Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How we could improve existing Ride On service

Happy Snow Day!  Keep warm and stay indoors... and if your looking for something to do, read this blog post

There are many ways transportation in Four Corners could improve without BRT.  Bus Rapid Transit is designed to move people across Montgomery County at Metro-like service levels.  Local bus service is designed to transport residents to close by activity centers and Metro stations.  While Bus Rapid Transit could serve as an important transit connection for Four Corners, it is not a substitute for local bus service, and it should not be viewed as such.

Ride On service to the area could be greatly improved without many infrastructure alterations or an exorbitant price tag.  MetroBus service could also be improved, but it will never provide the neighborhood level service that Ride On does, because MetroBus is a more of a regional system whereas Ride On is more of a local system.  MetroBus routes rarely deviate from major roads except to serve high density apartment complexes, as opposed to Ride On routes, which tend to serve less dense residential areas on local roads.  If we want to improve existing bus service in Four Corners, we should start with Ride On.

A Wheaton bound #8 Ride On bus on Forest Glen Road.  Photo by author. 

Effective public transit must have 2 things: frequency and reliability.  The current RideOn routes that serve Four Corners have neither.  Some of the routes only run at rush hour, and those that run during the day are on 30 minute headways.  Headways are the amount of time between buses (or trains, depending on the context) on a given route.  A bus that runs every 30 minutes is not convenient to most people.  While a long wait at the bus stop may be nice on a pretty spring day, it is not fun in the cold, the rain, or "hazy hot and humid" summer afternoons.  This infrequency of service is probably the biggest deterrent to potential bus riders.

Another deterrent is unreliability, weather it is perceived or real.  I rode the route 19 Ride On bus numerous times this past summer.  Sometimes it was on time, sometimes it was late, and one day it didn't show up at all.  On the day it didn't show, I ended up walking from the Silver Spring Metro to my house in Woodmoor along the 19's route, looking over my shoulder in hopes of catching the bus as it came along,  The walk along Wayne, Flower, Franklin, and University took me 50 minutes, and the bus never passed by.  Those are the types of experiences that turn people away from public transit.

There are 6 Ride On routes that serve Four Corners: routes 8, 9, 14, 19, 21, and 22.  The 9 route is the only Ride On route in our area that operates 7 days a week.  Routes 14 and 8 operate Monday-Saturday, and routes 19, 21, and 22 only operate Monday-Friday peak at hours.  Some of these buses go in to neighborhoods, and others stay on the main roads.  The 19 is the only one that terminates in Four Corners, ending at Dallas Avenue and Forest Glen Road.

Ride On Route 19, the only one that terminates in Four Corners.

Of the 4 neighborhoods that make up Four Corners, South Four Corners is the one that is currently best served by Ride On.  South Four Corners and Sligo Hills are served by the 8, 9, and 19 buses.  The 8 runs down Tenbrook and Forest Glen Road, the 19 runs down Dennis and Dallas Avenue, and the 9 runs along University Blvd.  The 8 and 19 run down residential streets, which means more people are closer to bus stops.  No one in South Four Corners is more than a quarter of a mile from a bus stop.  However, because these buses do not run frequently, they are not a competitive option, and therefore have low ridership.

Indian Spring is also comparatively well served, with the 14 and 19 buses running down Franklin Avenue and Flower Avenue.  However, it is a fairly long walk from the northern end of the neighborhood down to the closest bus stops on Franklin Avenue.  There are stops for MetroBus and other Ride On routes along Colesville and University, but waiting on the side of a 6 lane highway is not a pleasurable experience.  The Indian Spring routes also suffer from infrequent service.

Woodmoor and Northwood/North Four Corners are the least well served neighborhoods in Four Corners when it comes to Ride On service.  North Four Corners/Northwood is along the 19's route, but that bus only runs at rush hour on weekdays.  Woodmoor has no Ride On service whatsoever.  Residents of both neighborhoods have to walk to University Blvd or Colesville Rd to get frequent bus service.  For residents living in the back of these neighborhoods, it is a long uphill walk to the closest bus stop.  This results in a situation where very few people ride the bus because it is simply not convenient.

Below is a map of where I would like to see Ride On routes in Four Corners.  All of these routes currently exist, but I heavily altered each one.  Ideally, the rush hour headways on each route would be 10-12 minutes, with off-peak headways of 15-25 minutes.  Each neighborhood is served by at least 2 routes under my plan, and at least 2 routes bound for the same destination intersect in each neighborhood.  This way, someone will never have to wait more than 10 minutes to get to Silver Spring or Wheaton from at least one point in each neighborhood, even at off-peak hours.

View Potential Ride On Routes in Four Corners in a larger map

In Woodmoor, I made the transfer point the Woodmoor traffic circle, as it is already a central point in the neighborhood.  In North Four Corners/Northwood, it is Lockridge Drive & Dennis Avenue, a fairly central point in that neighborhood.  In South Four Corners, it is Lanark Way and Dallas Avenue.  In Indian Spring, it is Franklin Avenue and Flower Avenue.

A prudent reader will notice that I put a few routes down streets without double yellow lines.  I only did this because most streets in Woodmoor and Indian Spring do not have double yellow lines and are only 24 feet wide (the standard width of most residential streets).  Had I not done this, the routes would not have been able to go into the neighborhoods, and they would be too far away from many residents, as they are now.

I tried to choose routes without sharp turns so buses can navigate them more easily.  I also tried to choose streets that I know to be along school bus routes, since school buses are actually a little bigger than Ride On buses.  If a school bus can handle the types of streets that are in Woodmoor and Indian Spring, a Ride On bus can too.

An example of a simple bus stop on Forest Glen Road.  Photo by author.

As for bus stops, they would require no more than a sign.  A bench or covered waiting area would be ideal, but it shouldn't come at the cost of someones front yard.  Since buses would come frequently, nicer stops with benches would not be necessary, as riders wouldn't be waiting for too long.

This may seem like a pie in the sky scenario, but I think my plan is pretty reasonable.  The new frequency of service that I propose would require more drivers and buses, but I don't think the costs would be ridiculous.  My plan would  require little to no infrastructure changes, since all the streets I put routes on either already have Ride On service or already accommodate large school buses on a daily basis.  I think this plan would benefit local residents, as almost everyone in Four Corners would be within a short walk to a bus stop, and more frequent, convenient service will attract new riders.

There will always be those who can't take the bus to where they want to go, but those that can take the bus to their destination will have more of an incentive to do so.  I do not know of any current plans to expand Ride On service in Four Corners or eastern Montgomery County, but next time Ride On changes are proposed, hopefully the county will try to better serve Four Corners residents.

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