Better Transit

Rethinking the Bus is a report from the Greater Washington Partnership. It recommends ways to modernize bus service in order to make the system more effective, in light of growing congestion and shrinking transit use.

“…the region as a whole lacks a forward-thinking
strategy to make buses a truly competitive transportation
option. With a new commitment to rethink the bus, the
region could become a national transportation leader with
buses that are fast, frequent, reliable, and easy to use.
Rethinking the bus does not require years of planning;
it can start today. “

Recommendations are:

1. Optimize routes. This worked wonders in Houston and elsewhere.

2. Make space for the bus on the region’s roads. Harder to achieve in crowded roads, but effective where possible.

3. Make boarding faster.

4. Make buses easier to use. Easy to understand route maps and many other suggestions.

5. Measure and report on bus progress. This is critical to any project if you want success — make sure a transparent and accurate measurement system is in place.


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Transit is much more expensive to build than highways. It’s politically correct to focus on transit. But is it the best use of our tax dollars? Let’s look at the numbers.

Transportation planners in our region look at many. At the most recent Transportation Planning Board (TPB) meeting, there was a presentation on the ways that transportation plans are measured and approved factors – social equity, air quality, and many more. But when I asked if there was a cost-benefit analysis, it became clear that this did not appear to be on anyone’s list of measures.

By cost-benefit, I mean this: when you build a new transportation project, how much money does it cost to move people?

Over the last few weeks, I went back through some presentations and found the two slides shown below that have the numbers to tell an important story. I spent a lunch hour on the phone with TPB staff to verify that what I was seeing was accurate, and what it might mean. Here is what I learned from TPB’s data:

The DMV region plans to spend $42 billion to expand transportation capacity over the next 25 years, split between $27 billion on highway expansion and $15 billion on transit. This will result in 2.7 million more daily trips by auto and 300 thousand more daily trips in transit. By simple arithmetic, this means that it costs just over $10,000 to add capacity for another auto trip, and more than $53,000 to add another transit trip. Building transit capacity currently costs more than 5 times as much as highway capacity!


If this was the only factor that was important, then decisions would be easy. Any CEO would immediately allocate more money into adding highway capacity. Of course, it’s not the only factor. Not everyone can afford to travel by auto – we want lower-income people to be able to get to their jobs, so we need transit. Transit trips are less polluting than autos, although TPB’s data shows a steady decrease in auto pollutants thanks to greater efficiency and the growing number of electric, zero-emission vehicles.

The other key is that, for parts of our region, building new roads or even expanding existing ones is terribly difficult. Where would you put a new thoroughfare in DC, or in the close-in suburbs?

The costs I focused on so far are the capital costs for new projects. The same TPB information can be used for operating costs – how much it costs for each trip. It turns out that we’re going to spend $130 billion over the next 25 years on transit operations and repairs, about $5.2 billion annually, with capacity growing to 1.5 million daily trips, for a per-trip cost of about $9.50. Each time someone takes a transit trip, the government subsidizes the trip by that amount. We’ll spend $72 billion to maintain roadways during the same period, about $2.9 billion annually, to move up to 16.6 million trips/day. That comes to just under 50 cents per trip.

The operating cost information is useful in a couple of ways. At the same TPB meeting, the Commuter Connections presentation unveiled a new program, piloted in Howard County MD, where auto commuters can receive a $10 stipend for taking a rider along with them. That number is almost exactly right – it is comparable to the cost of putting someone on transit instead, but we don’t need to build more transit lines.

That is the kind of thinking we need. When we look at a new project or a new idea, does it move people more effectively than how we’re doing it now? Is it better for some reason, is it faster, is it cheaper?

For example, the TPB recently recommended that we find ways to encourage employers to let more people work from home. What if the government provided an incentive to the employers? With these numbers, we can make informed judgments about how much of an incentive makes fiscal sense.

The amount of money we have to transport people is limited, so we need to think carefully about optimization strategies to move people cost-effectively as well as focusing on all the other factors.

Neil Harris is a member of the Gaithersburg City Council and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board.

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Board of Education Six-Year School Construction Plan includes funding and planning for Gaithersburg

An amendment to the Capital Improvements Plan directs Montgomery County Public Schools officials to form a roundtable group to start planning for the new high school on the Crown Farms property in Gaithersburg. Board member Rebecca Smondrowski said the group should include representatives from the Gaithersburg, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard and Thomas S. Wootton clusters. The program includes about $136 million in project funding for a new high school in Gaithersburg.

Smondrowski also proposed instructing MCPS to work with representatives from the Quince Orchard Cluster on growth management planning and to collaborate with the city of Gaithersburg to identify future elementary school sites. Board members agreed to include the suggestion in the capital plan.

Thanks for all the advocacy, Rebecca Keller Smondrowski!

Link to more information:

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MCPS Site Selection Committee recommended Kelley Park for new elementary school

Next steps are input from the City and from the public, followed by the Board of Education’s endorsement/comments.

MCPS has not made the final determination about the site — this is the committee’s recommendation. If you click the link in the post above, you can read the report and see why they are looking for a school site and which other sites were evaluated.

If Kelley is the site, then the actual configuration would have to be determined — a school would take up part of the park, not all of it. Based on the first diagram that was shared, the two baseball diamonds and part of the softball field would remain as a city park. One option would take away the softball field and replace it with something smaller, perhaps a soccer field.

