Public Hearing Testimony Regarding Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit Proposal

By Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
July 12, 2012
Montgomery’s Smart Growth Record
When we were founded in 1997, Montgomery County already had a long and distinguished record for smart growth earning a national reputation for its early planning initiatives including: wedges/corridors, Agricultural Reserve, TDR’s, downtown Bethesda, Kentlands/King Farm, and of course, the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit policy (MPDU’s). These early policies and successes were followed by the Silver Spring revival, the expansion of the MPDU program, and the renewed attention to the Ag Reserve and its value to the county.
In the last couple of years we have seen Montgomery County renewing its focus on transit and transit-oriented development (TOD) — first and foremost with the Purple Line, as well as the White Flint plan, CR Zone and now the Rapid Transit proposal in the list of important county initiatives.
Next Generation of Transit
We attended many of the Transit Task Force meetings and have met with and interviewed stakeholders across the county about the Rapid Transit proposal including civic association leaders, conservationists and transit advocates, business leaders and government officials to understand people’s interest in and observations about the proposal.
Our region and Montgomery County must invest in the Next Generation Transit Network in order to address traffic congestion, improve access to jobs, support sustainable communities, and maintain economic competitiveness. For Montgomery County the “three-legged stool” for Next Generation Transit investment must be: Strengthening Metro, Building the Purple Line, and Building a Complimentary Network of BRT.
We must reinvest in the aging Metrorail system and fund and build the Purple Line, the top priority of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, the State of Maryland and the smart growth community. The BRT network is an essential compliment to the Purple Line and Metrorail, interconnecting and expanding transit for Montgomery County residents and workers, enhancing access to jobs, addressing traffic, improving energy efficiency and maintaining economic competitiveness.
We must seek local, state and federal commitments to increase funding for transit and to shift funding to transit from wasteful, ineffective highway projects. It’s time to fix Metro, press forward on the Purple Line and to smartly phase in new BRT routes, efficiently and effectively addressing the needs of the highest ridership corridors first.
In the Region Forward Compact and in our local Master Plans (Comprehensive Plans) our region and local governments, private developers and the non-profit community have committed to a network of sustainable, transit-oriented communities. Now it is time to “put the T into the TOD,” investing in the Next Generation Transit Network.
Benefits of a Rapid Transit Network
Traffic reduction: Transit and transit-oriented development, combined with strong housing policies, preservation of the Agricultural Reserve, and parks and streams, will maintain and enhance Montgomery County’s quality of life and economic competitiveness. We have shown, as have official Montgomery County studies, that a network of transit-oriented communities and better jobs/housing balance between east and west, will reduce traffic, improve access to jobs, reduce air pollution, and absorb population growth while preserving suburban neighborhoods and greenspace.
Market demand and workforce attraction: Walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented communities — are increasingly attractive younger members of the workforce and downsizing empty nesters and retirees. Today’s highly educated, technology oriented employees today are highly mobile — they are going to go to communities that offer both vibrant urban centers and nearby green spaces with extensive recreational opportunities. You are competing for these employees with Boulder Colorado, Seattle Washington, Portland Oregon, Austin Texas and more. Given a choice of tech jobs, they will go to where the hippest neighborhoods and coffee shops can be found and where they can get outside on a bike, a mountain bike or a kayak.
Reduced oil consumption: Transit and TOD also help reduce our consumption of oil (whether foreign or domestic). Every extra dollar spent on fuel, in an era of higher energy prices, is a dollar not spent on local goods and services, on building a business, or on additional education so essential for keeping our workforce competitive. The Center for Neighborhood Technologies’ Housing + Transportation Cost calculator shows that mixed-use, transit-oriented centers offer the most affordable combination of housing and transportation, not only saving households money, but helping to attract and keep your workforce.
Tax Base: Arlington County has confirmed that its two Metro corridors provide 50% of its tax base on just 11.6% of its land. The net tax benefits are used to invest in neighborhoods across the county — in recreation centers, traffic calming, libraries, schools and parks. Economist Joe Minocozzi has also shown that the per square foot tax yield of compact, mixed-use development is many times higher than that of traditional strip mall development.
Avoiding Inner Suburban Decline: Investing in high capacity, frequent and convenient transit service is critical to avoiding inner suburban decline. That’s been one of the great benefits of the Metrorail system as reflected in Bethesda and Silver Spring. It will also be a key benefit of the Purple Line with its multiple stops in Montgomery County. For neighborhoods of smaller, older housing stock to compete against the shiny big, new homes farther out, they have to win on amenities, like attractive convenient transit and the ability to walk to revitalized neighborhood centers. Adding an RTV network to the Metrorail and the Purple Line will help to continue to attract new young families to your older suburban neighborhoods.
Green Solution/Fighting Climate Change: Montgomery County prides itself on a long record of strong environmental commitments, from the Agricultural Reserve and stream valley parks, to recycling, energy efficient building and green power initiatives. You seek to be a leader in fighting climate change. One of the most effective means to fight climate change is through transit and TOD. Green, energy efficient buildings in walkable/bikeable TOD address the 80 percent of our energy consumption and climate emissions that come from our buildings and transportation. In Smart Growth America’s “Growing Cooler” report and the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s “Cool Communities” report for our own region, we have shown that mixed-use, walkable, transit communities in regionally accessible locations offer significant CO2 reductions. Walkable, mixed-use urban form and efficient, transit accessible location of development can provide reductions in transportation related CO2 emissions of up to forty percent over conventional development. That’s before counting the benefits of energy efficient green buildings.


Recommendations for the Rapid Transit Network
We recommend that we continue to invest in strengthening Metro and building the Purple Line, and that you commit to the vision of a full Rapid Transit Network as proposed by the Transit Task Force — as critical to the future of the county. We recommend extensive input from the community to help with the design of the system. The system should be phased in so that you can focus on the most important and high ridership corridors first, can ensure you get the details right, and can draw lessons from the implementation of the early corridors. Key characteristics are:
– Frequent, reliable service
– Pre-paid and rapid boarding from level platforms
– Real time information and easily understandable maps and service
– Dedicated right of way
– Strong focus on making the investments in safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access to the stations
– Ensuring you meet the county’s stormwater management goals by retrofitting green stormwater management as you construct the corridors.
– Adding essential links to surrounding jurisdictions, but especially along or near the Beltway corridor to Tysons Corner and the Silver Line. In fact, we urge you to work with Fairfax County to continue to press COG and state transportation officials for this link.
We again commend the County Executive, his staff, and the Transit Task Force for creating a vision for a next generation, high-capacity transit network for Montgomery County. We urge the Council to press forward with well-designed TOD and the transit needed to support sustainable and competitive economic growth. Please put the “T” in the TOD.