Monday, April 14, 2014

BRT won't destroy the Woodmoor Shopping Center

Hello all.  I've been taking a brief hiatus from blogging for the past two weeks to get some other stuff done, and I had planned to make a return post about this lovely Spring weather.  But then I read some comments on local listerv that claimed that the Woodmoor Shopping Center would be completely and totally destroyed in order to accommodate BRT on University Boulevard and Colesville Road.  I hoped that this was an isolated misconception, but to my surprise, it seems a great many people believe this untruth.  I do not like scare tactics, and I also don't like people who extort the ignorance of others by using such scare tactics, so I decided had to clear this up.

The not-going-anywhere-anytime-soon Woodmoor Shopping Center.  Photo by the author.

I am not sure how this myth started, but it certainly alarms people who are unfamiliar with the BRT plans.  I assume its origins are in another myth I have heard about BRT: the thought that BRT will require 150 feet of additional right-of-way on local roads.  For some reference on that number, the width of the Beltway from shoulder to shoulder through Four Corners is less than 150 feet.  BRT buses are between 8 and 9 feet wide, so the 150 number seems a bit extreme.        



There are some valid concerns to be had about Bus Rapid Transit, such as the preservation of left-turns into local neighborhoods.  Many of these concerns can be addressed in the BRT Master Plan, and more specific concerns can be fielded by contacting Montgomery Planning.  Concern about the destruction of the Woodmoor Shopping Center is not valid, since there's no way the county will destroy the shopping center for BRT or any other transit project.  Here are two good reasons why.

Money:

The Woodmoor Shopping Center generates millions of dollars in tax revenue each year for the county and the State of Maryland each year.  Should BRT be built, it will require funding from tax revenue generated at the shopping center and other local businesses.  When businesses are destroyed or closed, less tax money goes to the county and state.  As far as the county is concerned, destroying the shopping center would destroy a major revenue source, and that is the last thing they want to do.  The destruction of the shopping center would mean the loss of the largest retail hub in Four Corners.  Lack of a nearby shopping center would make the surrounding neighborhoods (particularly Woodmoor) much less appealing to new residents.  This would mean houses would be on the market longer and, the county would lose tax revenue due to the higher vacancy rates.  This brings me to my next point.          

Politics:

Four Corners; particularly Woodmoor, is one of the most politically active areas in the county.  This political activism is on display whenever a controversial issue arises (for example, those who lived here in the 90's will remember how heavily opposed the new Blair was).  Residents of Woodmoor and Four Corners also show up at the polls, and politicians know it.  Whenever a candidate is running for elected office, whether it be County Council, State Delegate, or the U.S. Congress, they visit Woodmoor at least once during campaign season.  Were the shopping center to be destroyed to make way for BRT, the politicians in office at the time (especially the County Council member) would be in hot water.  Allowing something like that to happen would seriously hurt their political career, since the politically active citizens that live here would be very angry, and they would ensure that said politician is not re-elected.    

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The Woodmoor Shopping Center is the most well known landmark in Four Corners (there's a reason I made it the background picture of this blog).  It is an attractive building that provides our community with a sense of place, and it fulfills our daily retail needs.  The M-NCPPC recognized this when they drafted their Four Corners Master Plan in 1996, stating that "The long-term economic viability of the shopping center contributes to the health of the entire commercial district."  This is still true today, especially after the shopping center underwent  improvements in the early 2000's.

The county is not going to use eminent domain to destroy such an important structure.  If it did come under threat of demolition, it would not be threatened by a public transit project, but a road project.  Several structures at the intersection of Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue in Glenmont are being destroyed to accommodate a new grade-separated interchange at that location.  The SHA would like to do something similar in Four Corners if it could, since our intersection is at a point of failure due to large amounts of car traffic, and grade-separation would greatly increase traffic flow.  Pressure to grade-separate the intersection poses a much more realistic threat to the shopping center and commercial district than any public transit project does, because an interchange project would have much larger footprint than even the most elaborate BRT plans

As I've said before, it's fine to have concerns about the county's bus rapid transit plan, since there are real concerns to be had.  The demise of the shopping center is certainly not one of them.  Instead of inquiring about the destruction of the Woodmoor Shopping Center, ask questions about preserving a left turn lane at Crestmoor Drive, or ask about priority signalization and what it means for traffic light timing at the intersection.  Or ask about how BRT could raise property values and offer homeowners a better return on their investment.  

