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Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Express Bus Service on US 29

I support faster, more reliable transit service on US 29, because it will provide more and better transportation options to all residents and further the County’s environmental and smart growth goals. Under that framework, I joined my Council colleagues to support $7.5 million to study and design BRT service on US 29 and to support express, limited-stop RideOn service beginning in 2018 on US 29.

You can read details of the BRT plan here (pdf), but following are some key features of the proposal:

  • BRT service will begin in 2020
  • Buses will run on the shoulder in the northern section of the corridor (from Burtonsville to Industrial Parkway) and in mixed traffic south to Silver Spring
  • Buses will run every 7.5 minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes outside of rush hour
  • The BRT system will have off-board fare collection, transit signal priority (TSP), specially branded vehicles, and elevated stations
  • Numerous pedestrian and bicycle improvements will be constructed simultaneously

While the overall plan is a meaningful step forward and achieves impressive travel time savings, the game changer for the corridor is securing dedicated lanes where congestion is the worst, south of Industrial Parkway. At that point, riding the bus becomes a much better service for those who do not have the opportunity to own a car as well as a real alternative for people who have a car. But if the bus is stuck in traffic, many people will prefer to just drive. This is why I advocated, successfully, for a study of an exciting and potentially effective concept for dedicated lanes in the median of US 29 south of Industrial Parkway. The key to this proposal, which was initiated by county residents and transit activists, particularly Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot, is shrinking the regular travel lanes from 12 to 10 feet. This makes enough room to add a dedicated lane for buses without taking a lane away from cars, a potential win-win situation. This summer County and State transportation officials will prepare cost estimates for this study, and the Council plans to introduce a special appropriation this fall to fund the effort.

In order to facilitate public discussion about this option, the Council required that the County Executive submit a subsequent appropriation request, subject to public hearing, to fund right-of-way acquisition and construction. This will give residents and the CACs plenty of opportunity review and comment on many salient features of system, such as station locations and the right-of-way requirements.

Finally, I have long argued that the County should be making incremental bus reforms now while we plan for high-quality BRT service in the future. To that end, the Council added money to the FY18 budget to begin express, limited-stop RideOn bus service on US 29 in early 2018. The new bus service will run from Burtonsville to Silver Spring during the morning and evening rush hours. The Council also approved $1 million to begin express, limited-stop RideOn bus service on MD 355, from Lakeforest Mall to Medical Center Metro Station. I believe these efforts will provide much needed service quickly while we continue planning and designing a high quality BRT system.

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Funding a study for dedicated lanes on US 29 BRT

If a bus could move past traffic, wouldn’t you be more likely to ride it? That is the premise behind the need for “dedicated lanes” for buses. When a bus has a dedicated lane, it can move past traffic jams. At that point, riding the bus becomes a much better service for those who do not have the opportunity to own a car as well as a real alternative for people who have a car. But if the bus is stuck in traffic, many people will prefer to just drive.

Today, the Council’s Transportation Committee supported my request for further study of an exciting and potentially effective proposal to create dedicated lanes for buses south of Industrial Parkway as part of a US 29 BRT plan. The key to this proposal, which was initiated by county residents and transit activists, particularly Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot, is shrinking the regular travel lanes from 12 to 10 feet. This makes enough room to add a dedicated lane for buses without taking a lane away from cars, a potential win-win situation.

The County Department of Transportation agreed to prepare a supplemental appropriation to fund the study for the Council’s review at a later date. My MEMO is below.

MEMORANDUM

To: Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee
From: Council Vice President Hans Riemer
Date: May 2, 2017
Re: US 29 BRT Dedicated Lane Proposal


I am writing to urge your support to further develop a potentially effective concept for a dedicated bus rapid transit lane south of Industrial Parkway for the US 29 BRT.

Like many of you, I recently met with Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot to discuss their proposal to improve BRT on US 29. As you know, the current proposal before the County Council calls for BRT vehicles to ride in the shoulder on the northern section of corridor, providing a dedicated lane. South of Industrial Parkway, to the Silver Spring Transit Center, the vehicles would travel in mixed traffic.

