Sunday, February 9, 2014

Run a BRT line down Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue to the Fort Totten Metro Station

A while back I had lunch with Harriet Quinn, who serves on the Woodmoor-Pinecrest Citizens Association traffic committee.  We discussed a multitude of topics pertaining to Four Corners, including Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  She brought up an idea that had not occurred to me regarding BRT:  running the first BRT line down Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue to Fort Totten.  The more I thought about this idea, the more it made sense.

It should be noted, however, that this is not too realistic given the current political climate.  This line will have to cross through three jurisdictions and would likely encounter a lot of red tape.  A Route 29 only BRT line would be much easier for the county to pull off as far as implementation and coordination with other agencies goes.  It would also connect to Downtown Silver Spring and probably be less expensive.  So bear that in mind as you read on.

View Potential BRT Line in a larger map

The BRT line on Route 29 is the highest priority line for the county.  The reason it has become a priority is because the White Oak Master Plan process was accelerated by 3 years and in order for there to be additional transportation capacity on paper for the White Oak Master Plan, they have to have BRT routes on paper.  The median of Route 29 from New Hampshire Avenue to Burtonsville was designed for a dedicated transit right-of-way, so BRT could be implemented easily in this corridor.  This corridor is also important because of the proposed White Oak Science Gateway.  The county wants to add thousands of new homes, businesses, and jobs to the area; creating a technology corridor similar to (but not as large as) those along I-270 and the Dulles Toll Road.  Unfortunately, the section of Route 29 south of New Hampshire Avenue is a juggernaut.

M-NCPPC's map of  proposed BRT routes.

The BRT line along New Hampshire Avenue is very low priority to the county.  I assume the reason for this is that New Hampshire Avenue crosses back and forth between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.  I also think The New Hampshire Ave line is low priority because it does not go to Silver Spring, one of Montgomery County's crown jewels.  A third reason is that the natural terminus for a New Hampshire Avenue BRT line, Fort Totten Metro Station, is in DC.  The county (Montgomery) is probably intimidated by the prospects of having to coordinate with three different jurisdictions.

The New Hampshire Avenue (MD 650) corridor gets neglected because of it's location near the border between the two counties.  Neither Montgomery or Prince George's want to invest in it, because whatever money they spend will also benefit another jurisdiction.  This is probably why places like Adelphi, Hillandale, Long Branch, Langley Park, and Chillum have seen far less economic investment than nearby places like Downtown Silver Spring, White Oak, College Park, and Hyattsville.  I don't think arbitrary political boundaries should prevent investment in such highly populated areas.  

There are dozens of dense apartment complexes along New Hampshire Avenue, yet there is no mass transit service in the corridor.  

Running a BRT line down Route 29 and MD 650 to Fort Totten Metro Station would be hugely beneficial to Montgomery & Prince George's counties, the District, and the region as a whole.  Fort Totten is served by three Metro lines (Red, Yellow, Green).  It is the only transfer point outside Downtown DC or Arlington, which makes it a gateway to the rest of the region.  Conversely, Silver Spring is only served by the Red line, which is the oldest, most crowded line with the most delays.

Yellow Line train at Fort Totten.  A New Hampshire Avenue BRT route paired with the Yellow Line could give east county residents a one transfer ride to Arlington/Alexandria and vice versa.  Having such a connection to Northern Virginia would hep attract new employers to eastern Montgomery County.  

In Eastern Montgomery County, we have a large Silver Spring/Red Line bias, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  However, it means we often overlook the communities and transit infrastructure less than a mile or two away in neighboring PG County or the District.  Don't get me wrong, I love Downtown Silver Spring; it's a great place and it already has a lot going for it.  In fact, I think that because Silver Spring already has so much going for it, we can afford to spread some of the wealth around.  By wealth I mean economic investment, new jobs, and more entertainment/retail.

