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Improving transportation for Upcounty

As the Council debates the resolution I introduced to make sure that future master plans don’t make traffic worse, here is some background information on what we can do to improve mobility.

The Resolution currently before the Council does not make any decisions about what transportation projects, including M83, will or will not be built. It expresses the will of the Council that future master plans should not factor in M83 on the master plan alignment when the transportation capacity of the master plan area is assessed. There is no consensus to build M83 on the master plan alignment, therefore it does not make sense to continue adding new development that requires M83 as a transportation solution.

The Montgomery County Department Of Transportation has produced several detailed studies of options for improving mobility Upcounty over the last decade. They can be viewed on the County’s website at:
http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/corridor/. I believe there is an option that will make significant improvements for the area and could also gain the consensus needed to go into construction.

The most recent study was the Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report from February 2017. DOT studied how four possible alternatives would perform in 2040, using the same background assumptions about development and infrastructure.

  • “No Build” – No improvements on 355 or M83
  • “Scenario 1” – Widening 355 and adding service lanes, improving intersections throughout the area, and building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on 355.
  • “Scenario 2” – Building a two-lane reversible parkway on the M-83 route and BRT on 355.
  • “Scenario 3” – Building a four-lane highway along the M-83 right-of-way, without any improvements to 355.

See the figure below that summarizes the results of that study. The study did not recommend one alternative, but found that each scenario improved conditions over the “No Build” scenario.

I believe that Scenario 1 – widening 355, improving intersections, and building BRT – should be our highest priority, in addition to I-270 and the Corridor Cities Transitway, for which we are seeking state funding. Compared with Scenario 3 (M83), Scenario 1 allows auto travel times at rush hour that are only 2 or 3 minutes more, while allowing 22% of commuters to take transit and producing 34 million fewer vehicle-miles per year. Only 8 intersections continue to fail under Scenario 1, compared with 9 intersections under Scenario 3 and 14 intersections under No Build.

Scenario 1, which I favor, includes a combination of road improvements from Alternatives 2 & 5 of the 2013 Environmental Effects Report. These expand auto capacity along Ridge Road, 355, and the existing Midcounty Highway by widening the route to a six-lane divided highway along the entire stretch (sections are already six lanes) and building service roads along 355 to minimize driveways and turning movements.

  • Ridge Road would be widened to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path from future Snowden Farm Parkway to Brink Road under a separate developer-funded project. (From Brink Road to MD 355, Ridge Road is already six lanes.)
  • From Ridge Road to Middlebrook Road, MD 355 would be widened from a four-lane divided highway that contains auxiliary turning lanes at various locations to a six-lane divided highway with auxiliary turning lanes, service roads at select locations, and a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • From Middlebrook Road to Montgomery Village Avenue, MD 355 is already a six-lane divided highway. Service roads would be added at select locations.
  • Montgomery Village Avenue between MD 355 and Midcounty Highway is already a six-lane divided highway, but would be modified by replacing the existing eastern sidewalk with a shared use path.
  • Existing Midcounty Highway from Montgomery Village Avenue to Goshen Road would be widened from the existing four-lane divided highway to a six-lane divided highway with a sidewalk and shared use path.
  • Intersection improvements (such as additional turn lanes) at the following intersections:
    • Midcounty Highway /Montgomery Village Avenue
    • Midcounty Highway/Goshen Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Woodfield Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Washington Grove Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Miller Fall Road
    • Midcounty Highway/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Shady Grove Road
    • MD 355/Montgomery Village Avenue
    • MD 355/Watkins Mill Road
    • MD 355/Professional Drive
    • MD 355/Gunners Branch Road
    • MD 355/Middlebrook Road
    • MD 355/Germantown Road
    • MD 355/Shakespeare Boulevard
    • Watkins Mill Road/Stedwick Road
    • MD 115/Shady Grove Road/Airpark Road
  • Finally, Scenario 1 includes Bus Rapid Transit on 355, attracting more than 1,600 new daily transit riders according to the study. You can read more about the proposed BRT line here.

Performance Measures (2040) from Feb. 2017 Midcounty Corridor Study Supplemental Report

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New protected bike lanes and dockless bike share come to Silver Spring

In a big win for the Silver Spring community, the County has unveiled new protected bike lanes on Spring St. and announced an agreement with MoBike to bring hundreds of dockless bike share bikes to the County. With your advocacy and the support of my Council Colleagues and the County Executive, Silver Spring is becoming one of the best and safest places in the region to jump on a bike.

Several years ago I asked the Planning Department to develop a low-stress bicycle network for Silver Spring and White Flint. At my request, the Council funded these infrastructure improvements in 2016. Last year we celebrated the second piece of the White Flint protected bike lane network, and work continues to complete the network there.

