east-west corridors connecting red line stations. A RTV network would complement, not supplant, our existing transit infrastructure. Passengers would be able to use the same payment system like the smart trip card and transfer smoothly between the two systems.
Q: We already have lots of buses - both Ride On, WMATA (Metro) buses, and even school buses. What would happen to them? How are the new vehicles different?
Existing Ride On routes would be reconfigured to offer shorter routes that would move people from the neighborhoods to the RTV lines, providing faster, more frequent and more reliable service. The RTV lines during rush hour would run with the frequency you'd expect of a rail system so that wait times at stations are minimized. WMATA buses that currently serve proposed RTV routes could operate in the dedicated lanes as could some Ride-On routes. School buses could also be allowed to use the dedicated lanes.
The new rapid transit vehicles would be different than our current Ride-On and Metro buses. They would be sleeker (more like a tram than a bus) and offer a very comfortable rider experience. Rapid transit vehicles can be very quiet, run on clean alternative fuels thus reducing emissions, and provide ground level boarding (no stairs) for quicker boarding and exiting. See below for examples of RTV vehicles used in other communities.
Q: How will the county pay for this? Will we get state and federal funding?
As with most, if not all, capital projects, planning comes first. When design and engineering work is finished on part or all of an approved system, financing options will be carefully considered. The funding mechanism will be chosen by the Executive and Council only after a thorough exploration of practical solutions, including the pursuit of state and federal funding sources, and a broad public discussion, which will include public hearings.
All major transportation projects come with a cost, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater - ever increasing congestion, pollution, degraded quality of life and lost economic opportunity. Most of our transportation dollars have been spent almost exclusively on roads and as we move forward, we need to provide a more balanced transportation system. In the future, if congestion is not addressed to some extent with transit, then we face more road-only solutions that will require more road widening and more grade separated inter-changes. There is no scenario where the status quo will remain unchanged. So we can either manage change in a way that lessens the impact on our communities or we will get buried in traffic.
Q: How rapid are the rapid transit vehicles?
No more rapid than the speed limit. Rapid transit vehicles must obey the speed limit on all roads and stop at all traffic signals, but will get to their destination faster if the vehicle is in a dedicated lane or guideway.
Q: Will bicycle and pedestrian improvements be implemented along with RTV corridors?
Yes. The Planning Staff has recommended that the areas around major transit stations and other transfer points be designated Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas. Sidewalks are included in all typical roadway sections used to determine the necessary rights-of-way and median pedestrian refuges would be provide to ensure safe crossing opportunities. Any bicycle accommodation already in our master plans is accommodated in the plan; on-road bike lanes would be accommodated in additional areas where possible; and where there are constraints to providing bike accommodation in the typical section, alternative accommodation is identified.
A RTV system should be safer for bicyclist and pedestrians because there would be fewer cars on the roads. All rapid transit vehicles will stop at traffic lights just like cars and pedestrian crossings of our corridors will be given full consideration.
|State Funding for Transportation Priorities
March 14, 2013
Our County has been at the forefront of urging our state leaders to attend to what we believe to be our state's -- and certainly our county's -- most urgent priority -- transportation funding. We have helped organized a statewide coalition; put together a powerful symposium in Annapolis; talked personally to the Governor; and urged you to get involved as well.
Why? Because, as we said in our joint letter to you a couple of weeks ago, our county's future depends on it: our quality of life; our environment; our ability to actually produce transit oriented development; our competitiveness in the region. Funding for critical transit projects will literally stop dead in their tracks next year if a funding package isn't approved this year.
All of that work just may have paid off. Because our state's leaders have heard us ....and they saw what a Republican Governor in Virginia was able to do with a divided legislature and equally vast regional divides. There, the legislature, with the Governor's leadership, was able to pass an $850 million annual transportation funding law.
Our Governor, working with the Speaker and the President of the Senate (who led on this issue) was able to secure consensus on a slightly more modest package of $800 million annually. And while each of us may have gone about this slightly differently, the bottom line is that the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 introduced last week is, without question, a significant step forward in meeting our transportation funding needs.
But, we aren't done. We haven't gotten to the finish line. The first real test will be on Friday before the House Ways & Means Committee. There is a reason that this is such a heavy lift -- raising revenue for almost any purpose is not popular. And raising revenue when our state's region's have very different needs makes that even harder. At the end of the day, I hope that the state passes the necessary measures to keep our critical transportation projects moving forward.
|Transportation Funding: Will Our State Make it a Priority?
February 11, 2013
This year's legislative session in Annapolis represents a critical moment for our county's future. As I have reported in the past, finding a sustainable source of funding for our county's transportation needs remains a top priority and we can't do that without action from the Maryland General Assembly. Simply put, our county's future depends on creating more transit options.
In fact, if the Governor and the Legislature fail to find a way to provide a secure source of revenues to meet our transit needs this year, the state Department of Transportation has said - officially - that it will take more than $50 million currently allocated for the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway in FY 14 and reprogram those dollars for other projects in other parts of the state. I have protested that action in a letter, calling it "unacceptable", and have urged the Department to reconsider.
The President of the State Senate, Senator Mike Miller recently introduced two transportation funding bills for consideration by his colleagues. I applaud him for getting this important conversation started in Annapolis. Now we need the Governor and the Speaker to join in this conversation. Hopefully, there will be a broad discussion of this topic before the Assembly adjourns in April.
If you care about the future of our county's infrastructure like I do, please contact your State representatives and urge them to make transportation a top priority this legislative session.
|Transportation Summit Focuses on Sustainable Transportation Funding
December 19, 2012
Under the leadership of my colleague Councilmember George Leventhal, elected officials and stakeholders from around the State of Maryland recently gathered to discuss one of the most critical issues facing local jurisdictions - dedicated funding for transportation projects badly needed to ease congestion on our roads.
