SMTA Supports Master Plan of Highways and Transitways, July 10, 2018

(July 10, 2018) : “Testimony to the Montgomery County Council”

I am Jennifer Russel, Chair of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA), a transportation advocacy group dedicated to funding and increasing awareness of the need to support highways and transit. Our goal is to increase the region’s mobility and reduce its intolerable congestion. We support the effort to update this Master Plan of Highways and Transitways so that it comports with updates to the Road Code and secures inconsistencies spread across Master Plan boundaries. Any countywide effort that provides more capacity and options for both roads and transit capacity is a step in the right direction. We believe that highway projects, often neglected due to the sexy lure of transit, must continue to be supported. While we endorse the region’s major transit projects, the northern half of Montgomery County, home to one-third of the County’s residents, still depends primarily on cars. If all currently-planned transit projects were built, congestion in suburban Marylad would still prevail.

If adopting the Master Plan of Highways and Transitways improves the County’s track record on building roads or mandating their completion, then we strongly support its adoption. A quick review of Montgomery County’s adopted Master Plans reveals that 153 transportation projects adopted in those plans remain unbuilt. Just a few examples: Shady Grove Plan-15; Great Seneca Science Center-25, White Flint-18; Ten Mile Creek-8; and Clarksburg-7. Of course, our organization is on record as vigorously supporting the completion of the missing link of M-83, the Mid-County Highway, a project long supported by up-county residents who now will probably never see that road completely paved.

This is not a fascinating Master Plan, but a necessary one. It is one of the more important functional plans and provides the underpinnings for our infrastructure. It deserves updating and attention in an era where congestion has become our citizens’ number one concern and priority. The addition of new transitways and bicycle pedestrian priority areas is key, as is the insertion of existing I-270 HOV lanes and planned HOV lanes along the much-beleaguered beltway (I-495). This plan is a tool, as we need to effectively and seamlessly absorb growth that is inevitable in its arrival, and sorely needed to boost this county’s economy. Remember if you will, that Montgomery County is often labeled as Maryland’s economic engine. Outdated road standards and non-performing Master Plan implementation is not the future we should let happen.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We look forward to a more detailed examination of the plan during the forthcoming committee meetings.

SMTA Testifies on the Bicycle Master Plan, July 10, 2018

(July 10, 2018) : “Testimony to the Montgomery County Council”

Mr. Hans Riemer, Chair

Montgomery County Council

100 Maryland Ave.

Rockville, MD 20850

Dear Chairman Riemer and Members of the County Council,

I am writing on behalf of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA) whose mission is to advocate for transportation improvements that reduce congestion and increase mobility. SMTA supports cycling as an important mode of travel for recreational and commuting trips and strongly supports adoption of a Bicycle Master Plan to guide future investments.

The draft plan is an impressive and extremely thorough document and will be a useful tool for decades to come. SMTA’s comments are focused on the overall parameters of the plan rather than on specific routes or facility types. Our comments on the public hearing draft of the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) focus on the following major topics:

Safety should be the number one goal

Prioritization methodology should be revisited

Implementation issues

Cost

Plan Assumptions

Effectiveness

Safety First

Improving safety should be Goal #1, followed by increasing bicycling rates in the County, then the other goals listed in the plan in their current order, renumbered as goals #3 and #4.

Goal 1: Improve the safety of bicycling

Goal 2: Increase bicycling rates in Montgomery County

Increasing future bicycle-commuting rates is a lofty goal but increasing safety and comfort for current riders should be the highest priority. While the plan notes the use of bicycles for work trips has increased over the past 10 years, that increase has been from 0.4% of work trips in 2006 to 0.5% of work trips in 2016. This is still half of one percent of trips.

The plan appears to give short shrift to recreational routes and safety of current riders, which in our view are of the highest importance. As noted on page 172, “high demand recreational bicycling routes” are relegated to Tier 3 priority which is recommended for a 20-year completion. Dangerous locations such as the area around Sam Eig Highway and the crossing of Rt. 355 near Grosvenor/Tuckerman, should be at the top of the priority list.

Further, the very purpose of the plan (page 13) states: “The plan focuses on increasing bicycling among what surveys consistently reveal as a majority of the public who would like to bicycle more…” It does not mention making it safe for those who already bike, and whom will make up the majority of bikers in the future, which is contrary to the County’s Vision Zero Action Plan. Current riders who are mostly recreational need to be protected in this plan as that is presumably where the largest increases in ridership can reasonably be expected.

Prioritization

Safety should be the key criterion for prioritizing projects. Because there is no accident data provided, and none of the four tiers specify safety as a criterion, it is difficult to assess whether the most dangerous locations are at the top of the list. For example, page 152 specifies four criteria for 56 miles of Tier 1 Projects and once again, safety factors are not mentioned. Instead, it focuses on “the highest demand” rather than safety.

The priority criteria should be revisited. Access to mass transit with a focus on Metrorail stations should be a high prioritization criteria to reduce single occupancy vehicle work commutes. Ease of implementation or low cost should not put projects above those that improve access to transit or improve safety.

The plan states that Tier 1 projects should be substantially completed within five years of plan approval, yet there are still Programmed Bikeways are only partially funded (page 151). There are 160 projects listed for Tier 1, totaling 56 miles. This list should be prioritized and the timeframes should be revised to reflect reality.

