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BRT Worksession Reveals Fundamental Differences On 355 Corridor

By Aaron Kraut

Friday - 11/1/2013, 12:45pm  ET

The  Afternoon rush hour on Rockville Pike near Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (file photo)

A new bus rapid transit system could include a route into Bethesda, but the system’s fate for Wisconsin Avenue south of Bradley Lane toward Friendship Heights is unclear.

The County Council’s Transportation Committee on Friday wrangled over the MD 355 South and North Bethesda Transitway corridors part of a Planning Board-approved master plan.

All the recommended routes and treatments in the 81-mile, 10-corridor proposal are subject to more detailed studies and deliberation by the county. But there were major disagreements about what should be included in the master plan and the effectiveness of a Rockville Pike BRT system at all.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At large), of Garrett Park, argued the Rockville Pike BRT corridor should not continue south of the Grosvenor Metro station. Floreen contended 355 is too constrained in those sections to actually implement the system.

“You can put this in here, but it is absolutely not doable,” Floreen said. “We’re presenting a solution that in no way in this lifetime is going to get constructed. So why are we pretending?”

Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer voted 2-1 to keep a BRT route into Bethesda in the plan. The specific treatment of the route — whether it’s the Planning Board-approved two median lanes, a single-reversible lane based on rush hour or a community-preferred curb lane approach — would be subject to the county’s project planning studies.

Councilmember Marc Elrich, who’s credited with first proposing a BRT system, said he has had conversations with NIH officials who suggested they’d be open to finding more space for BRT. The Committee made it clear it would not take up the conterversial proposal to repurpose two existing median lanes for exclusive bus use. That, again, would be taken up in the implementation process.

In a surprise, lead planner Larry Cole said he agreed with Council staff on its recommendation to ditch the BRT line Cole proposed for Wisconsin Avenue south of Bradley Lane.

Council transportation analyst Glenn Orlin said concerns from Chevy Chase residents — that a BRT line would be dangerous or mean a widening of the road — were completely unfounded. Orlin said he was agains extending the route to Friendship Heights simply because it wouldn’t serve anybody. There are no stations planned between Bradley Lane and the Friendship Heights Metro.

Berliner proposed a dotted-line approach, to convey the county would only look at the section south of Bradley Lane if D.C. was contemplating a similar transit system down the rest of Wisconsin Avenue. Riemer voted to stick with keeping it in the plan. Floreen was against having a route there at all. That means all three Committee members have different views.

Finally, Floreen questioned the fundamental purpose of having a North Bethesda BRT route from White Flint Metro to Montgomery Mall, when there is already a master plan for a route from the Grosvenor Metro to Montgomery Mall.

Planners switched it to White Flint Metro with the thinking that it would serve more people, as White Flint is expected to become a larger and more attractive activity center. Floreen argued it should stay at Grosvenor, and proceed west via Tuckerman Lane, in order to provide drivers with parking with which they could then use the BRT system.

“I really don’t think, as much as the developers would like us to believe it, that White Flint is going to be the center of the universe,” Floreen said.

At the end of the nearly three-hour session, which also included deliberation on a 355 North route into Rockville and Gaithersburg, it was clear the full Council will still have much to hash out when it takes BRT up later this month.

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