Maryland Should Build a Cross-Bay Bus Rapid Transit System
Chesapeake BRT will turbo-charge economic growth and ease traffic in on the Eastern Shore's fast growing population centers
With Governor Hogan announcing funding for the Tier 2 study of a new Chesapeake Bridge span, debates about moving people efficiently seem to be missing. The State of Maryland should consider building out a cross-bay Bus Rapid Transit system to help get cars off the road and make burgeoning cities on the Eastern Shore wealthier. The system should have 2 dedicated lanes on the new or an existing bridge span to make travel times competitive with driving.
It requires a lot of energy to move a person in a multi-ton metal box. Busses, although much heavier than personal vehicles, divide the transport energy requirements by many more people resulting in lower transport energy per person. If Maryland wants to reduce its Greenhouse Gas Emissions to be in line with what state leaders have been preaching, it would be hypocritical to not consider a statewide Bus Rapid Transit system as a means of doing so. New long range charter buses can get people across the state powered on renewable energy spewing less tailpipe emissions than if all those people were in personal vehicles. Not only does it reduce carbon emissions, it reduces air pollution along major arterials and dense city centers which has large health implications for people who live or frequently visit those areas. A BRT system would allow denser development in Easton & Cambridge preserving the farmland and nature reserves from human encroachment.
Building out a statewide BRT system would have huge economic growth potential in areas with a stops. When everyone travels via personal vehicles, the end destinations need to have a tremendous amount of parking lots for car storage. Parking lots are economic losers, they require private and public money to maintain while generating 0 economic growth or revenue. Buildings on the other hand are economic winners. They provide jobs, tax revenue, space to do business and housing. A place can become wealthier by converting parking lots into buildings, but the transportation networks need to support this so everyone still has access to amenities. When people get off a Rapid Chesapeake Bus in Ocean City, they don’t need to park a car, they can walk or take local transit to their destination. This gives businesses more customers while not requiring parking to scale with the increased demand. A Downtown Salisbury station would allow students to freely travel between Salisbury University and Washington DC without the need to park at either destination, freeing up space and allowing both cities to become wealthier.
Traffic follows the rules of supply & demand like most things. Building a new bridge span would increase the supply of available road space, but large infrastructure projects effect demand too. A single charter bus can hold the equivalent of 50 cars worth of traffic in a single bus. A fast and pleasant BRT system would get people out of their cars and onto the bus, freeing up road space and reducing the spatial requirements required to move tens of thousands of people a day. For drivers who have no plans to ever ride a bus, BRT would take cars off the road for them, reducing trip times. Adding supply without ever thinking of ways to alter demand will not result in reduced traffic. When the State of Virginia studied expanding a highway in Northern Virginia, they discovered that a decade and billions of dollars later, traffic would be just as bad as when they started. The concept of induced demand at work, where increased demand just fills the added supply of road space. Virginia opted to pour money into expanding the VRE Train system as a way to reduce demand for highway space. Getting cars off the road has a greater effect than expanding the supply of road.
A statewide BRT system can only work if people use it. Getting people to take intercity buses requires that the complete experience be at least on par with driving. When people make these decision they are usually considering a couple of factors: Cost, experience, speed.
With tolls, gas and parking costs all factored in, a bus ticket would be cheaper than driving for a single trip. No driving in circles in Ocean City or Washington D.C. trying to find a spot or parking at an expensive garage. The cost of trip is split among many more riders. Electric buses energy costs would be freed from the swings global oil markets allowing people to be freed from the necessity of car ownership. Living in Bethesda, MD, the only reason I still own a car is for monthly trips to Salisbury. A reliable and rapid cross-bay BRT system would free many people from needing to own cars at all, saving them an average of $9,000 per year. With gas prices at record highs with no signs of abating, the State should work to give citizens alternative modes of transport that render them less reliant on decisions of Saudi Monarchs and encourage more resilient household budgets.
Driving is comfortable, you get your own car that can take your from point to point on your own schedule. Frequency & reliability of buses allows the system to be flexible enough to compete with driving. Running buses every 20 or 30 minutes would be enough for lots of people to make the switch. Dedicated lanes and GPS tracking would increase reliability so people know their bus will arrive and leave during scheduled times. Using new Charter Buses that are clean and comfortable with onboard Wifi would allow a pleasant experience on par with driving. Riders could read a book or do some work instead of sitting through hours of bumper to bumper traffic. This would be an especially attractive options to part-time commuters who need to pop into the office in D.C or Baltimore a couple of times a month.
Cars can get you from point A to point B which makes them a very attractive transit option. They don’t have the last mile problem, where you have to get from the bus station to your final destination. In order for BRT to compete, the stops need to be located in dense walk-able areas near lots of final destinations. Having dedicated lanes where possible would allow it to make up for time lost to stopping putting BRT on parity with driving time.
Lots of people are unable to make the trip across the bridge that would love to do otherwise. Growing up on the Eastern Shore in Salisbury, my options of experiencing places in Western Maryland were limited by my parents capacity to drive. Teenagers would be able to take day trips to Washington D.C on their own increasing their independence and life experience. Many old people don’t have the ability to drive long distances across the bridge, limiting their ability to see family and friends and have independence into old age. Additionally disabled people and people without money for a personal vehicle have limited opportunity to travel across the state but a cross-bay BRT system would open up the chance for them to experience it.
A Cross-Bay BRT system could fit in perfectly with plans by County leaders to build a new 8 lane bridge, replacing the existing spans. One of the existing bridges could become a dedicated Bus Bridge. This would allow separation of traffic with emergency vehicles having access to the bus bridge. The existing spans maintenance costs would be considerably less as it wouldn’t be handling tens of thousands of cars a day. The reduced traffic load on the existing span would allow its lifespan to be extended.
The Eastern Shore should avoid making the same transportation and planning mistakes that Counties on the Western Shore have. Counties such as Montgomery & Prince George’s have realized that you eventually run out of space to endlessly expand sprawl and roads, and are now turning to policies aimed at reducing demand for driving and denser mixed-use development. Instead of building single-use sprawling residential sub divisions all over the Shore, mixed-use walkable neighborhoods should be legalized so residents don’t have to drive 5 miles to get a gallon of milk from the grocery store, freeing up road space and reducing traffic.
Beach season would be much more enjoyable without the stresses of a 4 hour traffic plagued journey across the Bay. A statewide BRT system would go a long way in avoiding the mistakes of the past and building for a more prosperous and sustainable future.