Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bus Rapid Transit: A Sparkle in Someone's Eye

I don't think I've read as many conditional statements of ambiguous support as can be found in this article about the possibility of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Howard County.  I don't blame the reporter, Andrew Michaels - this is a news story, but it is as close to a possibility as "that novel you're thinking about writing".

First of all, I appreciate the County Executive's willingness to explore this possibility.  He has put some great people on his Public Transportation Board and I know they will take this seriously.  The hearing was last night and I look forward to hearing more.

Second, we need to get serious about public transportation in Howard County.  We're spending a fair amount of money on a system that very few people use, but for those people that green bus is a lifeline of immeasurable importance.  I would love to see an initiative focused on increasing the utilization rate for mass transit, which may include greater awareness of routes, schedules, and connectivity with other transit systems (MTA, Light Rail, BWI, DC Metro).  It bears mentioning that poor utilization may be the result of affluence.  Why double (or even triple) your commute time when you can pay more to get there in a fraction of the time?  The answer is that if we had better utilization, those comparative commute times may come closer in line, congestion would be less, and we would be transporting ourselves in a more environmentally sound manner.

Third, there's a chance that our demand for public transportation may outpace our ability to produce it.  I know this is in apparent contradiction to the paragraph immediately preceding this, but my concern relates to Town Center parking.  Don't get too used to it.  I don't think Howard Hughes is interested in maintaining acres of free pavement.  Parking will always be available in Downtown, but it will not be free (despite a recent contention that "free parking" came after "pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence).  Parking costs are a big reason why I often choose the Metro when heading into DC and I can see similar considerations putting me on the green bus when I want to go to the Lakefront.

Finally, as great a BRT may be, it will come with sacrifice.  In addition to the economic cost, "rapid transit" presumes preference for the bus over other vehicles by way of dedicated bus lanes.  The best advertisement for BRT is seeing a bus drive by you unimpeded while you sit in traffic.  That means lanes on the highways and byways of Howard County that you cannot use.  BRT is not without controversy in this regard.

Overall, this is a very good thing for Howard County.  Millennials want and expect mass tran options.  Many don't own (or want) a car.  Are we planning for the future or sitting on the past?

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!