Archive for the ‘BRT on JBR’ Category

Bus Rapid Transit, or just a fancier bus?

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Purple Line is becoming one of the central issues in the governor’s race according to the Gazette at Kane says money not there for light rail. When Ehrlich was governor, he cited protecting the Golf Club as the core reason to oppose the Purple Line, see the Gazette at Ehrlich drawing the line. I have not heard any reference to protecting the Club in the 2010 Ehrlich campaign so far. All of his focus now appears to be on picking the transit option that is less expensive and that can be built quickly.

I’ve posted a series on why I think BRT on Jones Bridge Road is not the right choice for the Purple Line, with one of the main reasons being the BRT will not have the capacity to carry the heavy demand forecast for the Purple Line Corridor in 2030, and will be even more inadequate for the greater demand beyond 2030. See the demand forecast at BRT on JBR, part one.

If we do build BRT on JBR instead of the light rail, and if you are able to get on an overcrowded BRT vehicle in 2030, you will find the ‘Rapid’ part of BRT has disappeared. You will be stuck in slow traffic on a fancy bus. This will be especially true if the BRT is built by Governor Ehrlich with his focus on cheap.

In December 2008 Delegate Al Carr (district 18) gave a glowing description of the new Healthline BRT in Cleveland. His review was a guest blog at JUTP: Riding North America’s newest transit system. Delegate Carr wrote “I came away convinced that BRT is a practical, efficient and cost effective transit option. Giving buses priority at traffic signals seems to be a key factor in achieving its full potential for fast trip times.” Delegate Carr is one of the fiercest opponents of the Purple Line light rail, lobbying strongly for BRT on Jones Bridge Road instead.

But now, nearly two years since the Healthline BRT opened its doors in Cleveland, we have this report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Healthline buses moving slower than expected…. From the article:
“RTA’s HealthLine — a bus/rapid transit touted as a faster, more efficient way to travel Euclid Avenue — is moving at about the same slow pace as the bus it replaced.
Cleveland is still adjusting traffic lights on Euclid Avenue from Public Square to the Stokes/Windermere rapid station in East Cleveland to shorten the bus trips, nearly two years after the $200 million Euclid Corridor project was completed.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer article cites difficulties in adjusting pedestrian signals and cross street traffic signals to give the BRT the signal priority it needs for fast service. Traffic engineers are optimistic they can eventually get the problem under control. But the Healthline BRT experience highlights a critical point – you must give signal priority to BRT, or else it will be just a fancy bus stuck in traffic.

The issue of giving BRT signal priority on Jones Bridge Road pits one part of Delegate Carr’s constituency against another. Depending upon whether or not BRT receives the signal priority at Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Jones Mill Road that it needs for fast service:
1) his constituents driving north-south on Wisconsin Ave./Connecticut Ave./Jones Mill Road will find their drive takes much longer because the dozens of BRT vehicles crossing these highways each hour have signal priority, or
2) his constituents riding BRT east-west on Jones Bridge Road will be wondering why they are stuck in traffic on fancy buses when a fast light-rail option is possible.

View Larger Map

Signal priority for BRT to cross Connecticut Avenue will slow
north-south traffic to an unacceptable level.

The MTA has issued a signal priority study that concludes that signal priority for BRT at these three major highways will likely not be acceptable, since the time delays caused to north/south travelers by signal priority will exceed the time benefit to the BRT riders. Without this important signal priority, the BRT on JBR experience will be like Cleveland’s Healthline BRT – moving slower than expected.

BRT on JBR, part five

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Keeping it in balance.

I began this blog nearly a year ago with these comments in the first post:

“Either building the Purple Line in order to complete the Capital Crescent Trail into Silver Spring or not building the Purple Line in order to save some of the park character of the Capital Crescent Trail in Chevy Chase would be having the tail wag the dog.”

We trail users are rightly critical of neighborhood groups and of the Columbia Country Club when they put their own very narrow self interests ahead of all else. Just up the Pike has reported that some residents of the Town of Chevy Chase are very critical of their Town’s efforts to obstruct the Purple Line. But trail users can also lose sight of the larger public interest if they place the trail ahead of all else.

