Upper Montgomery County does not have enough regional transit. Improving access to the Brunswick Line MARC train station in Boyds is one way for the county government to fix this.
The upper county is growing. Between 2000 and 2010, Clarksburg added 11,932 residents, and Germantown added 30,976.
And this is just the beginning. The Montgomery County government is planning for more growth. Clarksburg is to have 43,000 residents and millions of square feet of new retail and office space. Germantown is to become “the center of business and community life in upper Montgomery County.”
Yet the demand for regional transit in the area already exceeds the supply.
The parking lots are full at the Germantown Transit Center, where there is a RideOn shuttle bus to the Shady Grove Metro Station. There is also an express bus to Bethesda with a higher fare, at the nearby Milestone Shopping Center park-and-ride in Germantown.
At the Germantown MARC train station, the parking lots are also full, and expansion will probably require construction of a parking garage. The planned Corridor Cities Transitway is as yet purely notional and would not go all the way into Clarksburg, ostensibly a transit-oriented community.
So much for the bad news. The good news, at least potentially, is that the MARC train station in Boyds could help meet the growing regional demand.
Boyds is a county-designated historic district, a few miles west of Germantown and south of Clarksburg, in the Agricultural Reserve. Trains have been stopping there since 1873.
In 2006, the Maryland Transit Administration tried to close the Boyds station, along with another station on the Brunswick Line and two stations on the Camden Line. But community protest and emergency legislation introduced by State Senator Rob Garagiola kept all of the stations open. Three eastbound and four westbound trains now stop at Boyds daily.
At the moment, the parking lot has room for only 19-20 cars and is often full. The nearest bus stop is over a mile away. And pedestrians and bicyclists face high-speed commuter traffic on dark, winding roads with no shoulders.
But the county government could fix these problems with a few relatively simple improvements to bicycle, transit, and car access.
Improvements for bicycle access could include:
- Installing a bike rack. (MARC only allows folding bicycles on the train.)
- Adding bike facilities to MD-117 between the Boyds train station and the Germantown Community Center, consistent with the County bicycle master plan.
- Extending the planned bike paths along MD-121 in Clarksburg south from West Old Baltimore Road to MD-117.
Improvements for transit access could include:
- Extending RideOn bus #71 or #78 from western Germantown to the train station. (Indeed, there are already Boyds MARC riders who live in the neighborhoods served by these buses.)
- Extending RideOn bus #75 from Clarksburg to the train station, when the planned commercial and office space at Cabin Branch is built. This would connect Clarksburg residents to the Boyds train station, as well as people who live further west along the Brunswick Line to jobs in Clarksburg.
Improvements for car access could include:
- Leasing spaces in a church parking lot 500 feet south of the station. However, people would have to walk along a narrow, dark road on which a sidewalk is not allowed.
- Buying or leasing a vacant quarter-acre lot next to the station (once occupied by a house a freight train derailed on in 1986) and/or a vacant half-acre lot across the tracks (where the station was until the 1950s).
- Leasing land for parking on the future site of the Boyds Local Park, 500 feet east of the station. The lot would be integrated into the park, if the park were developed. In addition, putting in a bicycle/pedestrian crossing at the intersection of MD-117 and MD-121, as well as a sidewalk from the intersection to the station. This crossing would also improve the Hoyles Mill trail connection from South Germantown Recreation Park to Black Hill Regional Park, next to the future Clarksburg development at Cabin Branch.
Parking lot expansion would include a bus turnaround, as well as pervious surfaces because Boyds is in the Agricultural Reserve. Also, as a historic district, Boyds probably could not accommodate more than 75 parking spaces. This emphasizes the need to improve non-car as well as car access.
Yes, there would probably be objections that Boyds would no longer be a “home in the country,” that people should just drive 5 miles west to the Barnesville station or 3 miles east to the Germantown station, that stopping at Boyds makes the trip from Brunswick or Frederick longer, and that small stations are inefficient and take away from service to the big stations.
However, the current and planned future growth in Clarksburg and Germantown will inevitably make Boyds less rural, regardless of train station access. If people can get to the train more conveniently, more people will choose the train. Stopping at Boyds adds only a minute or two, which is not a meaningful difference for a 90-minute trip. And future expansion on the Brunswick Line will allow MARC to improve service to both big and small stations, by running more expresses and locals.
Of course, these small improvements by themselves cannot solve the big problem of insufficient regional transit in the upper county. But, together with lots of other small improvements, they would be a good start.