Picture from Montgomery County BRT task force.

Montgomery County’s Bus Rapid Transit task force will soon release its completed report. Montgomery County can immediately start moving toward BRT by setting up limited-stop, express bus service along WMATA’s bus priority corridors.

The task force envisions building a BRT network in phases. Ultimately the county may build new dedicated busways, but it can start immediately and far more cheaply by dedicating some existing road capacity for buses. And though dedicated transit lanes will make the network far more useful, many shorter-term improvements are possible even without dedicated lanes.

WMATA’s recommendations for Bus Priority Corridors include reducing the number of bus stops on a line, extending green lights to let buses through, and designating bus-only lanes on a few short sections of roadway.

The only way to create an effective, affordable rapid bus network is to use existing roadway lanes more efficiently by reserving them for bus-only traffic. Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) refuses to modify any existing roadways that would help buses move faster than cars.

Building a successful system in Montgomery County will present unique challenges. In DC, though progress has been slow, DDOT is working with WMATA to study how to best fit bus priority into its roadways. MCDOT needs to do the same.

If MCDOT started dedicating bus lanes on priority corridors now, engineers would be able to understand the challenges and issues that arise when redesigning one of Montgomery County’s roadways. They would gain knowledge and experience that would speed up future phases of BRT, saving time and money.

Outside the Beltway, the BRT task force recommends putting high-speed bus lanes in the center of roadways.  This will require limiting left turns and other changes in highway operations. Dedicated lanes on priority corridors now will let MCDOT try out some of the treatments that could ultimately become part of those BRT lines.

The path to making existing streets into a welcoming environment for transit riders and pedestrians will undoubtedly involve a learning curve. The sooner that MCDOT can begin to study and learn from real world experience, the better and more cost-effective the Montgomery County BRT system will be.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master’s in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place’s form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them.  He lives in downtown Silver Spring.