The Interim Trail has 10,000 uses each week, but the Purple Line ridership will be more than 30 times higher than the trail use with over 60,000 boardings each work day or over 300,000 boardings each work week. The trail is a very important issue for us.  It will be an important part of the Purple Line. But nonetheless it is only one of several important issues that must be considered in the Purple Line decision, and the public has a right to expect trail users to make reasonable accommodation for the public good.

The previous four articles of this series outline reasons why I believe the Purple Line medium or high investment LRT will be most compatible with the trail, and why BRT on JBR is a poor substitute for the quality transit that we need. I believe the Purple Line LRT is the most effective and attractive transit system that we can realistically afford anytime soon for this area. Your views on our transit needs and how the Purple Line will impact your own community may cause you to reach a different conclusion. But all of us can agree with the sentiment Councilmember Berliner expressed in his December Berliner Brief:

“…if the trail is going to be compromised, it should only be for a truly first class transit system, worthy of the investment and the sacrifice that will be required.”

BRT on JBR, part four

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Does BRT on JBR “save” the trail?

In the previous post of this series I discussed some differences between how Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit may impact the Capital Crescent Trail if the Purple Line is built in the Georgetown Branch Corridor.

Some advocates for Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road (BRT on JBR) claim this Purple Line option is the “win-win” option. This Purple Line option would not use the Georgetown Branch corridor west of Jones Mill Road.  Advocates for BRT on JBR assert that this alignment will result in the Capital Crescent Trail being completed into downtown Silver Spring, while also saving the trail from the devastation that (they say) will come with having the Purple Line alongside the trail in the Georgetown Branch Corridor.

BRT on JBR would run on Jones Bridge Road to the Medical
Center, then down Woodmont Avenue to Bethesda.
Map source: Action Committee for Transit

Claims that the BRT on JBR will not use the Georgetown Branch Corridor are very misleading. BRT would share the combined Georgetown Branch Corridor and the CSXT corridor with the trail for over 1/2 of the total length of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, including on the Georgetown Branch Corridor through the only true park on the route, Rock Creek Park. Claims that some advocates are making that the Georgetown Branch Corridor is wider east of Jones Mill Road than it is in Chevy Chase are wrong. The Georgetown Branch Corridor is wide across Rock Creek Park, at 225′, but then is only 60′ to 66′ feet wide through the entire Lyttonsville section from near the Grubb Road access to beyond Stewart Avenue. This narrow section is the same length as the 66′ wide section at the Town of Chevy Chase.

If BRT on JBR advocates will accept BRT alongside the trail for over 1/2 of its length, including through Rock Creek Park and through some of the most narrow Georgetown Branch Corridor sections, then they must either acknowledge that transit and trail are compatible or they must ignore the trail east of Jones Mill Road.  

BRT on JBR advocates point out that the trail would not be disturbed for the section west from Jones Mill Road to Bethesda and the trail would not be forced to accommodate transit in the Bethesda Tunnel. But even this advantage will be partially offset by problems that will come with converting the Interim Trail to a permanent CCT without transit. If the Purple Line does not use this part of the Georgetown Branch corridor, then converting this part of the trail into a permanent CCT will become the sole responsibility of Montgomery County. Building grade separated trail crossings of Connecticut Avenue and Jones Mill Road, widening the trail, and even paving the trail cannot be taken as certain to happen.

A trail bridge over Connecticut Avenue may
never be built without the Purple Line

The medium and high investment LRT options and high BRT option would provide a trail bridge over Connecticut Avenue and an underpass under Jones Mill Road. Trail advocates will be very hard pressed to ever get the County to build these if not part of the Purple Line project construction.

The Columbia Country Club will fight efforts
to stop its encroachment on public land.

The Purple Line would force the issue of removing the fences at the Columbia Country Club to allow the public to use the 100′ wide public corridor there. Will the County have the resolve to face down the Club so trail users do not feel like they are in a narrow cage there if the Purple Line is not built? It has been many years since the ownership issue over the 100′ right of way was resolved in favor of the County by the courts, yet the County has shown no willingness to ask the Club to move the fences. The Club continues to boldly encroach on the public land, and will continue to use all of its resources to fight efforts to push the fences back.

Chevy Chase residents will likely fight
 efforts to widen and pave the trail.