Don't buy into a scare tactic that claims that our most important commercial structure will be destroyed to accommodate improved transit.        
                      

15 comments:

  1. What we should be more concerned with is the fact that people like their cars, plain and simple. I'm sorry to say but people are not going to all of the sudden give up their routines and methods of transportation in order to take a bus. I have three children, as do many of my neighbors. I can not just hop on a bus to take them to their schools, activities, whatnot. What this BRT will do, like most of the other public transportation options in this area, is take a lane of traffic away from the vehicles on the road for a bus that will not get nearly enough use, making more traffic and congestion since there will be the same amount or more cars on the road anyway. I won't go on and on about my many reasons for opposing it but I will say, as a Woodmoor resident, myself and my neighbors will do all we can to make sure this expensive, invasive plan never happens!


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    1. Nice "anonymous" troll post here. I just posted below - I can and do take my four year old places on the bus (I live a 10 minute walk from the Woodmoor shopping center), and I see a significant number of families of all ethnicities and income levels doing the same.
      There is a huge falsehood when people see a dedicated bus lane that is empty, save for a bus passing every couple of minutes, but because those buses can carry 60-80 people, the capacity of that lane moves more PEOPLE than the other lanes do (usually by a factor of 2 or 3.)
      If you want to live in an idyllic, traffic free land of strip malls and white picket fences, move to Texas, or even just to Howard County. But this area, for many reasons, is too urban now to just assume that every trip (particularly at peak hours) can, will, or should be made by car, and that the buses are just for those who have no better option.

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  2. Sean, you're right that stations need not interfere with the Woodmoor shopping area. The median on Colesville and the huge lawn of Blair could provide most of the station space, and there are other unused strips of land that could provide remaining station space with no impact on local businesses. US BRT stations are typically small, and footprints are minimized in most cases to fit into existing neighborhoods.

    Let me turn to the commenter's point: The real threat to Four Corners will not be the BRT - it will be the increased car traffic down Route 29 from upcounty and out-of-county traffic. Overpasses are planned at several places to eliminate stoplights and make that road a highway, delivering more traffic to University and Colesville. State and federal planners will want to widen that road, and take the homes pressed up alongside it, to serve that traffic.

    BRT offers a pressure-release for that growing travel demand. A single extended bus, starting from an upcounty Park-and-Ride lot, can take over 50 of those cars off of Colesville through Four Corners. Fifteen full buses (one every 4 minutes) can remove over 750 cars each hour. This is crucial - it expands capacity WITHOUT expanding the road. But we have to make the bus service much better (via a dedicated lane, at least in rush hour) for people to take it. As more demand rises, more buses can be added - one every 3 minutes, then one every 2 minutes - rather than more lanes being added to handle the cars.

    BRT on Route 29 is a method of easing the eventual pressure to widen 29 that car-commuters will cause. I encourage Four Corners and Woodmoor residents to take the long view, and to ask "what happens without BRT?" The answer is that the government will still spend the money, and the result will be worse for your neighborhoods.

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    1. oh please try picturing Four Corners with overpasses--people will be leaving this area in droves! We are not talking about rt 29 farther north we are talking about a place that is already very tight

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  3. I am all for public transportation, but I don't see how these buses are going to be that much more "rapid" than the private commuter buses that are already coming down RT 29 from Howard County and are legally using the shoulder as a lane above New Hampshire Ave. Sure, the BRT may be less expensive than the private companies, but I don't think it will matter to most folks coming out of Howard County. No matter how you dress it up the BRT it's still a bus. I am not "getting" the math, because I don't think it's going to take the amount of people out of the cars as anticipated, and the end result will be worse congestion due to the car restrictions. Maybe that's the plan, make driving Rt 29 during rush hour such a congested mess, that people have no other choice but to take the BRT. As a local Realtor I want to see our home values increase, and the traffic congestion on 29 is something that clients consider when moving into this area so I would like to find a solution. I am very much in favor of public transportation - I just am not convinced that the BRT is the best solution.