Councilmember Hans Riemer, Council President Nancy Navarro, Councilmember Marc Elrich and I joined County Executives from four Maryland jurisdictions including Montgomery's Ike Leggett, State Delegates, and stakeholder groups across the State to reiterate the need for sustainable, dedicated funding for transportation and to explore ways to move projects critical to our state and local economies forward via an assortment of financing mechanisms. The day was an excellent opportunity for transportation and transit advocates to put their heads together in the hopes of forging even stronger transportation coalitions and finding solutions that will pave the way for our future.
If we want to help people get out of their cars, get to where they are going faster and easier, spend more time with their families and less time on the road, we absolutely must build the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and a countywide rapid transit system. If we want to maintain our existing infrastructure, including our aging bridges, we must find a dedicated funding source. Without getting some of our tax dollars back from the state to do these things, we will literally be at a standstill.
If this issue is important to you like it is to me, it is critical that you let our Governor and your State legislators know that you want to see the State Transportation Trust Fund restored and money for transportation protected. You can find contact information for the Governor and your state legislators here.
|T&E Committee Collaborates With Our Neighbors to the East
November 21, 2011
A few months ago, I ran into Prince George's County's Transportation Committee Chair Eric Olson at a meeting. After chatting a while, I proposed that our two committees meet to discuss regional issues facing both our counties.
On November 3, the T&E Committee, which I chair, held a joint meeting in Laurel with the Prince George's County Transportation Committee. This marked the first time ever that committees from the two counties collaborated in this way.
We discussed topics of mutual interest related to the Purple Line, heard what each jurisdiction has planned for their respective rapid transit networks, and received a briefing from members of the Maryland Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation Funding on their recommendation for an increase in the gasoline tax to fund our transportation infrastructure needs. The meeting was a great success, laying the foundation for future collaboration between our two counties.
|FY12 Budget: Transportation June 2, 2011|
There is perhaps nothing that gets under one's skin like sitting in traffic. That is why it is crucial that we protect and expand our transit services in the County and we did just that in this year's budget. As Chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee (T & E Committee), I was pleased that the County Executive had not recommended any cuts to the County's Ride-On routes for FY12. We were able to maintain all routes while at the same time, plan for a future countywide Bus Rapid Transit System that will provide new, attractive transit options for the County. Sixteen routes throughout the County will be studied in the coming year taking us one giant leap closer to making Rapid Transit a reality in the region.
But not everyone is able to utilize mass transit; many of us rely on the extensive road networks in the County. Our road infrastructure is in bad shape given the significant storms over the past few winters. To address the enormous need for repairs and resurfacing, the Council increased funds by 600% compared to FY11 levels. This will help our Department of Transportation repair potholes and continue their highly sought-out neighborhood road resurfacing program.
Other good news in the transportation budget included funding to restore the Kids Ride Free program, money to continue the County's efforts to make pedestrian crossings safer by extending the walk signal time, and additional funding for tree maintenance and tree removal. In a difficult budget year, I was grateful to my colleagues on the T&E Committee, Councilmembers Floreen and Riemer) for their assistance in protecting these essential services.
|Briefing on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) January 27, 2011|
On January 24, the T&E Committee held the first in a series of briefings on the state of -- and future of -- our county's transit system. There is a growing consensus that our county's future -- economically as well as our quality of life -- is inextricably linked to creating a world class transit system in our county. And despite a most commendable commitment of county resources to Ride-On, our support for both the Purple Line and the CCT, and our regional efforts through WMATA, we are not where we need to be.
Bus Rapid Transit, or more simply, Rapid Transit, is quickly emerging as the optimal path forward for significantly reducing vehicle miles traveled and congestion. It is practically indistinguishable from fixed rail in terms of its look and feel; it is far less expensive; far more flexible; and can be implemented so much faster. Our own thinking on this issue would not be where it is today but for the extraordinary efforts of my colleague, Councilmember Elrich, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. He has spent years studying this approach and years advocating for it. And I believe his time, and BRT's time, has now come.
And timing is important. We are at a particularly propitious moment when all the stars are aligned in favor of BRT. The Obama Administration could not be more explicit -- it is looking to support transit projects that are part of a larger commitment to sustainability and smart growth land use development. The state legislature is seriously considering increasing the gasoline tax to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund this year. And our county has an ideal "pilot" BRT project within its grasp, starting with the White Flint Sector Plan and connecting north to the CCT and south through the expanded National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, and down to Friendship Heights. By turning Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue-- our state's most important economic corridor -- into a Sustainable Transportation Corridor, we can be a national model and leader for creating livable communities.
The committee heard from a panel of internationally and nationally recognized experts who provided an overview of what BRT is and where it has been successful and then from a panel led by my colleague Councilmember Elrich on the prospects for BRT here in Montgomery County. I want to thank all of our guest speakers for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their experience and wisdom with us: Michael Replogle, Global Policy Director and Founder, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy; Brendan Finn, Senior Transport Consultant, ETTS - European Transport and Telematics Systems, Ltd.; Sam Zimmerman, Urban Transport Advisor, World Bank and former Director of Planning for the Federal Transit Administration; Jack Gonsalves, PB Consult, Eugene, Oregon; Evan Goldman, Federal Realty Investment Trust, Francine Waters, Lerner Enterprises; Al Roshdieh, Deputy Director, Montgomery County Department of Transportation, and Marc Elrich, Montgomery County Councilmember. The committee session can be viewed in its entirety here.