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U-turns at Quince Orchard HS

The Maryland Department of Transportation has agreed that the morning traffic situation at Quince Orchard High School is an issue that needs remediation. As you can see in the attached letter, MDOT will eliminate morning u-turns at the Copen Meadow intersection.

Additional suggestions were made at this month’s Gaithersburg Transportation Committee meeting and have been presented to QOHS. We will continue to work on improving safety and keep you posted as solutions are implemented.

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New Regional Transportation Plans

These are the new (or changed) projects proposed for Visualize 2045’s constrained element
Posted by TPB NEWS on JANUARY 9, 2018

Here is what is new or changed for Visualize 2045:

In the District of Columbia, six new miles of bicycle lanes throughout the District were submitted. The District is also removing three segments of its streetcar line. Learn more about these and other project changes.

In Maryland there are a range of new proposals from new toll lanes on I-270 and I-495 to a network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Montgomery County. Also included in MDOT’s submissions are road widening, and reconstruction projects for Prince George’s County and Charles County. Learn more about these and other projects.

In Virginia, submissions include a two-mile extension of the I-495 toll lanes to the American Legion Bridge, an auxiliary lane for southbound I-95 in Prince William County, and a road widening project for US 15 in Loudoun County. Learn more about these and other projects.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has also submitted projects for inclusion in Visualize 2045. WMATA has submitted a proposal to run all eight-car trains throughout the system during peak periods. The proposal also includes upgrades to accommodate the higher capacity trains. Learn more about these and other projects.

What happens next?

The public comment period runs until January 13, 2018. At the TPB’s January 17 meeting, staff will present the comments received and the board will consider what is in the plan and how the air quality analysis will be performed. Staff will conduct the air quality and performance analysis during the spring and summer of 2018. In September, the public will have another chance to comment on the plan before the board considers it for final adoption in October.

Visualize 2045 will be a different kind of long-range plan for the region. One piece, the constrained element, is federally required and will include all the projects, programs and policies that are expected to be funded through 2045. Visualize 2045 will also include unfunded projects and priority aspirational elements including the five initiatives identified by the TPB’s Long-Range Plan Task Force, plus bicycle and pedestrian, freight elements, and more.

The first step is to develop the constrained element. The projects, programs, and policies submitted by the agencies must also be analyzed for their effect on the region’s air quality. To allow time for staff to conduct the analysis, all these inputs must be submitted at this time.

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Gaithersburg Announces Results of 2017 Citizen Survey

In a recent random survey of its residents, more than 8 in 10 respondents described Gaithersburg as an “excellent” or “good” place to live, with high marks also given for their confidence in City government and positive perceptions of the City’s openness and how it welcomes residents of diverse backgrounds.

“We are encouraged to see that our ratings improved in a number of areas since the last survey, including better scores for housing options, employment opportunities and several categories related to health and wellness,” said Gaithersburg City Manager Tony Tomasello. “The positive results related to governance also seem to reinforce that our residents recognize and appreciate our efforts to ensure that Gaithersburg remains a welcoming and inclusive community.”

The survey, available in both English and Spanish, was sent by the National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) to 2,200 randomly selected households in the fall of 2017. Three hundred and sixty-three surveys (17%) were returned, with the demographics of those respondents mirroring data from the most recent Census estimates. The City has conducted similar surveys every two years starting in 2007, and the 2017 report shows comparisons to results from those surveys, as well as benchmark comparisons to nearly 500 jurisdictions across the country.

An online, non-scientific version of the survey was made available to the general public following the mail-in effort. The results from the 306 respondents to that survey are contained in a supplemental report.

The 2017 Citizen Survey results will be presented at the Mayor and City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers. The full survey report is available online at the link below.

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New Schools News

A new elementary school near Olde Towne Gaithersburg? The selection committee has narrowed the list to two finalists, reports Gaithersburg City Manager Tony Tomasello.

Plans for another potential new school across town near Kentlands will be the subject of a year-long process. We at the City have suggested 4 possibilities to be on the list for MCPS’s consideration.

A new high school in Crown Farm is already in the MCPS capital improvements plan.

Speaking of our schools, here is the list of School Grant Awards for this year:

Brown Station: $4,565 for Mustang Academy, Artist League, PAX Leaders, and Piano Pals

Fields Road: $2,904 for Math Masters and ESOL Club

Forest Oak: $3,000 for Man II Man

Gaithersburg ES: $9,350 for Chromebooks for Primary, Piano Pals, and Intergenerational Mentoring

Gaithersburg HS: $2,624 for Algebra II Summer Prep. Camp

Gaithersburg MS: $3,000 for Achievement Through Music

Jones Lane: $1,120 for ESOL & Academic Support Homework Club

Lakelands Park: $3,456 for Homework Club

Quince Orchard: $1,500 for Minority Scholars Program

Rosemont: $3,793 for Girls on the Run and STEM-R

St. Martin of Tours: $5,380 for Amazing Afternoons and Skills Builders

Strawberry Knoll: $1,800 for ESOL Homework Club

Summit Hall: $6,170 for Saturday School at GHS, Summit Hall After School Karate Program, and Big Learning Science & Engineering

Washington Grove: $1,272 for Baskets for Babies

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