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    1. If you are "all for public transportation" I encourage you take a second look at BRT. Bus Rapid Transit is not meant to be solely a long distance commuter bus like the private ones that currently use Route 29. The best way to think of BRT is to view it as light rail style transit for a fraction of the cost and similar capacity. Also, it is not the goal of BRT to force people out of their cars, but rather, to give them another option to sitting in the traffic that already exists. The traffic is going to continue to worsen if we don't do something about it. We can't simply stop development in Montgomery County because there already people here. More people want to move here and spend their money here, and we should do what we can to accommodate them. If we do not build some form of transit along Route 29, growing auto congestion will result in pressure to widen the road and to grade-separate interchanges like Four Corners, endangering homes and businesses. As for your comment expressing doubt about BRT being the best solution, I ask: what is your idea? A Metro line is too expensive, we can't add more lanes for cars without destroying dozens of homes and businesses, and non-BRT bus enhancements (i.e. improving existing bus service) would not accomplish much unless buses are given dedicated lanes, because buses currently sit in the same traffic as single-occupant vehicles. County planners have consdered all of these alternatives, and they have found that BRT is the best "bang for your buck". I encourage you to read at least part of the BRT Master Plan, it will help you better understand the purpose of BRT and why the county has chosen to explore it over other options. Thanks for reading.

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    2. As a local homeowner, I moved to this neighborhood *because* of the combination of still being able to have a yard (and yes, a driveway) and the transit connections. I drive my car once a week, plus sometimes on weekends, and that's it. Many of my neighbors do the same, so I don't see the traffic on 29 or University (except for houses directly ON 29 or University) driving down property values, in fact the transit drives up property values. More and more realtors, particularly those catering to Gen Y & beyond are adding WalkScore and TransitScore to their listings. And to address the poster above, I have seen many families that take the bus. We stopped for a time because Metrobuses did not allow strollers (The DC Circulator, and some others do, so it's not an impossibility), but I would take my daughter to school on the bus (all of her schools will be off of future BRT lines) if it delivers what it promises.
      With regards to the ROW - I think the 150 foot figure is the LENGTH of the station, but the width is perhaps 6 or 7 feet - the size of the platform and the curb separating the BRT area from general use traffic. A more realistic scenario would be the loss of 4 or 5 parking spaces at the shopping center, which may be offset by fewer folks needing to drive to a shopping center that has a bus running past it every three minutes.

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    3. So essentially it will affect the shopping center. I am sorry but that is just going to create a mess

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  4. Additionally, the County Council specifically included in the BRT Master Plan language that states that the BRT system will be implemented within the current curb-to-curb cross-section in Four Corners, due to the activism of neighbors in the area. Another reason to not continue to spread falsities. What I think would be a much better use of energy at this point would be proactively figuring out how the system could best serve Four Corners. Where exactly should the station go? Should there be more than one in the area? How could we come up with better ways to deal with the queueing traffic for the beltway (a separate issue, but one that will matter for quality of life no matter what)?

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  5. I shudder to think that someone thinks using what they deem "excess" Blair lawn as a viable option for anything involving the word transportation. More traffic and congestion are exactly what we do not need closer to our students.

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  6. Jeff GunnulfsenMay 9, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Do you really want overpasses near our neighborhood? Forget about any value in your homes! Look how bad the traffic has been with one lane down due to the flooding--picture that with buses---I don't see traffic being lessened at all.

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    1. Hi Jeff, I'm afraid you misread the post.

      I said an overpass would be a BAD idea. I said that if we don't improve transit, car traffic on Route 29 will continue to get worse, and there will be more pressure to grade-separate the intersection because of this increased volume of cars. Grade-separating the intersection to accommodate more cars would be MUCH MORE HARMFUL to our community than any impacts from BRT.

      Bus Rapid Transit gives people an alternative to sitting in traffic, and it can be implemented in a way that preserves 3 travel lanes each direction on Route 29 (to address your concerns about the current lane closure's bad traffic impacts). I don't think traffic on Route 29 will just go away when BRT gets built, but people will have an alternative to sitting in the traffic because BRT will have a dedicated lane in the peak direction to bypass the congestion. I will explain how a peak-direction dedicated BRT lane would work in a later post.

      Please read more carefully next time. Thanks for checking out the blog.

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    2. Sean--
      I will be sure to read more carefully next time! So which candidate do you like and why not have the BRT go down NH ave?

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    3. Jeff,

      I like the only candidate who lives in Four Corners.

      I want a BRT line to go down New Hampshire Avenue. I wrote a 2,000 word blog post in February supporting such an idea. Such a line would be a great compliment to a BRT line running all the way down Route 29 to Silver Spring.

      I sense that you do not support BRT (in our community at least). What are your main reason(s) for opposing BRT through Four Corners? This is a sincere question.

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