Here's a list of reasons why a Route 29/New Hampshire Avenue BRT line to Fort Totten would be more beneficial than a line that only runs along Route 29 to Silver Spring:

Population density:  The existing population density along New Hampshire Avenue is very high, as is Route 29 north of White Oak.  The entire route from Burtonsville to Fort Totten is lined with garden apartments, townhomes, or high rise residential buildings.  Collectively, these residences are home to tens of thousands of people.  There's easily enough people already there to support rapid transit, not to mention those who will move in to the corridor because of it.

The Chateau apartments in Hillandale are one example of high density along the New Hampshire Avenue corridor south of White Oak.  My family and I lived on the 15th floor of the building on the left for a few months in '03 after my house caught on fire.  Image from Google StreetView.

White Oak Science Gateway:  This sort of goes without saying, but I'll put it on here anyway.  The planned addition of thousands of new jobs and residents will need some form of rapid transit to be successful, otherwise, horrible traffic will deter new residents and businesses.  The median of Route 29 north of White Oak was designed with rapid transit in mind, and it should of course be used for such purposes.  However, instead of continuing south through on the juggernaut that is Colesville Road, it should head south on MD 650, which brings me to my next point.

New Hampshire Avenue has frontage roads:  For much of its route from DC to White Oak, MD 650 has frontage roads on one or both sides.  These give the road a lot of flexibility when it comes to BRT.  Frontage roads mean there is more right-of-way for planners and engineers to work with, which will mean a more efficient rapid transit system with dedicated lanes.  Unlike Colesville Road through Four Corners, where any road widening would affect private property, New Hampshire Avenue can be widened in many places without encroaching on privately owned land.

Frotnage road along New Hampshire Avenue in Langley Park.  Image from Google StreetView.  

The Food & Drug Administration:  This also goes without saying, but it's important to bring up.  The FDA's main enterance is on New Hampshire Avenue 3/4 of a mile south of Route 29.  A BRT line that only serves Route 29 will not benefit the thousands of workers at the FDA, unless it deviated off 29 to serve the complex.  If the Route 29 BRT line does leave Columbia Pike to serve the FDA campus, it will be a two mile detour, which would inconvenience thousands of non-FDA commuters who are trying to get to the Metro.  A Route 29 & New Hampshire Avenue BRT line could serve both users more efficiently.

The old labor college campus in Hillandale:  The National Labor College became and online-only institution a few years ago, vacating their extensive Hillandale Campus.  This land won't remain empty for long, something will move in, and it will most likely bring more jobs or residents to the area.  A Hillandale BRT stop and existing Beltway proximity could encourage quality employers to move to the site.  BRT could also attract more retailers to the Hillandale Shopping Center, which has struggled to attract businesses in recent years.

National Labor College campus in Hillandale.  Image from Bing Maps.

Adelphi:  Home to the most apartments and highest population density along the route, Adelphi is a community that could really use rapid transit.  Located on the west side of New Hampshire Avenue is the sprawling Northwest Park apartment complex.  Aside from Springhill Lake in Greenbelt, Northwest Park is the largest single garden apartment complex I know of.  On the east side of New Hampshire Avenue are numerous other apartment complexes, as well as the 18 story high Presidential Towers.  The population of the area within a half mile of the MD 650/Metzerott Road intersection is probably around 25,000 people.  Adelphi also lacks retail along New Hampshire Avenue.  Aside from a Pizza Hut and a 7-Eleven, there isn't much there.  BRT could help attract some new businesses.  

Housing density in Adelphi.  Image from Bing Maps.  

Langley Park:  "The Park" is known for it's large immigrant population, most of whom hail from Central America (I believe the highest percentage are from El Salvador).  The heart of Langley Park is at the intersection of University Blvd & New Hampshire Avenue.  This area has a huge amount of retail, and this intersection has the highest number of MetroBus transfers anywhere in the system, not counting Metro Stations.  Aside from White Oak, Langley Park probably has the most economic potential of the route.  It may seem far-fetched now, but Langley Park could be the next Bethesda or Silver Spring in 15-20 years.  The Takoma/Langley Transit Center and the coming Purple Line will be a driving force in the rise of Langley Park.

