View Larger Map Red lines denote at least one dedicated lane. Blue lines denote BRT in mixed traffic. Map courtesy of Dan Reed.
Dedicated right-of-way is crucial to the success of Bus Rapid Transit. Without dedicated lanes, BRT becomes just another slow moving bus. This watered down version of BRT is known as "BRT Creep". In Four Corners, the cheapest and simplest way of implementing BRT in dedicated lanes would be to convert the existing left lanes of Colesville Road and University Blvd to BRT only lanes. This would leave 2 general purpose travel lanes each way for other vehicles on each road and a number of turn lanes.
|This is the lane layout on most parts of University Boulevard and Colesville Road.|
|This is what dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes could look like in the left lanes, with a median BRT station. No road widening would be necessary, meaning no properties would be affected.|
|2012 aerial photo of University Blvd and the Beltway. I drew in the right lane closure that currently exists.|
How can you use this closed lane as an argument for BRT if it causes delays for drivers during the morning rush hour?
Because; it is not the absence of the lane that causes delays, rather, it is the merging and braking of drivers trying to squeeze through the existing lanes that causes backups. A stretch of River Road (MD Route 190) in Potomac that is only 2 lanes wide sees an average of 20,900 vehicles a day. The stretch of University Blvd by the Beltway averages 43,000 vehicles a day. If a 2 lane country road can accommodate 20,900 vehicles a day without delays, a 4 lane divided highway such as University Blvd (which it would become if the left lanes became BRT only) can accommodate 43,000 vehicles a day without delays. Don't believe me? You don't have to, because there's already an example of a 4 lane road accommodating over 43,000 vehicles a day without problems: the same River Road, inside the Beltway. According to SHA traffic volume data, the 4 lane stretch of River Road between Wilson Lane and the Capital Beltway carries 46,000 vehicles a day, 3,000 more than University Boulevard's heaviest traveled point. This section of River Road and University Blvd have similar speed limits and a similar number of traffic lights. I know for a fact that traffic on River Road isn't bad, because if it was, all of the wealthy and politically connected people that live over there would demand that it be widened to 6 lanes (There's plenty of room to do so, the road has full shoulders which could easily be converted to travel lanes if needed). So, if only 4 travel lanes for 45,000+ vehicles a day is good enough for Potomac, it's good enough for us.
What does this have to do with losing a lane for BRT?
University Blvd widens from 2 lanes to 3 in Kensington going eastbound, and it widens from 2 lanes to 3 in Langley Park going westbound. What if the amount of travel lanes each direction were to remain at 2 for its entire length, with the 3rd lane being used for BRT? There would be no traffic jams from people merging out of a closed lane, because the lane (as available for general traffic) would never have started. While there is not example of BRT in our area, there is precedent for narrowing a road for its entire length with no traffic delays: Queens Chapel Road in Hyattsville. The left lanes of Queens Chapel Road were closed permanently 10 years ago, reducing the number of travel lanes from 6 to 4 throughout its entire length. Since both of the roads that feed Queens Chapel are 4 travel lanes wide (Adelphi Road to the North and Michigan Avenue NE to the South), there are no delays caused by the narrowing of the road. The same thing could happen on University Blvd, as it is also fed by 4 lane roads at either end.
Hogwash! Losing a lane would mean losing 1/3 of road capacity each way. No way 1/3 of road users will switch to BRT!
Not exactly. The 1/3 capacity argument seems like a logical one, until you stand next to University Blvd or Colesville Road for a while. If traffic flowed at a consistent speed and frequency in all three lines, this logic would hold true, but this is not the case. Traffic on roads like University and Colesville does not flow at a fairly consistent rate like traffic does on a limited access highway (such as the Beltway). This is because of traffic lights, which cause vehicles to come in waves. This traffic pattern causes long gaps in between groups of cars, which leave periods of time where the road sits completely empty. Even at rush hour, you will see this pattern: gaps in traffic, then a wave of cars, then another gap. The primary cause of congestion around Four Corners is not simply the sheer volume of traffic, but the inefficiencies of traffic lights (more on that in another post). If BRT took away a lane each way from cars, it would not cause major delays, it would just lengthen each wave. There would still be plenty of unused road space.
While ques at traffic lights may be extended by the loss of a 3rd lane to sit and wait in, better light timing and the appeal of rapid transit could mitigate this effect. Those who can take the bus to their destination will be more inclined to do so, meaning those who can't take BRT will benefit from less cars on the road in front of them, both at traffic light ques and on open stretches of road. And remember, River Road only has 2 travel lanes each way, and it accommodates more traffic than University Blvd, which has 3 travel lanes each way (46,000 vehicles a day on River vs 43,000 vehicles a day on University). The 3rd lane is not as essential as we think it is.
Over 20,000 people a day ride buses to and through Four Corners, yet these people sit in the same traffic as vehicles with single occupants. An average of 11,265 people a day pass through Four Corners on the C2 and C4 MetroBus routes, both of which travel on University Blvd. An average of 8,043 people travel through Four Corners each weekday on the Z 2, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, and 29 MetroBuses that run along Colesville Road. An additional unknown number of transit users take the RideOn 21, 22, 19, and 9 buses through the intersection each day. Converting one lane each direction to transit is the most efficient thing to do if we want to move as many people as possible, instead of as many cars as possible.