New bus rapid transit proposal centers around Route 355

Route 355 is the only road in Montgomery County that could support a two-way bus lane, county planners said Thursday as they presented a scaled-back bus rapid system to the county’s Planning Board.

Planners are pitching a 78-mile system that would include eight corridors in the center and downcounty regions. Some would include new lanes in the current medians, one of which is a two-lane system and others that call for a one-lane track, and mixing the buses in with existing traffic.

The new version is about half of the 160-mile system proposed by a task force appointed by County Executive Ike Leggett. A report from the New York-based Institution for Transportation and Development Policy suggested that system would not have enough riders.

The buses in the new system would run down Route 355, Colesville Road/Route 29, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue, Randolph Road, Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard and the proposed North Bethesda Transitway between Old Georgetown Road and Interstate 270.

But Route 355 is the only road that could hold two lanes down the median and provide enough bus riders to make the new construction worth it.

Master Planner Larry Cole pitched building the bus system on Route 355/Rockville Pike and U.S. 29/Colesville Road first because these are the roads predicted to have the most riders and they can stand alone without other corridors feeding into them.

Some commissioners questioned why some corridors were chosen over others and what the methodology was behind determining ridership and congestion. There was also discussion of what was more beneficial for drivers and potential BRT riders: dedicated curb lanes or bus lanes in medians?

Planning commissioner Norman Dreyfuss asked whether Cole had considered creating new median lanes for cars instead of the buses to alleviate congestion on certain corridors and keep buses on the curb for pedestrian safety.

Cole said county staff was still working on the specifics of the system.

Area transportation advocates backed the plan, saying county planners are being realistic about the service they can provide the county.

“The staff’s analysis is both rigorous and practical,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “And results in a network that can be effectively implemented.”

A public hearing is scheduled for March 18.

Photo courtesy of Washington Examiner

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