Friday, May 17, 2013


Apparently, some opponents of the proposed Montgomery County Bus Rapid Transit system are big fans of American Idol and/or The Office.

The ratio of BRT fans to opponents was much closer at last night's Montgomery County Planning Board public hearing in Silver Spring than it was at the first public hearing last summer.  This time around, developer-backed groups turned out more speakers than last July, when opponents dominated the debate.  The meeting was certainly poorly advertised.

But the arguments remained the same.

Proponents, and certainly, developers, want the development BRT will allow, and the pain it will cause drivers.

One problem is, the type of community they want Montgomery County to be is not necessarily what a majority of taxpaying residents want. The idea that a small faction can impose itself on the majority, and in a winner-take-all fashion, is simply contradictory to not only the founding principles of America, but to reality itself.

In my testimony, I urged the Planning Board to put the Transit Corridors Master Plan in the context of the county as a whole. They are the county planning body, not the White Flint planning commission.

And we have to run the numbers - the real-world numbers.

With limited transportation money, and an indefinite structural budget deficit, we can't afford to waste money on a bus system that will worsen congestion.

For example, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' American Legion Bridge study showed that 23% of Maryland drivers using the bridge are headed to the Dulles area.

What that means in real terms, is that a new Potomac River bridge via the unbuilt Rockville Freeway or I-370 would reduce Legion bridge traffic by nearly a quarter. BRT proponents' most Fantasy Island projection of congestion relief, by contrast is 15%. The contrast speaks for itself, especially when the BRT system under discussion will cost $5 billion.

But let's examine that BRT traffic "relief" using real numbers, not Planner Larry Cole's fantasy numbers.

Rockville Pike is currently 70% over capacity.

The draft plan takes 2 lanes from the Pike, reducing vehicular capacity by 33%.

Okay, now we're 103% over capacity.

Now, pretend that the wildest, most fantastical BRT projection came true, just for the sake of argument: Under that dreamy scenario, 15% of drivers "get out of their cars" and start commuting by bus.

That brings us down to 88% over capacity on Rockville Pike.

So, we've spent $5 billion, and increased road rage, and pollution through idling car engines, and...

...traffic is now 18% worse than if we had done nothing!

Does this make sense to you?

Anyway, the majority of turnout last night was from Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring.

Civic associations from Woodmor-Pinecrest, Locust Hill, Bethesda Crest, Chevy Chase West, and Chevy Chase Valley expressed serious reservations about the plan as drafted.

The Montgomery County Sierra Club, the City of Takoma Park, Indian Spring Civic Association, Hillandale Civic Association and Greater Colesville Civic Association were in favor of the BRT plan.

Michelle Riley of the Woodmor-Pinecrest association said her neighborhood will be the most-affected residential area in the county, if BRT goes forward. Riley said the system makes little sense for Woodmor, as the major traffic is related to the Beltway, not the routes targeted for BRT.  She also warned of property seizures below New Hampshire Avenue.

Locust Hill and Chevy Chase West shared concerns about losing already-limited neighborhood access due to BRT lanes and turn restrictions.

The Bethesda Crest HOA noted that BRT would eliminate an existing Forest Conservation Area along their community.

While Tony Hausner of Indian Spring supports BRT, one position I do share with him is that zoning along BRT routes should not be changed. Of course, such protection will never be extended to existing residents, as redevelopment of the Georgetown Square and Wildwood Shopping Center are just two of the secret developer objectives with BRT. The others, of course, are to build cities in the country at Science City and Olney, as well as Burtonsville.

There were some 1984-esque arguments made by the Sierra Club. First, that BRT will reduce emissions. That is patently false. BRT could well be powered by fossil fuels. No one has committed to clean fuel buses.  Secondly, it is a scientific fact that traffic jams actually increase smog and vehicle emissions. BRT will worsen congestion by 18-33%, at a minimum. Meaning up to 33% greater pollution in Montgomery County.

They also repeated Rollin Stanley's old line, "They're coming." This refers to armies of new residents who are en route to live in Montgomery County in the coming decades. This is complete bunk as well.

Our population can only grow as much as our Planning Board and County Council allow it to. We have absolute control over our own destiny - and density - despite the theatrically-panicked claims of developer-backed politicians and citizens.

Finally, the Sierra Club parroted a popular developer talking point: "More young people are not using cars. They prefer high-tech."

Yeah. Okay.

As this plays out in hipster urbanization journals, kids are forgoing cars so they can have iPhones instead.

I'm assuming the Sierra Club hasn't seen the "Cars of GW" slideshow that went viral online. For a less elite example, visit the Montgomery College parking lot in Rockville at 11:00 AM. I rest my case.

Oh,  and those coveted smartphones the kids are "saving up" for? Anyone who has attended a movie recently knows that parents buy these phones for kids long before they can even get a license.

And I'd like the anti-car elites to tell us if their $70000-to-start jobs have "must have own transportation" as a requirement in the job announcement?

Get out in the real world with working people and find out what it's like, and why cars are often a necessity. There's a reason why a Baltimore non-profit gives low-income single moms cars so they don't have to use transit anymore. Time and access to more employment opportunities equals more income.

I was glad to see Debra Alfarone of WUSA9 covering the hearing last night. This story has been under-the-radar too long.

One sentence of my testimony ended up in the 11:00 news report.  In light of the need to move over a million people in Montgomery County, and the anti-car arrogance of the draft BRT corridor plan, I said "an anti-car attitude at this point is counterproductive."

I couldn't have said it better myself.