The Purple Line would rebuild the trail as a 10′ wide paved trail. One would think that paving the trail would be a “no brainer” for the County. But many of the same local residents who proclaim “Save the Trail” on their backyard fences are opposed to paving and widening the trail because then the trail would no longer be the quiet neighborhood trail they have become accustomed to using. We will see “Save the Trail” advocates start lobbying in opposition to converting the gravel Interim CCT into a paved permanent trail within a nanosecond of a decision to not build the Purple Line.

BRT on JBR is not the “win-win” for the trail that advocates claim.  The trail would share the Georgetown Branch/CSXT corridor for over 1/2 of its length between Bethesda and Silver Spring with BRT instead of more compatible LRT. The benefit of being spared from accommodating transit west of Jones Mill Road and in the Bethesda Tunnel would be offset by losing the grade separated trail crossings of Connecticut Avenue and Jones Mill Road.  Trail users will likely face opposition to paving and widening the trail from Chevy Chase neighborhoods and from the Columbia Country Club.

How should trail users weigh these Purple Line issues? That will be the subject of the next (and last) article of this series.

Berliner on the Purple Line

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (District 1) has given a position statement on the Purple Line and trail. His position is of special interest, since his district includes the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area.

Councilmember Berliner’s statement appears as part of his December Berliner Brief. It states in part:

“When I ran for office two years ago, I stated my support for building light rail along the right-of-way purchased by Montgomery County for this purpose. I did so because the land was purchased for this very reason — to have both a trail and light rail. Our need for mass transit has certainly not diminished over time and I feel that the recreational experience, while not the same as it is today, would still be positive. I have since visited and walked the trail numerous times with concerned citizens and trail users and listened to their concerns about the loss of this unique resource. I also requested, on behalf of the Town of Chevy Chase, a full and fair examination of the Jones Bridge Road BRT alignment by the MTA, which resulted in the release of a “White Paper” analysis of this option. While this option would “save the trail”, you should know that in all of my conversations about this option, and I have had many, I have yet to hear anyone from the County Executive’s office or any of my colleagues, even those who are strong supporters of BRT generally, indicate that they support this alignmnet and mode. Moreover, this project will eventually serve Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, and there is no support for BRT in Prince George’s County. And, from my perspective, if the trail is going to be compromised, it should only be for a truly first class transit system, worthy of the investment and the sacrifice that will be required.”

BRT on JBR, part three

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

BRT vs. LRT in the Georgetown Branch corridor.

I have presented information from the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vs. Light Rail Transit (LRT) capacity and about cost effectiveness of BRT on Jones Bridge Road vs. the Georgetown Branch in the previous two articles of this series.

In this third article of the series I will compare BRT and LRT from the perspective of a user of the future Capital Crescent Trail, for the Purple Line BRT options that follow the Georgetown Branch corridor. I will address the BRT on Jones Bridge Road (JBR) in the next article.

Where BRT and LRT are similar:

A proposed trail profile at the Columbia Country Club.
BRT and LRT will have very similar profiles.

BRT and LRT both need approximately the same width for a double track, about 30′. BRT will need slightly more room for two paved lanes than will LRT for its two tracks, but the LRT will require some space for the poles that support its overhead power lines. Both will require removing about the same number of trees from the Georgetown Branch Corridor, both will introduce transit vehicles into the corridor, both will require similar amounts of buffering to maintain safe separation between trail and transit.

Both BRT and LRT will require replacing the trestle at Rock Creek with two new bridges – one for transit and a separate one for the trail. Both would build a direct off-road connection between the CCT and the Rock Creek Trail.

Both the BRT and LRT high investment options will create grade separated crossings for the CCT at Connecticut Avenue and at Jones Mill Road.

Both BRT and LRT will take away much of the park character of the existing trail in Chevy Chase.

Both BRT and LRT will result in the trail being completed into downtown Silver Spring as a safe, direct trail with grade separated crossings of busy roadways to complete the trail network, something that otherwise is very unlikely to happen.

Where BRT and LRT are different:

BRT vehicles are typically a bit noisier than LRT, although noise levels for both are low.

Modern hybrid technology BRT vehicles are much cleaner than ordinary diesel buses, but they still have internal combustion engines that will emit exhaust near the trial users. Light rail vehicles will have electric motors and will not emit exhaust fumes.

Rail transit on grass tracks alongside a trail.

