Greater Greater Washington staff editor Dan Reed appeared on Fox 5 to talk about Montgomery County’s BRT plans along with opponent Paula Bienenfeld. Visually, even just the scene on set brings into sharp relief the changes the county is undergoing.
The segment, starting with the anchor’s introduction, seems to frame the issue around what this means for drivers. Reed talks about how BRT will move more people, and even those who don’t ride the bus will benefit.
Bienenfeld, meanwhile, reads out the standard playbook of opposition. “We’re not opposed to public transit,” she assures everyone, before casting everything associated with transit as bad, such as devoting any space to bus stops. She also claims that having to cross a bus lane is unsafe for children. Reed later points out that crossing the regular car roadways is far more dangerous.
Bienenfeld criticizes the plan for not including things like Google self-driving cars, signalization, and “personal electric vehicles.” Montgomery County already times its signals to move the most cars, even at the expense of those children walking and crossing the street, and none of the other options could move more people in fixed space.
Primarily, though, her objection is that “there was no public input” into the plan, which was created through “secret behind-the-scenes deals that have been cut.” This seems astounding, given that a task force worked for a long time to create a plan, then released that plan a full year ago. Since then, county officials have refined and, in many cases, scaled back the plan, each time in full view of the public.
As Reed pointed out in the segment, this is still only a draft plan, with many more hearings yet to come. Unfortunately, people argue that there hasn’t been enough input or a good enough public process almost no matter how long or short the public process actually is. This creates a “boy who cried wolf” effect for those times when government agencies really do try to ram a plan through with minimal public comment. The BRT plan is, at least thus far, not one of those cases.
One other argument from Bienenfeld rings particularly hollow: she argues that the plans “cram all the bus routes downcounty into underserved areas and lower-income, avoiding the wealthier parts of the county.” Yet the bus routes include Wisconsin Avenue, which passes through some of the county’s most affluent communities; most of the opposition has come from the neighborhoods between Bethesda and Friendship Heights.