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.”
The issue arose after Friday’s Montgomery County Council transportation committee session focusing on the 355 section of the countywide proposed Bus Rapid Transit plan. Of the 10 routes proposed, 355 is considered the most promising route for high-quality, center-running BRT given its existing high population density and coming development at places like White Flint. But Friday, Councilmembers were split on the question of whether to extend the 355 route to Friendship Heights, or to stop it short at Bradley Boulevard in downtown Bethesda.
“BRT complements and supplements the Red Line from Rockville to Bethesda, and it does the exact same thing between Bethesda and Friendship Heights,” said Gianne Italiano, President and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “There are hundreds of residents, businesses and employees, along with customers and patients that would utilize this BRT line to access stores, restaurants, businesses and health care providers in Friendship Heights.”
A variety of supporters from the Friendship Heights area want the line to extend south and bring more transit options for their area, including Chevy Chase Land Company and JBG, both property owners in Friendship Heights, the Friendship Heights Transportation Management District Advisory Committee, the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, and Ward3Vision in D.C.
The Montgomery County Planning Department estimates that the 355 route could have 44,000 daily riders in 2040, the highest of all the proposed corridors.
“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”, said Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She added, “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.”
So far the Council’s transportation committee has voted to extend dedicated lanes for BRT to the D.C. line on other key corridors, including New Hampshire Avenue, Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, and Colesville Road. The subcommittee is expected to discuss additional aspects of the proposed Bus Rapid Transit network over the next week or two, with the full County Council taking up the plan later in November.
“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.
About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington D.C. region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website at www.smartergrowth.net.