While the overall plan is a meaningful step forward for bus service, the game changer for the corridor is securing dedicated lanes where congestion is the worst, south of Industrial Parkway. Mr. Emerson’s proposal envisions a dedicated lane and platforms in the median of US 29 south of Industrial Parkway. Mr. Emerson’s proposed dedicated lane can largely be accommodated within the existing curbs and without removing travel lanes, which reduces additional impacts. In fact, it seems possible that most or all of the elements of the Executive’s proposal would nest readily into Mr. Emerson’s more comprehensive plan.

My understanding is that MCDOT and SHA have expressed interest in the proposal. I believe the next step after approving the Executive’s proposed project is to identify the funding to flesh out the design of Mr. Emerson’s proposal, as well as engaging the US 29 Citizens Advisory Committees.

Therefore, I respectfully request your support for the further study of a dedicated BRT lane between Industrial Parkway and Downtown Silver Spring.

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Daily journal, 11-3-11

This morning I met with volunteer PTA leaders from the BCC cluster to talk about the new middle school. Last night Dr. Starr announced he would reinitiate the site selection process for that middle school, acknowledging a flawed MCPS process. I applaud his decision and I think it was both wise and courageous for him to clear the decks on an issue like that. Nevertheless the schools are overcrowded…

This afternoon we held a joint meeting of the Prince George’s County Council and our Council’s transportation committees. We discussed the Purple Line, bus rapid transit and the state commission’s recommendations to raise some $800 million in transportation funds. I made the point that the Purple Line will be a game changer for economic development as it connects our 355/270 corridor and the Red Line there with Silver Spring, UMD and New Carrollton – on up to NYC. Plus a few more Metro lines in PG and some MARC lines to boot.

Regionally the Purple Line is our most critical transportation priority and our two counties, which suffer from heavy traffic and will pay a huge share of the needed gas tax increase, should insist on a funding commitment this year in the legislature. If we support the gas tax together then let’s get the Purple Line together!

The photo shows us at the WSSC board chamber where we sometimes meet when it is a joint function.

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Daily journal, 09-13-11

Today was the first council session since the end of July. Its been so long since I sat at my seat on the dais that I have to confess I was a bit nervous all over again. We started the day though with an open-press discussion with the County Executive, Ike Leggett. I was a few minutes late as I was getting an interesting update from Marc Elrich about his BRT plans as well as economic development issues, where we have some common interests. The session with the County Executive turned into a bit of a fracas over the issue of whether we should pursue a municipal power authority that would take over for Pepco. I strongly support pursuing this idea — I think the residents will be very interested to see the option laid out before them (yes? no?). It appears to me there is enough support on the Council to go forward, regardless of the Executive’s objections.
Another focus today was on capital spending and the capital budget — where we borrow money to pay for long term investments such as schools, transit technology, roads, parks, libraries, etc. The County Executive is proposing a cut in the amount of money that we borrow. I am concerned about any proposal that would slow the pace of job creation in the county, and there is no question that building projects create jobs (good ones, too). We will be taking a closer look at this but my general philosophy is that we should spend every penny we can on job creation, within the bounds of affordability.
We also discussed a bill that I have introduced, along with six other co-sponsors (so far), that would change the timing of when impact taxes are paid to allow builders to use more of their seed capital to start projects. The timing would change so that builders do not have to pay taxes up front, but rather when they are ready to occupy and sell. This will mean more projects and more jobs, as well as more single and multi-family housing for our workforce, and more housing for companies looking to expand or locate here. It won’t cost the county or taxpayers a dime — in fact, as Council Vice President Roger Berliner noted, it will generate more tax revenue over time by improving the investment climate.
We are in a national employment crisis that demands an aggressive response from every level of government. I’m interested in any ideas you have for how we can spur job creation here in Montgomery County.