BRT is not compatible with “grass tracks”, whereas grass tracks can be used with LRT. (Dec. 17 edit: This is one of the reasons the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club endorses the Purple Line as LRT, see their Sierra Club letter to the MTA commenting on the AA/DEIS.)

BRT vehicles have less capacity than LRT vehicles and cannot be joined together to form a single multiple vehicle train like LRT can. Since transit demand will be at or greater than BRT capacity in 2030, more BRT vehicles must run at higher frequencies along the trail for more frequent trail user pass by than for LRT. (See BRT on JBR, part one for demand vs. capacity assumptions.)

The Trail may be at grade alongside BRT in the tunnel, but must
be in an overhead structure to remain in the tunnel with LRT.

BRT may be more compatible than LRT for keeping the trail in the Bethesda Tunnel, since the BRT alignment only uses the tunnel for one lane for eastbound BRT vehicles. It may be possible for the trail to run alongside BRT at grade in the tunnel. In contrast LRT needs the full width of the tunnel for two LRT tracks, and the trail will need to be above the LRT on an elevated structure through the tunnel. But this apparent BRT advantage will be seriously compromised by the need for the trail to cross from the south side of the BRT to the north side after exiting the east end of the tunnel. This means the trail must either cross BRT at-grade, bringing a serious safety issue, or must cross BRT overhead on a bridge that will require ramps and elevated structures with design challenges in this constrained area similar to those for the trail overhead structures with LRT.

BRT would run through the Woodmont East plaza and
pedestrian corridor. LRT tail tracks would extend at least
partially into the pedestrian corridor.

BRT and LRT will both intrude into the plaza area at Woodmont Avenue, but in different ways. Woodmont East II site plans include a public plaza at Woodmont Avenue and a shared use corridor between the plaza and the west portal of the Bethesda Tunnel. BRT will run in a loop down Woodmont Ave. and alongside the trail through the plaza area and shared use corridor, so buses would be running through the plaza as frequently as 10 to 15 times an hour in peak periods. By comparison LRT will have tail tracks in this area to store vehicles that need maintenance periodically. LRT will also require a trail ramp at the west end of the shared use corridor to elevate the trail to the trail overhead in the tunnel. MTA asserted at the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session that LRT vehicles will only be parked on the tail tracks occasionally, and MTA is investigating whether LRT operational needs will allow them to design the tail tracks to not extend out fully to Woodmont Ave. If MTA is able to restrict the tail tracks to not extend into the plaza area, it would assure that the plaza would not be disturbed by LRT tail track activity.

BRT vehicles are smaller than LRT vehicles and BRT will be
less likely to allow bikes on board.

I believe that LRT will be more compatible with the trail than BRT will be on the Georgetown Branch corridor overall. But the future CCT can work with either mode if the Purple Line is properly designed. The Georgetown Branch/CSXT corridor is wide enough for both the Purple Li
ne, whether BRT and LRT, and also for a full 10′ wide trail continuous between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Both BRT and LRT would require trail users to make significant accommodation at the Bethesda Tunnel, but trail users will benefit greatly east of Rock Creek where the trail will be completed into downtown Silver Spring.

Differences between BRT and LRT are much greater if the BRT is on Jones Bridge Road. That will be the subject of the next article of this series.

BRT on JBR, part two

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Cost effectiveness of the Jones Bridge Road alignment.

In the BRT on JBR, part one blog article of this series, I summarized a discussion between the Planning Board, M-NCPPC transportation planning staff, and MTA at the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session about capacity of Purple Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vs. Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The BRT on Jones Bridge Road (BRT on JBR) Purple Line alignment that is being promoted by the Town of Chevy Chase was also discussed at the Planning Board work session. That proposal is of direct interest for the future Capital Crescent Trail, because BRT on JBR would follow an alignment that would spare the need for the future CCT to share the Georgetown Branch Corridor from Jones Mill Road to downtown Bethesda with the Purple Line. The Trail would still share the Georgetown Branch Corridor/CSXT corridor with the Purple Line BRT from Jones Mill Road east to downtown Silver Spring, however.

Source: MTA MBRT Variations White Paper

I first discussed BRT on JBR in an August Will the BRT campaign backfire? posting, and referred to a MBRT Variations White Paper which presents cost effectiveness data for BRT on JBR compared to BRT following the Georgetown Branch Trail into Bethesda. The cost effectiveness data is also presented in the MTA Purple Line AA/DEIS.

