July 16, 2019
Re: Supplemental appropriation and amendment to FY20 Capital Budget and FY19-24 CIP – $3,000,000 for Bus Rapid Transit: MD 355 (Support), and Supplemental appropriation and amendment to FY20 Capital Budget and FY19-24 CIP – $1,000,000 for Bus Rapid Transit: Veirs Mill Corridor (Support)
By Jane Lyons, Maryland Advocacy Manager
President Navarro and Councilmembers, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I am here on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the D.C. region advocating for walkable, inclusive, transit-oriented communities. We support a robust bus rapid transit system on MD 355 and in the Veirs Mill corridor.
For MD 355, we urge the Council to recommend Alternative B, dedicated median BRT lanes, and to incorporate Alternative C, dedicated curb BRT lanes, in the southernmost segment in Bethesda. Median bus lanes are the gold standard for BRT, producing the highest ridership, frequency, and reliability. These are the characteristics that will make BRT a choice mode for current transit riders and attract new riders.
Given the high ridership projections, economic development potential, and the long-standing support from community groups and business leaders, we believe that Segment 2 (White Flint/Twinbrook) should be included in the first construction phase, followed quickly by the segments north of Shady Grove. Prioritizing White Flint and Twinbrook will serve the most riders, as well as help spur anticipated investment and business development greatly needed by the county that will not occur without significant transit upgrades.
However, Alternative B does not offer dedicated BRT lanes south of Tuckerman Lane to the Bethesda Metro station (Segment 1). We prefer all-day dedicated curb lanes in both directions for this section but would accept the Alternative C recommendation for a peak direction only lane – as an initial phase. High-quality bus transit access to the job centers located along this corridor is critical. Any segment with dedicated curb lanes will require regular enforcement to ensure that cars do not use the lanes and slow down BRT service.
Regarding the alignment of northernmost segment through Clarksburg, we recommend the Snowden Farm Parkway alignment since it is the only option that does not require a road extension or widening, has the most potential for transit-oriented development, and is the only option that offers access to a grocery store.
In addition to favoring median BRT lanes, we strongly encourage and prefer the conversion of existing travel lanes to BRT to save time and right-of way-acquisition costs. We also concur with the Planning Board recommendation to initiate further service planning and network redesign for effective integration of BRT and local service. Effectively integrating BRT with local service will help to maximize ridership, accessibility, and affordability.
The county should also plan for improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure near BRT stations. Pending construction of the BRT, the county must continue to invest in streetscape enhancements, off-peak street parking, safer pedestrian crossings, and sidewalk and bikeway improvements along MD 355. These are urgent and necessary in order to meet mobility, Vision Zero, emission reduction, and economic development goals.
Finally, we strongly urge that preliminary engineering advance concurrently for both the entire Veirs Mill BRT project and MD 355 BRT. The Veirs Mill corridor has the highest ridership of any bus route in the state of Maryland, and current transit service does not meet the high demand. There is an equity and social mobility issue at stake – nearly 10 percent of the corridor lives below the poverty line, 22 percent do not speak English proficiently, and half of households have one or fewer cars. Veirs Mill BRT is an important step towards bridging the east-west economic divide, and should not be delayed any longer.
In fact, given the urgency to change course and fight climate change, the county and state should place both the entire 355 and Veirs Mill BRT projects on a fast track.
Thank you for your time.