County planners propose repurposing two lanes of Rockville Pike for exclusive bus use in their Bus Rapid Transit draft plan, to be presented tonight to the County Planning Board in Silver Spring.
The plan for Rockville Pike/MD 355, which planners think will be the busiest transitway in any countywide BRT network, would take away the two middle lanes of the six-lane road for bus-only traffic on MD 355 from White Flint all the way to Bradley Boulevard on the south end of downtown Bethesda.
With projected 20 percent increases in the county’s population, number of workers, transit work trips and vehicle work trips by 2040, planners say daily ridership on the “MD 355 South Transitway” would hit between 44,000 and 49,000 southbound riders and between 22,000 and 34,000 for northbound riders.
The draft plan explains the justification for taking away two lanes of regular traffic on one of the county’s most notorious sections of bumper-to-bumper traffic:
Where bus rapid transit would move people most efficiently in a corridor, the space needed to accommodate transit should be dedicated first to those bus lanes; the remaining lanes would then be available for general traffic. If congestion is too high in the remaining lanes, providing additional general traffic lanes should be considered. The impacts associated with constructing the additional pavement — construction costs, environmental impacts, community impacts, etc. — should be weighed against the benefits of providing more accommodation for the less efficient mode.
The 14 proposed BRT stations on the route include MD 355 and Hubbard Drive (Montrose Crossing Shopping Center), the White Flint Metro station, MD 355 and Security Lane (White Flint Mall), the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station, MD 355 and Pooks Hill Road, MD 355 and Cedar Lane, the Medical Center Metro station, MD 355 and Cordell Avenue, the Bethesda Metro station, Bradley Boulevard and MD 355 and the Friendship Heights Metro station.
In phase one of the project, which includes 79-miles of BRT transitways along 12 routes, buses from Bradley Boulevard to Friendship Heights on Rockville Pike would run in an exclusive curb-lane. Phase 2 would include a similar two-lane median set-up.
The draft plan also includes recommendations for a North Bethesda Transitway to connect the MD 355 corridor west to Montgomery Mall and the office buildings along Rockledge Drive and Rock Spring Drives.
The buses would run in mixed traffic along Old Georgetown Road between MD 355 and Executive Boulevard before switching to a reversible one-way median lane between Executive Boulevard and Rock Spring Drive. Along Rock Spring Drive, Fernwood Road and Westlake Terrace, the buses would be in a two-lane side running transitway that would add two exclusive bus lanes to the four lanes of traffic with a 40-foot easement.
The seven North Bethesda Transitway stations are the planned Montgomery Mall Transit Center, Rock Spring Drive and Fernwood Road, Rockledge Drive and Rock Spring Drive, Rock Spring Drive and Old Georgetown Road, Old Georgetown Road and Tuckerman Lane, Old Georgetown road and Edson Lane/Poindexter Lane and the White Flint Metro station.
Previous master plans said any transit system connecting to Montgomery Mall should go to the Grosvenor-Strathmore station, but planners determined the North Bethesda Transitway should go to White Flint since it will be in the middle of dense, mixed-use development.
Other corridors in the BRT network have faced some scrutiny over whether they will see enough riders, but the MD-355 corridor has consistently been portrayed as one of the most needed because of traffic from downtown Bethesda, Walter Reed National Military Medical and much upcoming development in White Flint.
The Planning Board hopes to hold a public hearing on the BRT plan in May before having worksessions and sending it to the County Council for final approval in July.