The Dec. 8 Planning Board work session explored the validity of the MTA analysis of BRT on JBR, and in particular the MTA finding that BRT will have higher ridership and better cost effectiveness on the Georgetown Branch alignment even after job growth at the Bethesda Medical Center from BRAC is taken into account.  MTA stood behind their analysis results.  The M-NCPPC transportation planning staff presented data in their work session memorandum showing that while job growth will be faster at the Medical Center than in Bethesda with BRAC, the growth in households in Bethesda will continue to be far greater than in the Medical Center area. The staff memorandum asserts:

“The model run indicated that the alignment over the Georgetown Branch alignment would result in an increase of over 8000 passengers on an average weekday in 2030 as compared to the first supplemental alternative that uses Jones Bridge Road.”
“We find the model results as presented by the MTA in the AA/DEIS are reasonable and reflect the attractiveness of the reduced travel time provided by the Georgetown Branch alignment coupled with the greater density of both housing and employment in Bethesda and Silver Spring – as opposed to the campus settings at NIH and the Naval Medical Center.”

 Dr. Glen Orlin, County Council Staff Director, commented that the Georgetown Branch alignment when extended up Woodmont Avenue to the Medical center provides a “one seat ride” to the center of the Medical Center campuses (at the Red Line Metro entrance) whereas the Jones Bridge Road alignment is on the south side of the Medical Center campuses and would leave most workers with significantly longer walks to their offices on campus. Dr. Orlin concluded the MTA study results showing higher ridership for BRT on the Georgetown Branch even in the face of BRAC “makes sense”. Mont. Co. DOT was also represented at the work session, and appeared to agree. The discussion can be seen at the Planning Board website Dec. 8 Agenda.

BRT on the Georgetown Branch, modified by an extension
up Woodmont Ave. to the Medical Center, is proving to be
the most cost effective Purple Line BRT option.

The concern I raised in my August blog entry “Will the BRT campaign backfire?” appears to be coming true. The Town of Chevy Chase is having some success getting decision makers to consider BRT as more attractive and cost effective than LRT. But the Town’s efforts have also caused the MTA to bring forward a modified Medium BRT option (with an extension up Woodmont Ave.) that provides a one seat ride to the Medical Center and that has even better ridership and cost effectiveness than does the BRT on JBR proposal. BRT advocates within the Town of Chevy Chase who have been promoting BRT in an effort to push BRT onto their neighbors on Jones Bridge Road may end up eating their own “Demand a Better Purple Line” words, as more decision makers are beginning to think the “Better Purple Line” may be BRT on the Georgetown Branch.

I will outline some differences between having BRT and LRT alongside the Trail in the next article of this series.

BRT on JBR, part one

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

BRT capacity to meet future demand.

I have expressed my concern that the efforts of the Town of Chevy Chase to promote Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road (BRT on JBR) could have unintended consequences, in Will the BRT campaign backfire?. I closed that post with a promise to address the BRT vs. LRT issue in a future post.

Those of you who are interested in this BRT vs. LRT issue have had plenty of newspaper articles and blogs to follow. The discussion has been driven into hyperdrive by the Washington Post article Md Busway Promoted as Solution to Gridlock and by a Montgomery Gazette article Council member’s rapid bus system on transit table. If that is not enough, a guest blog by Delegate Al Carr in Just Up the Pike supporting BRT on JBR triggered a robust online discussion as other blogs quickly joined the discussion. A few of the most significant discussions are at Rebuilding Place in an Urban Space, Greater greater Washington, and Maryland Politics Watch.

I don’t want to rehash the whole BRT vs. LRT debate here. Nonetheless, there are some aspects of the BRT on JBR design option that are important to whether BRT on JBR is the best Purple Line option as the Town of Chevy Chase claims. I will describe discussions that occurred recently between M-NCPPC staff and MTA staff at the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session.

