Maryland State House. Photo by bcostin

On Thursday, July 23rd, I joined other Montgomery County-based bloggers for a conversation with Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch organized the forum, and MPW contributor Marc Korman also attended. Many thanks to Adam for inviting me. Overall, I found Mr. Brown to be a competent and capable person. He clearly had a lot of experience communicating with people. He was open to new ideas, but still perceives traffic through the “Level of Service” lens and traffic solutions from the standpoint of moving cars.

Mr. Brown’s duties include heading up the BRAC subcabinet. I argued that planning for Bethesda Naval Hospital needs to be completely different than for a place like Fort Meade. Bethesda Naval is adjacent to downtown Bethesda, one of the flagship examples of post-war Smart Growth in the United States. It has its own Metro station. It’s nothing like Fort Meade, which is located in a low-density exurban area.

When I asked why the vast majority of the BRAC infrastructure improvement funds are planned to go towards road widenings, Mr. Brown responded, “The intersections that we plan to improve are already at failing Levels of Service. We’re using the BRAC funds to improve already failing intersections.” I replied, “Level of Service is an antiquated, rigged metric. Cars won’t do those new jobs. People will.” Antiquated Level of Service metrics generate bad ideas like a new reversible lane on Connecticut Avenue, despite their poor track record in Silver Spring.

Mr. Brown conceptually supports a twin strategy of auto infrasturcture and transit for BRAC. However, I don’t think that he fully understands what that means. Most people automatically assume that traffic flow is like water: widen the path and the water flows faster. They, like Mr. Brown, aren’t familiar with induced demand, where a new road’s very existence actually creates more demand for new roads.

To his credit, he does view additional bus service as a key tool to accommodate BRAC. But once again, he didn’t seem to know what that would mean at a detailed level. Most people, including hardcore transit users like myself, dislike riding a bus stuck in heavy automobile traffic. If you want to make a bus more attractive, take it out of mixed automobile traffic by giving it its own right-of-way. Give it a time savings over the private automobile. Mr. Brown’s sub-cabinet needs to revise their BRAC-oriented plans. If they’re going to add asphalt to our roads and intersections in Montgomery County, they should build bus-only lanes, separated by a curb from the regular lanes.

Mr. Brown supports Representative Chris Van Hollen’s efforts to secure funding for improved access to the Medical Center Metro from the eastern side of Rockville Pike. He was not familiar with the various proposals, including the pedestrian tunnel that doesn’t connect directly to the Metro station. Mr. Brown said that he had not seen the engineering proposals and didn’t really have an opinion, leaving the decisions up to the county and the engineers.

Maryland isn’t raising its gas tax anytime soon. Mr. Brown said that both the O’Malley/Brown Administration and the legislature oppose raising any taxes while the state and nation are experiencing current crippling job losses. While it would be a good idea, such a proposal would be politically infeasible at this time, he said.

Wha about I-270? Brown reiterated the Administration’s support for both the Baltimore Red Line and the Purple Line. He was also shocked to hear about the $4 billion price tag for the I-270 proposal. This issue does not directly involve his office, but Mr. Brown is now aware of this study and its potentially harmful implications.

Marc asked about MARC, which he rides regularly to commute to Baltimore from Bethesda. The Lt. Governor described long-term plans for MARC such as opening more stations and increasing parking at rural and car-dependent suburban station. He also mentioned that the funding currently isn’t in the pipeline. I also praised the state for employing a “fix-it-first” policy to transportation stimulus money. It is a much better use of funds than covering more land in asphalt.

After meeting Lieutenant Governor Brown I came away with a positive impression of the second ranking executive in Maryland. While I was disappointed with some of the details of his sub-cabinet’s BRAC plans, I understand that he is not an engineer or an expert in urban planning. I was very impressed with his ability to sit, listen, and absorb new ideas. Meeting with him gives me hope that our county and state can improve our plans so we can absorb all the new BRAC-related jobs in a sustainable manner.