I would say "revitalize" but that word implies that the place sucks, which it actually doesn't.  Langley Park already has a ton of awesome restaurants and unique businesses that you won't find anywhere else in the region (long live Tick Tock).  It has its problems, such as the high proportion of illegal immigrants, high unemployment, and large numbers of people who are not proficient in English.  However, governmental agencies and non-profits like Casa de Maryland and IMPACT Silver Spring are working to solve those issues.  Langley Park is a really vibrant place, not some hopeless ghetto.  Rapid transit could help make it even more vibrant.

Takoma/Langley Crossroads.  Image from Google Earth

The Purple Line:   BRT and the Purple Line will both be implemented around the same time (the Purple Line will probably open before BRT since it has been in development longer).  It will provide a rapid transit connection between New Carrollton and Bethesda.  Having BRT and the Purple Line intersect at the Takoma/Langley Transit Center will provide an easy transfer between the two modes.  Residents who live in Fairland or Burtonsville can take BRT to Langley Park and transfer to the Purple Line to get to Silver Spring, New Carrollton, or Bethesda.  If this setup sounds circuitous, remember that both modes are rapid transit with dedicated right-of-way, meaning the BRT/Purple Line journey (with the transfer) will still be quicker than a ride on a Z bus down Colesville Road at rush hour.

Fort Totten:  As I've mentioned, Fort Totten Metro Station has more options than Silver Spring because it its served by three Metro lines instead of one.  But I don't think Fort Totten should be the destination because of the station alone.  The area around the station is seeing new development and investment.  DDOT recently reconstructed the intersection of Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue from a high-speed style intersection to a more urban, pedestrian friendly one.  Fort Totten is only two Metro stops away from Silver Spring, Prince George's Plaza, and Columbia Heights, all three of which are major entertainment and retail destinations.  I'm perplexed as to why the area around Fort Totten hasn't been developed sooner given how convenient it is to everything.

The Fort Totten Square development located at Riggs Road and 3rd Street NE.  Construction started last spring, and it is expected to open in the fall of this year.  Rendering from company website.

Connecting the initial BRT line to Fort Totten would open up new connections for people across the area, and it would help draw new companies to eastern Montgomery County.  A New Carrollton resident could get to a job at the FDA with only one transfer between two rapid transit modes.  A Crystal City resident could get to a job at the White Oak Science Gateway with only one transfer.  So could a Bethesda resident.  So could a Columbia Heights resident.

A New Hampshire Avenue BRT line paired with the Purple Line could provide a multitude of employment opportunities for residents of Chillum, Langley Park, and Adelphi, many of whom already rely on public transit.  Residents of Fairland, Briggs Cheney, and Burtonsville would finally get the rapid transit service they  were promised decades ago, connecting them to new jobs and entertainment options throughout the region.

I still want bus rapid transit in Four Corners sooner rather than later,  however, I think there is a more pressing need along New Hampshire Avenue.  It would be shortsighted of the county to not coordinate with the District and Prince George's to make this happen.  A BRT line going straight out Route 29 from Silver Spring would be nice, but a Route 29/New Hampshire Ave BRT line could be a catalyst for redevelopment and investment along the 14 mile corridor from Fort Totten to Burtonsville.

I hope arbitrary political boundaries do not prevent the implementation of a transit line that could benefit thousands of people.

1 comment:

  1. This should not be as politically difficult as you assume. This route was recommended in the recently adopted by County Council Takoma Langley Crossroads Master Plan which was supported by the City of Takoma Park. It's recommended in the proposed White Oak plan and has been requested by the residential and business communities along NH Ave. It has been recommended over the years by several advisory boards as the NH Ave Purple Line Spur to FDA (Light Rail or BRT) and WMATA supports it. Prince Georges is also very interested in this and they could benefit greatly. Both Counties have also been working together on the Purple Line. This is a no brainer but Leggett is the one standing in the way not the other jurisdictions.