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BRT Needs Repurposed Lanes

Letter to Planning Board chair Francoise Carrier

March 21, 2013

As a member of both Action Committee for Transit and chair of “Routes and Phasing” committee of the County Executive’s Rapid Transit Task Force, my colleagues and I were uneasy with the conversation that took place Monday night about whether there was a need to repurpose lanes at limited “choke points”, most of which occur inside the Beltway, in the proposed 79-mile BRT system.

The planning staff’s modeling shows that the county will see an additional 200,000 residents and 200,000 jobs by 2040, causing 70% more congested lane miles at rush hour. Given that we aren’t planning on revamping our main corridors into superhighways, we need a new method to move more people. BRT will move more people than we ever could in cars alone — it’s geometrically impossible to move everyone in a car today, let alone in the future.

As I understood the conversation on Monday, some commissioners were concerned that if we repurpose an existing lane, cars would move more slowly than they do today. Yes, that would be the case if no current drivers switched to BRT. But if we repurpose and dedicate a lane for buses, the will speed along faster than cars and serve as their own advertisement to drivers that the fastest way to get to their destination is by bus.

BRT is unlike our current bus system — buses today are mired down in the same traffic as cars. People who take the bus today do so for reasons that may be financial, environmental, or simply because they prefer using commute time to read, phone or text, rather than curse the traffic. By giving BRT a dedicated lane, the rapid and frequent service will give people an option they don’t have today.

Of course, every driver won’t move to BRT; probably not even 50% will. However, think of the “August effect” — the one time of year when you can get a seat on Metro, when you can drive downtown more quickly than usual. That’s because maybe 15% of the people are away on vacation. That really improves traffic flow. If only 15% of drivers switched to BRT, we’d see a big difference.

What other plan does the county have to move more people more quickly? We don’t have a good option for moving more cars. Instead of framing the situation as an inconvenience to drivers, frame it as a new option to move faster, arriver sooner, and get a chance to read/work/snooze while having someone drive you to your destination.

Finally, below I reiterate points made in Planning Board documents (as referenced in the recent letter to you from the Coalition for Smarter Growth). I believe these points not only support the BRT plan laid out by Larry Cole on Monday, but actually make the case that as the county grows, transit will move more people than cars and hence should be given preference.

Twenty years ago, the 1993 General Plan section on transportation outlined as one of its main objectives to “Provide a transit system in appropriate areas of the County that is a viable alternative to single-occupant Vehicle Travel.” To achieve that goal, one of the primary strategies outlined is to “Give priority to establishing exclusive travelways for transit and high occupancy vehicles serving the Urban Ring and Corridor.

The planning staff’s draft reflects “a strong preference for limiting impacts to adjacent properties in already developed areas, we recommend that existing travel lanes be repurposed to the extent possible within the Urban Ring and I-270 Corridor.

The scope of work published in September of 2011 established that the goals of the study were to “Provide a transit system in appropriate areas of the County that is a viable alternative to single-occupant travel” and “Make BRT a preferred mode of choice by creating a network that increases reliability, minimizes delay, and compares favorably to driving times during peak periods.


Tina Slater
Action Committee for Transit, President