There is a lot to be happy about. Let’s make this a sign of what is to come for communities all across our great County. Biking should not just be for the brave, it needs to be an option for everyone, regardless of skill and comfort-level. More details and a video are below.


Leggett Celebrates New Protected Bike Lanes in Silver Spring; Announces Montgomery County Has Signed Agreement with Mobike to Add Dockless Bike Share in Silver Spring

October 3, 2017


ROCKVILLE, MD — Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett today announced that the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has completed construction of the first protected bike lane in downtown Silver Spring, a Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Area. Leggett also announced that Montgomery County has signed an operating agreement with Mobike, making the County the first suburban jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt this dockless bike share system. Mobike is the largest bike-sharing platform in the world. This month, these dockless bikes will be available in Silver Spring via a smartphone app.

“Today, we are celebrating two important developments in making bicycle travel in Montgomery County easier, safer and more accessible,” said Leggett. “We are adding a protected bike lane to our existing Silver Spring biking infrastructure and we are initiating a bike sharing agreement for a pilot project with Mobike to enable more people to travel by bicycle. This protected bike lane and enhanced access to shared bikes can help reduce traffic collisions, improve our traffic flow, and protect our environment.”

Silver Spring is an ideal location to expand biking options. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation built the protected bike lanes as part of a plan to create a network of low-stress biking infrastructure throughout the downtown area. The next step in building this network may include protected bike lanes on Wayne Avenue and Cameron Street. The network is intended to connect residents, workers and visitors to jobs, retail, recreation, entertainment and transit.

“We know that when we make biking safer by adding protected bike lanes, more people of all skill levels, young and old, will choose to bike,” said County Council Vice President Hans Riemer. “The Spring Street Protected Bike Lane will be a tremendous asset to the community, and it is just the beginning of a fully-separated bike lane network—known as the Silver Spring Circle—in downtown Silver Spring. I requested that Planning Staff design a Protected Bike Lane Network in Silver Spring and I’d like to commend the County Executive and his administration, and my Council colleagues, for making the Silver Spring Circle a reality.”

Montgomery County’s agreement with Mobike is a pilot project to test the concept of dockless bikes in Silver Spring. MCDOT is committed to working with businesses and residential communities to ensure a successful demonstration project.

To use Mobike, individuals will be able to download the Mobike app to register and locate a nearby bike, then unlock it by scanning the QR code. Once at their destination, the bicyclist can park the bike in an approved area and lock it, making it available for the next user. These bikes are powered by unique high-tech features including smart-lock technology, non-puncture airless tires, bike status sensors and built-in GPS locators.

“Montgomery County is the model for how we wish to work with communities across the U.S.,” said Jillian Irvin, head of U.S. government affairs for Mobike. “I want to thank Ike Leggett and everyone involved with the planning process for accepting us with open arms as we strive to make cycling the most convenient, affordable, and environmentally friendly transportation option for residents and tourists alike.”

The new Spring Street protected bike lanes are five to six feet wide and stretch eight-tenths of a mile along Spring and Cedar Streets, connecting the existing Cedar Street contraflow bike lane at Wayne Avenue to signed bike routes at Second Avenue, Fairview Road and Ellsworth Drive.

A striped buffer with flexposts separates the new bike lanes from motor vehicle traffic. The buffer varies in width from two feet to eight feet. Along most of the lane, on-street parking forms a barrier between the buffer and the travel lane. Pedestrian improvements include a shortened Spring Street crossing at Woodland Drive. The project includes bike boxes and two-stage queue boxes. These boxes allow bicyclists to make left turns at multi-lane intersections from the right-side separated bike lane.

The bike lane project includes the first floating bus stops in Montgomery County, designed to reduce conflicts between motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Four floating bus stops provide a bus boarding platform on the opposite side of the bike lane from the sidewalk. This allows bicyclists to travel safely in the protected lane without buses crossing over the bike lane or stopping in the bike lane to pick up or discharge passengers. Transit riders use a crosswalk to get across the bike lane. Floating bus stops have been constructed around the world and across North America.

Construction on the protected bike lanes began in May 2017. Work included a complete resurfacing of Spring Street and Cedar Street, with roadway foundation repair, as needed. The project budget was approximately $1.4 million.

The Mobike company officially launched its service in Shanghai in April 2016 and has since expanded its presence to 180 cities globally, including the District of Columbia. The company now operates more than seven million smart bikes and supports over 25 million rides every day. As of August 2017, Mobike users have collectively cycled over 5.6 billion kilometers, equivalent to reducing CO2 emissions by more than 1.26 million tons, or taking 350,000 cars off the road for a year.

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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.