My Two Cents: Quit It, Don’t Even Try To Fit It

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

Joseph HawkinsWisconsin Avenue running through downtown Bethesda is narrow (definitely no Arenida 9 De Julio in Buenos Aires, Argentina).

A single traffic lane is approximately 10 adult shoes wide. See the photo below that I took in front of the Subway sandwich shop at 7201 Wisconsin Ave. using 10 of my own sized 10.5 shoes. How the heck will we squeeze in several Rapid Bus lanes without massively redesigning downtown Bethesda?

As a way to wind down the work week, my wife and I meet for dinner after work on Fridays. We’ve had this standing date for decades. Normally, we stay close to home and pick a Bethesda restaurant for dinner. Over the years, however, we’ve tried lots of D.C. restaurants, especially those convenient to the Metro Red Line. Let’s face it — Cleveland Park restaurants are easy dates.

My wife and I meet directly after work. She’s commuting from downtown D.C. by way of the Red Line and I’m coming from Rockville by car. If we stick to Bethesda, I drive to the date and my wife arrives by Metro. If we pick a D.C. restaurant, however, I park at Bethesda and jump onto a Red Line train to D.C.

How many shoes does it take to fill one lane of Wisconsin Avenue? Photo by the authorOver the years, Metro has been extremely reliable. I probably can count on one hand, the times Metro caused a late meeting. If my wife says she’ll meet me at 6:30 pm in front of LIA’s in Friendship Heights, she’s there on time. The same is true if I’m riding Metro and promise to meet her at Dino’s in Cleveland Park.

I’m making a big deal about Metro’s reliability because some advocates of the Rapid Bus Transit system (aka BRT) are trying to scare folks into building a BRT Wisconsin Avenue line because the Metro reliability that I’ve come to depend on for my Friday dates will disappear. One key advocate group is hawking “the possibility” of Metro station shut downs, including Bethesda. Oh my!

In a nutshell, BRT would consist of sleek modern buses running on existing county avenues in dedicated lanes not shared with cars. One proposed BRT route is Wisconsin Avenue. The plan as it stands is to run buses from the Bethesda Metro all the way to the Metro station in Rockville, with the possibility of running those buses all the way to the D.C. line.

There are plans to run other lines elsewhere in the county. The BRT is a total Montgomery County government thing. If the BRT is built it will be built with our county tax dollars.

I’m going to be blunt about what I think about the plans to run the BRT through Bethesda. It seems unnecessary.

First, a reliable Metro system already runs under and through Bethesda all the way to Rockville. Why waste money on a redundant (parallel) transit system?

Second, no one in his or her right mind is going to convince me that BRT fits on the existing Wisconsin Avenue without completely rebuilding the Avenue from Friendship Heights all the way to Jones Bridge Road (NIH/Walter Reed).

I have read the articles where planners say they are not taking any existing right of way to widen roads. Sorry, don’t believe them.

Recently, even a few Montgomery County elected officials expressed doubts about a BRT line running down the just Wisconsin median. Running the BRT down the median is an option supporters claim leaves Wisconsin Avenue with its existing traffic lanes. Nice try, if you’re running a BRT designed for munchkins.

Look, I don’t see a fit — either as a median or curb design — without massively redesigning Wisconsin. And the massive redesign probably takes existing right-aways. Say goodbye to that Subway shop on that curb in my photo. Massively redesigning Wisconsin Avenue to fit in a redundant mass transit system seems pretty dumb to me.

So quit it; don’t even try to fit it!

Note to Montgomery County elected officials: How about you build a test BRT line first?

Put the test line somewhere in the county that has true needs for mass transit. The line could run from Clarksburg down Route 355 to the Rockville Metro. Run the line for six years. Test it. Break it. Fix it. Then come back to the public with real facts and figures about how a BRT works.

What’s the rush to build a new transit system, especially one that as a local government we have zero experience building, running, and maintaining? Remember, this is the county that couldn’t even build and open a simple bus shed in Silver Spring.

Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.



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