“If our future is more in transit, then that’s what should get priority in the assignment of our transportation infrastructure. . . . I think there’s been a running assumption [in transportation planning] that people want to drive, but that assumption is changing,” Cole said.
The proposal, which the County Council would have to approve, follows a national trend toward designing roads to move the most people. Traditionally, the focus has been on moving the most vehicles.
Montgomery’s plan would be among the region’s first experiments with dedicated bus lanes. Currently, there are two bus lanes — on short segments of Seventh and Ninth streets NW — in downtown Washington.
The issue is surfacing in Montgomery as county officials update long-term transportation plans to reflect a proposed network of bus lanes. Such a network has been discussed for a couple of years, but this is the first recommendation to build much of it by converting regular lanes. The planning department is scheduled to air the proposal during public meetings next week and public hearings in February.
Some critics of the proposal say Montgomery’s roads are already too jammed for motorists to lose any asphalt. Taking transit is impractical for many people, they say, and trucking and some other business-related traffic can’t rely on buses.
“Putting a mass transit system in on the cheap at the expense of the general purpose lanes is the wrong way to go,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “In Montgomery County, there’s now an enormous anti-vehicle bias. They’re more interested in getting people out of cars than moving traffic efficiently.”
Harriet Quinn, a Silver Spring resident who follows transportation issues for her neighborhood, said she’s concerned that much of the traffic that swamps the Four Corners area — heading to and from the Capital Beltway — would back up even more.
“Congestion already spills over into our neighborhood,” Quinn said. “I’d have concerns about taking lanes and how that would work.”
Cole, the transportation planner, said computer traffic models predict that travel times wouldn’t increase significantly for motorists, even with less road space, because many would ditch their cars to ride the faster buses.
The models predicted that by 2040, the evening drive from downtown Silver Spring to Randolph Road via Route 29 would take an estimated 69 minutes if buses were given no priority. If buses got their own lane, it would take a motorist 71 minutes. The morning drive on southbound Wisconsin Avenue between Cedar Lane and Friendship Heights would take motorists 15 minutes without a bus lane and 18 minutes with one, the analysis found.