Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Bus Rapid Transit

Democracy Dies in… Bus Lanes?

3:33 PM EST on February 26, 2018

If you're going to make bus service so fast and reliable that people will leave their cars at home, you can't let buses get stuck in car traffic. That's why bus lanes are such an important component of the 82-mile bus rapid transit network Montgomery County, Maryland, is putting together.

But on one of the key corridors in the network -- Route 29 -- the BRT plan calls for bus lanes on just 40 percent of the route. So local activists came up with a better idea, reports Pete Tomao at Greater Greater Washington:

East County residents Sean Emerson and Sebastian Smoot came up with a proposal to bring dedicated lanes into the southern, more traffic-clogged portion of Route 29. The “Better BRT” plan builds upon the county’s current plan as a follow-up “Phase 2” project.

The key feature of “Better BRT” is to “squeeze in” bidirectional or reversible bus-only lanes from Tech Road to Sligo Creek Parkway by narrowing existing travel lanes by one foot and repurposing part of the median. Using this approach, the plan would require minimal road widening, retain six car lanes (three each way), and still provide left turn pockets into each neighborhood. Under the “Better BRT” plan, 90 percent of Route 29 would have some form of dedicated busways. Additionally, the plan could lead to long-requested safety features such as crosswalks and traffic signals that the State Highway Administration has been unwilling to implement.

Bus riders get faster service without the political fight that always ensues when car lanes are converted to transit lanes. Except some people are fighting the "Better BRT" plan anyway, writes Tomao:

This past December, the Montgomery County Council asked MCDOT to move forward with funding the Emerson study, citing the large benefits that more dedicated lanes would bring to the Route 29 Corridor. MCDOT found $425,000 in unused funds that could be reallocated to move forward with the study, and the council was set to approve the funding at their January 30 council session. This is where things got interesting.

Anti-BRT activist Kevin Harris accused the council of behaving in a shady manner and demanded additional public hearings before any study could move forward (he was testifying at a public hearing that was televised). Harris opened by stating, “I'm here at the last minute because what we’ve seen here is a last minute move to insert funding for a study to study putting the BRT in the median of Route 29…this is a CIP [Capital Improvements Program] for a cost savings plan. Not a pork plan!”

Harris accused the council of thwarting democracy, saying, "When you open up the Washington Post what it says is 'Democracy Dies in Darkness.' This is darkness!”

As insane as that sounds, Harris has already slowed down the attempt to give transit more priority on Route 29. After that presentation, Montgomery County Council postponed its vote to study the "Better BRT" plan until after an additional hearing.

More recommended reading today: Seattle Transit Blog reports that the city is exploring a zoning change that would eliminate residential parking requirements near transit. And the Natural Resources Defense Council slams the Trump administration for threatening to zero out funding for the TIGER program.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Activists Renew Push For Redesign of Fourth Ave. in Bay Ridge

But where is Council Member Justin Brannan when cyclists and pedestrians need him? He's been AWOL on this issue.

February 26, 2024

Monday’s Headlines: Flaco, We Hardly Knew Ye Edition

The only story that anyone wanted to talk about was the death of Flaco the owl, but there was plenty of other news.

February 26, 2024

DOT Spins Bus- and Bike-Lane Failure as ‘Streets Plan’ Success

The agency quietly released its required status report on the Streets Plan, which shows massive shortcomings that DOT downplayed.

February 26, 2024

Greenpoint Woman Dies from Injuries Sustained in Crash

The driver's RAM truck had been nabbed by city speed cameras 26 times since 2018, including nine times last year.

February 25, 2024

Congestion Pricing Opponents Are Blocking Disabled Access to Mass Transit, Politicians Charge

Just as the MTA begins speeding up new elevator construction, congestion pricing opponents are poised to stop it.

February 23, 2024
See all posts