BRT Advocates Urge Council to Make Friendship Heights Connection

The Coalition for Smarter Growth says the County Council needs to extend a bus rapid transit route planned for Wisconsin Avenue south to Friendship Heights.

The proposal took a big hit on Friday, when the Planning Department, which included the BRT line all the way to the D.C. line in its master plan, reversed course and agreed with Council staff that it should stop at a planned Bethesda Metro entrance on Elm Street.

The three-member Transportation Committee was split, producing a 1-1-1 vote for keeping the section of BRT to Friendship Heights, getting rid of it entirely and drawing it as a dotted line to indicate the county would study it if and when D.C. looked at transit of its own for Wisconsin Avenue.

The Coalition, a D.C. based nonprofit advocating for bus rapid transit, put out a press release on Monday urging the full Council to reconsider:

Stopping the route at Bethesda, instead of connecting it an additional 1.5 miles to the D.C. border could shortchange the area and the county in several ways, supporters said.

“With traffic congestion rising and the possibility of local Metro stations shut down for extensive repairs, residents in our area are seeking more options for getting north to Bethesda and beyond, or to Friendship Heights and D.C.” said Chevy Chase resident Ronit Dancis. “BRT would be a great new option for our neighborhoods.”

Residents in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood are opposed to BRT south of Bradley Lane because of safety issues and because they think it would make it more difficult to turn in and out of the neighborhood. Council staff analyst Glenn Orlin dismissed those fears, but said he was against extending BRT into Chevy Chase because he didn’t see who would use it.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth’s release cites developers JBG and the Chevy Chase Land Company as supporters of extending BRT south. Both developers have properties in downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights. Other supporters include the Friendship Heights Transportation Management District Advisory Committee, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and Ward 3 Vision, a partner group of the Coalition for Smarter Growth that operates in D.C.

“Cutting short this key route would sever an important transit connection between Montgomery County and D.C., putting more cars on the road and make both Bethesda and Friendship Heights less competitive locations for business,” the Coalition of Smarter Growth’s Kelly Blynn said in the release. “Extending the route has few downsides. The plan proposes wider sidewalks and an improved pedestrian environment, while recommending no changes to the median or street width.

“Connecting the Montgomery Rapid Transit to Friendship Heights will enhance transit connections with D.C and its extensive bus network and the city’s own growing express network. The BRT link on 355 between Bethesda and Friendship Heights is a critical connection that needs to be made,” Blynn said.

The Transportation Committee will host two more worksessions on BRT on Tuesday.

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