Councilmembers urge MCDOT to study extending dedicated lanes for US 29 BRT

Earlier today, Councilmember Roger Berliner and five councilmembers sent a letter to Al Roshdieh, Director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, urging MCDOT to study a revolutionary idea for the County’s Bus Rapid Transit project on US 29.

The idea, developed by Four Corners resident Sean Emerson, proposes adding one or two (depending on the existing road width) dedicated bus lanes from Tech Road to Sligo Creek Parkway. The dedicated lane(s) would be “squeezed” in the middle of the road by replacing the median and narrowing the existing travel lanes by one foot.

Cross section of US 29. Top: existing conditions throughout most of US 29 from Tech Road to Sligo Creek Parkway. Bottom: Proposed cross section with dedicated bus lane. Image by author.

Emerson’s proposal was first mentioned in a public setting on April 18, when I testified at the public hearing for the US 29 BRT project (the testimony begins at 59:45). Since then, several councilmembers have expressed support for the plan: a few days after the public hearing, then-council-president Roger Berliner praised the idea in a press conference, and current council president Hans Reimer wrote a letter in support of it.

Councilmembers discussed BRT and Emerson’s proposal at length at the May 4 workshop of the Transportation and Environment Committee (more detailed information on the proposal is included in the Analyst Packet for that day).

Since that workshop, the County Executive’s original proposal for BRT on US 29 has been approved by the Council. However, to date the county has made little progress on studying Emerson’s proposal.

I’d like to thank Councilmembers Berliner, Riemer, Elrich, Hucker, Leventhal, and Navarro for advocating for Sean Emerson’s proposal (see letter below). Hopefully their letter pressures MCDOT to begin studying the feasibility of improving the County’s current plan for BRT on US 29 sooner rather than later.

More information about Sean Emerson’s proposal will be presented on this website in the coming weeks.

11 thoughts on “Councilmembers urge MCDOT to study extending dedicated lanes for US 29 BRT”

  1. Sean and Sebastian, I’ve probably said this before but I really appreciate and respect all of the hard work you’ve put into this, and I think it will help a lot of people here in East County who depend on fast, reliable transportation. I would address some of the other commenters who I believe have been unkind and rude to you, but it’s almost Christmas and I don’t want to violate your commenting policy, so I’ll leave it at that. There are many more people in this community who are rooting for you, and the council’s encouragment of your ideas and this conversation shows it.

  2. How will Neighborhoods like Woodmoor be affected? What will the cost be to add what is just another option to drive up 29?

  3. This comment has been deleted by the blog owner. Anonymous, rude, baseless, ad-hominem attacks are uncivil and not permitted.

    1. I’m happy to respond to any questions about the technical aspects of the proposal, but I will not entertain any ad hominem* attacks, especially those made anonymously. If you have questions about Sean’s personal life, you can contact him directly. I have known Sean for over a year, and he is extremely knowledgeable about transportation and land use issues. He has provided me and the County with strong evidence showing that this plan could work.

      * “Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument. The result of an ad hominem attack can be to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage with it.”

      1. I’ll take a stab at this post and your response to the troll. I too, wonder about Sean Emerson’s qualifications for this proposal and the Council’s actions based on them. I don’t believe Emerson majored in urban planning or transportation engineering so his efforts in this area are avocational, dare I say, amateur. Narrower lanes in URBAN areas make a lot of sense and when folks click on the Google link included in your comment below, that’s what appears. Four Corners is anything but URBAN. There’s a lot of truck traffic and traffic carrying commuters rather than trips made by Four Corners residents (I am one). I am very skeptical of the pie-in-the-sky traffic relief that this costly kinda-sorta BRT will bring to Route 29 south of New Hampshire Ave. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

        As for Sean Emerson’s amateur forays into areas where I have substantially more expertise than transportation planning (disclaimer: I spent a couple of decades working in transportation planning/environmental studies), I take issue with our elected leaders taking Emerson at face value. In his writing on my area — history — Emerson has been an enthusiastic booster of Silver Spring’s past without any real depth beyond what he reads in blogs and what has been published by the local historical society. I know this because I interviewed Emerson in 2016 about his history writing and the sources that influence him. But enthusiasm and quantity shouldn’t be confused with expertise and substance. Emerson’s a nice guy and all communities should be fortunate to have engaged and enthusiastic residents like him. But, like the proliferation of unmediated information swirling around our world these days (often dressed up as “fake news”), Emerson’s amateur excursions into transportation planning and history should be greeted by substantial critical evaluation and skepticism before they are cheerfully accepted by Montgomery County’s elected leaders.

        1. That’s some pretty exclusionary talk for such an interdisciplinary field like urban planning. I won’t even address the arrogance behind it.

          Why not address the technical issues with Emerson’s proposal if you have such expertise with transportation planning? Four Corners is not a rural or even suburban location when it comes to mobility. It has plenty of foot traffic and retail that does not make it just some sort of highway intersection. The lane size reduction would help tremendously with safety and traffic speeds.

          And in a broad sense, more use of BRT would also get more cars off the road which leads to less traffic. It’s just common sense. Both of these are facts so it seems the ‘amateur’ is on to something.

          Also, I don’t know anyone in this conversation nor am I picking sides. I’m just looking at the reasoning.

        2. Thank you David for providing rational arguments and critique. I don’t think you need a degree in transportation engineering/planning to suggest ideas for improving transportation infrastructure. I hope you are not suggesting that only “qualified experts” should weigh in on transportation solutions, as some of Emerson’s critics have. Fortunately, I don’t think you are.

          I agree that his ideas need to be vetted, and that’s what the Council has asked MCDOT to do: to study this idea to see if it’s feasible. I hope you agree this is a reasonable course of action.

          Truck traffic and heavy commuter volumes can be accommodated on narrow lanes. Look at Route 1 in Hyattsville and Beltsville: they have 10-foot wide lanes. County officials said that the State Highway Administration is open to the idea, and you and I know that SHA is generally not favorable to design ideas that could potentially cause bottlenecks or increase crashes. So let’s see what the experts come back with.

          The heart of Sean’s proposal is to adjust lane widths, which is simply an exercise in arithmetic and geography. There is a useful tool called where you can design a street cross section. I strongly recommend you and others use try it out and propose solutions for making other streets in Maryland safer and less ugly.

          I think everyone with a reasonable, well-thought-out plan for improving our communities should be listened to and their ideas should be considered, vetted, and evaluated, regardless of their qualifications. I hope you do too.

  4. Has Sean Emerson calculated how many more traffic accidents will result from already narrow lanes on Rt. 29 in this stretch being narrowed even further? His proposal will make it even easier for people to live in Columbia (Howard Co.) and drive to work / Metro in Silver Spring, while contributing no taxes to Montgomery County. Any solution that does not include Howard County paying for it’s residents to cut through our neighborhoods will benefit those living in beautiful Columbia while making the everyday lives of those in Montgomery County worse.

    1. Hi Fran, thanks for reading the blog and commenting!

      1. Narrow lanes are safer because they discourage speeding (Don’t believe me? you can Google it.)
      2. The hope is that this project would reduce car traffic from Howard County by providing an alternative to driving. The more HoCo residents use BRT, the less they will be clogging our streets. Even if they aren’t paying taxes, Howard County residents that use BRT will pay user fees to partially offset the operating cost of the buses. The only way to really discourage inter-county commuting via single-occupancy vehicles is a toll, and it’s safe to say that would be politically infeasible.

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