Implementation

Several implementation questions should be answered before adopting the plan. These include:

Is the Design Toolkit a guide or a requirement?

How will the Subdivision Staging Policy relate to this plan?

Will development and redevelopment projects get credits on their impact taxes for building planned bikeways?

Interim separated bike lanes should only be used for urgent safety locations; other projects should be designed and built as permanent solutions as time and budget permit. Given the cost of this plan, when would “funding become available” for an upgrade for an existing facility?

Regarding developer fees in lieu of constructing bike facilities: the methodology on page 139 is wasteful to the County and the development community. If such a fee is desired, the county should adopt a standard fee schedule rather than having developers design and cost out a “fake” project so they can be assessed a pro rata share.

On Page 111 recommendation 2.1 to lower posted speed limits across the board should be removed and much more thoroughly evaluated. Additional input should be solicited before pursuing this as a blanket policy, as this may have significant unintended consequences including adverse safety and congestion impacts.

On Page 145 and elsewhere, this plan makes reference to “eliminating travel lanes” as one way to accommodate new bike lanes. While we strongly support adding new bike lanes wherever practical, in a region that is routinely rated as among the most congested in the nation and has a very poor history of delivering the number of travel lanes called for in our master plans, it is ludicrous to contemplate removing existing travel lanes. All such references should be struck from this plan (and any others). Elimination of current travel lanes is, in general, both impractical and politically problematic, as well as contrary to the comments below regarding overall prioritization of this plan relative to other master plans for transit and road networks, which serve many times more people each day. While there may be one or two streets somewhere in this county with excess capacity, we have yet to find them. The willingness to inconvenience over 80% of commuters for improvements that only benefit 0.5% of commuters needs to be reconsidered to make this plan more feasible. As it stands, this statement makes no sense whatsoever as sound transportation policy.

Similarly, references to eliminating on-street parking need to be carefully analyzed to make sure we are not driving customers away from restaurants and other small businesses that rely on convenient access by all modes of travel. Language should be added to this plan to make clear that small business impacts will be considered in making parking decisions.

Costs

The plan should include cost estimates or rules-of-thumb for “per foot or per mile” costs for various types of facilities. The County Council may want to reconsider the emphasis on 456 miles of shared use paths which average $720,000 (nationwide), in order to adopt a more implementable plan. In addition, small area infrastructure plans (page 121) seem like an unnecessary layer that adds cost and time to constructing a network. The purpose of the plan is to direct and prioritize land use and infrastructure dollars. If another plan is needed to interpret this one, it is not an effective plan.

Assumptions

While important, given Montgomery County’s challenges, we need to properly assess the priority we place on the stated goal to “become a world class bicycling community.” The County has fiscal, social service, school and other transportation challenges to consider. The County must already deal with 151 planned transportation projects that have never been built. Adopting this plan, as is, not only competes for limited transportation dollars with this backlog of other needed transit and road projects, it creates unrealistic expectations for the cycling community because the current tax base is not adequately supporting other needs today.

Given our current fiscal condition, near-zero net new job growth, and a declining commercial tax base, is the basic assumption of this draft plan good public policy at this time?

A plan whose primary purpose is to attract the “50 percent of the population” who would “like to bike more” (but is not primarily focused on what most of these potential cyclists are interested in, which is recreation) may not be serving the needs of cycling stakeholders as well as it should and may not be grounded in fiscal or traffic reality. There are many other reasons that 50% of the population who want to bike more, don’t (time, weather, distance, etc.). In this fiscal environment, is adding 639 miles of separated bike lanes for $110 million a positive cost-benefit ratio to serve people who may cycle more? We are not sure that this plan, as it is currently written, provides County taxpayers and commuters using transit and roads, the best use of their tax dollars.

Effectiveness

This draft plan is an excellent resource to drive this discussion further, and offers a rich compendium of the existing and proposed bicycle network. However, even a world class plan won’t be implemented if it isn’t readable and focused on the right priorities. If this plan is to be implemented, a separate third document that pulls out the “plan elements” should be adopted. One that cycling stakeholders, developers and transportation professionals will use.

In conclusion, SMTA appreciates the opportunity to comment on this plan and offer our assistance to work on any plan revisions.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Russel, Chair

Signature

Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA)

Cc:

Members of the County Council

SMTA Board of Directors

SMTA Advisory Board

SMTA Continues to Advocate for Better Transportation

December 27, 2017

Maryland Public Policy Institute

Emmet Tydings, President of AB&T Telecom and SMTA Vice Chair spoke on “The Future of Transportation in Maryland” panel.
Learn more at: http://mdpolicy.org/events

Montgomery County Delegation – Transportation Priorities Hearing

Jennifer Russel, SMTA Chair testified to support funding of priority projects such as I-270/I-495 express toll lanes and transit enhancements, American Legion Bridge improvements, the CCT and Bus Rapid Transit on Route 355.

September 25 Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show

Susan Swift, SMTA Executive Director, discussed the benefits of the Express Toll Lanes on I-270, the Beltway and the Baltimore Washington Parkway, recently announced by Governor Hogan. https://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2017-09-25/your-turn-maryland-toll-lanes-pets-in-d-c-bars-and-more