Demand vs. Capacity:

The issue of BRT capacity was discussed at the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session. The work session staff memorandum presented projected peak ridership estimates that showed the BRT will be at or near its full design operating capacity by 2030. In the most important Purple Line segment (i.e. the one nearest my home) at Silver Spring to 16th Street, the projected “Peak directional line load” is 1652 passengers/hour for the Medium Investment BRT, and 1858 passengers/hour for the High Investment BRT. MTA staff present at the meeting indicated peak load in east Silver Spring will be almost as high. MTA estimates the design BRT capacity to be 2100 passengers/hour. Since the capacity (2100) slightly exceeds the highest estimated demand (1858), it looks like we are “good to go”.

But the M-NCPPC staff has some reservations about the MTA capacity estimate that they describe in their staff memo. They have found what they consider to be more realistic studies on BRT capacity that indicate the Purple Line BRT design peak line load capacity would be 1800, not the 2100 MTA has assumed. The extended discussion between MTA staff and M-NCPPC staff at the meeting appeared to support the M-NCPPC staff concerns. MTA assumes 140 people per BRT vehicle with 15 vehicles in each direction per hour for the Purple Line estimate, but 120 people per BRT vehicle may be more realistic. MTA assumes it can inject extra “jumper” vehicles into to the Purple Line system at the peak hour to meet the demand. But there was agreement among the M-NCPPC and MTA staff during the discussion that the ability to introduce more vehicles is greatly compromised by the BRT Purple Line design that has the buses running on busy streets in traffic at the ends of this peak load section, in both downtown Bethesda and east Silver Spring. In short, you can’t just put a lot more buses out there if the buses do not have their own dedicated lane, because the street traffic will screw the bus intervals up and too many buses will screw up the street traffic if they have signal priority. The discussion can be seen on video, from the Planning Board agenda webpage. The discussion on Purple Line capacity was the first major issue taken up.

The give and take in the discussion about whether or not BRT will be over capacity in 2030 distracts us from the real capacity problem. During the Planning Board discussion Dr. Glen Orlin, Mont. Co. Council Staff Director, pointed out what I think is the elephant in the room when we talk about Purple Line capacity. The Purple Line AA/DEIS is required to measure ridership against year 2030 projections for consideration for funding by the federal government. But the Purple Line will only be 15 years old by 2030 under the most optimistic construction schedule. What will the demand be in 2050, at 35 years of age?? Does anyone doubt the demand will be much higher? What if the cost of gas goes up again soon, to even higher levels than seen recently, and transit demand grows faster than the models predict – in which case we will not even make it to 2030 before capacity is exceeded by demand?

It is nuts to consider building a legacy transit system with BRT if it is going to be at or near full capacity within 15 years of construction when it cannot be easily modified for higher capacity. In contrast the M-NCPPC staff memorandum shows the LRT Purple Line has the capacity to meet the 2030 demand. More important, both M-NCPPC staff and MTA staff appeared to agree during the discussion that LRT can be expanded much more easily than can BRT to carry the much higher demand likely to come beyond 2030.

I know this discussion doesn’t relate to the trail directly, but it does relate to whether the BRT part of BRT on JBR is a good idea. In the next post on this issue I will turn to another issue covered in the Dec. 8 Planning Board work session that is more closely related to the Trail, how the BRT on JBR alignment option measures up against BRT alignments on the Georgetown Branch Trail.

Will the BRT campaign backfire?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I have posted at Town study biased by its scope about how the Town of Chevy Chase consultant, Sam Schwartz, is systematically making the impact of Purple Line light rail appear to be as bad as possible upon the future CCT. Another key part of the Town campaign to keep Purple Line transit out of their neighborhood is to convince the public that the Purple Line, if built, should be Bus Rapid Transit on Jones Bridge Road. But that effort may now be backfiring.

The Town’s argument for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Jones Bridge Road is presented by Sam Schwartz in his “Alternatives Analysis”, available at the Town of Chevy Chase website. The argument goes:

1) Modern technology buses are cleaner and more cost effective than are light rail vehicles.
2) The Walter Reed Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) will bring many new workers and visitors to the Navy Medical Center and they should be served by the Purple Line.
3) BRT on Jones Bridge Road can provide service to the increased transit market at the Navy Medical Center, and will be the most cost effective Purple Line alternative.

The Town of Chevy Chase has been asserting that the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) should include a “true BRT” on Jones Bridge Road in their Alternatives Analysis. By “true BRT” the Town means a BRT having features at the same investment level as for the “Medium Investment BRT” option the MTA is evaluating for the Georgetown Branch corridor, such as elevated structures through the Silver Spring transit center and dedicated bus lanes on roadways. That Medium BRT option is described at the MTA Purple Line website. The Town argues that only in this way can a fair “apples to apples” comparison be made between a BRT alignment along Jones Bridge Road and a BRT alignment along the Georgetown Branch corridor.

As they say, “Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.” MTA has recently responded with a six page MBRT Variations White Paper that looks at two new Medium BRT alignments that would serve the Medical Center.

The MTA White Paper looks at a Medium BRT on Jones Bridge Road (Variation 1).

This Variation 1 option is identical to the Medium BRT as studied in the MTA Alternatives Analysis from Lyttonsville east to New Carrollton. From Lyttonsville west to Bethesda it is modified to follow Jones Bridge Road to the Army Medical Center. MTA assumes a direct connection will be built between the BRT station on Jones Bridge Road at the Medical Center and the Red Line Metro platform. (Dec. 14 edit – reference to a bridge crossing of Wisconsin Ave. is removed, since the information source can not be confirmed. MTA has indicated that signal priority for BRT crossing Wisconsin Ave. may be limited, because it can have an unacceptable impact on traffic.) Jones Bridge Road is assumed to be altered to give BRT dedicated or shared lanes on the roadways appropriate for a “true BRT” at a medium investment level.

The MTA White Paper also looks at a Medium BRT variation that follows the Georgetown Branch Trail and then is extended up Woodmont Avenue (Variation 2)

This Variation 2 option is identical to the Medium BRT in the MTA Alternatives Analysis to Bethesda, but then is extended up Woodmont Avenue from the North Bethesda station to the Medical Center Station. The buses turn around at the Medical Center Station.

The MTA used the same ridership and cost models for these two Medium BRT variations as used for the Medium BRT in its Alternatives Analysis, to create the “apples to apples” comparison that the Town asked for. Study Conclusions:

“Variation 1 – Medium BRT – Jones Bridge Road shows that the travel time increase of the longer routing to the larger Bethesda travel market results in a loss of 2,000 daily boardings and 225,000 hours of annual user benefits relative to the Medium Investment BRT alternative. The FTA cost effectiveness index for this variation increases to $15.62 with the new station entrance – which is essential for the connection to the Metrorail Red Line at Medical Center. Without the capital costs associated with this entrance, the index goes to $14.04.”

“Variation 2 – Medium BRT – Medical Center Access – extending the service to Medical Center from Bethesda increases the daily boardings by 6,000 and the annual user benefits by 236,000 hours. The cost effectiveness index for Variation 2 improves to $13.43 with this routing. This result indicates the benefits of serving the major Bethesda market directly while also providing a one-seat ride to the Medical Center area.”

The bottom line: BRT on the Georgetown Branch corridor to Bethesda and extended up Woodmont Avenue to the Medical Center is the most cost effective BRT option for a “one seat” ride to the Medical Center.

Is the Town pro-BRT campaign backfiring? Their campaign is getting the decision makers more interested in BRT technology instead of light rail. But they fail to make the case that the BRT Jones Bridge Road alignment is more cost effective than is the BRT Georgetown Branch alignment, even when a one seat ride to the Medical Center is included. The Town and “Gridlock Sam” have been arguing the BRT vehicles are acceptible in residential neighborhoods (i.e. along Jones Bridge Road). They have been promoting BRT as acceptible alongside the entire eastern half of the future CCT (i.e. between Silver Spring and Jones Mill Road). By doing so, they severely undercut their credibility when they pivot to argue that a BRT Purple Line along the Georgetown Branch corridor will destroy their neighborhood and their part of the trail. The Town pro-BRT campaign may make it more likely BRT will be selected over light rail alternatives to run on the Georgetown Branch alignment.

I continue to hold that light-rail will be a much better companion than BRT for the trail in the Georgetown Branch Corridor – quieter, cleaner, less frequent vehicle passes, compatible with grass tracks, etc. I will address the light rail vs. BRT issue further in another post. But it would be ironic if the Town of Chevy Chase ends up having BRT in their neighborhood as a result of their effort to push BRT onto their neighbors and onto the Silver Spring end of the future CCT.