Easier Commutes

Nothing frustrates Montgomery County residents more than sitting in traffic. Moving people and goods more efficiently is an economic imperative, not to mention the mental health benefits. Starting with the outcomes in mind opens up many possibilities, from expanding transportation options to better utilizing our existing roadways to encouraging telecommuting. 

Key Indicator I.  
Average Commuting Time

About the Indicator: The U.S. Census reports on residents’ Average Travel Time to Work (Minutes); it is one of the longest in the country when ranked against comparable jurisdictions.
 1.  How are we doing?
The average commute has changed very little in recent years, and if anything is trending a bit longer. The inherent challenge to conveying this issue in a single measure is that people’s commuting experiences are unique, and they place different levels of importance on any given aspect. Time is only one measure of a quality commute, and a person may be very happy with the trade-off of a longer commute if it allows them to use public transit and/or walk, which has environmental and health benefits. Trade-offs exist at the macro-level as well, as policies that promote transit will benefit the environment even though they may add time to commutes, while policies that promote driving for commuting may reduce commuting times but damage the environment.
2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
Flexible work schedules. Companies, governments, and organizations are using technology to enable practices such as telecommuting and working remotely to become more common.
Incentives. Companies and organizations offer financial and other rewards for use of transportation modes other than single occupancy vehicles.
 Smart Growth. Mixed-use development at transit hubs encourages use of buses and Metro.
 The First Mile/Last Mile (FM/LM) issue. Where there are well designed transportation options that address FM/LM (the transportation gap between the home or workplace and public transportation), FM/LM is a positive factor.
Negative Factors
Planning and policy. In a County with a growing population, sprawl development is the norm, with jobs and job growth not strategically dispersed throughout the County. Land use decisions can be an obstacle (Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission’s requirement for parking) and there is a lack of redundancy (alternative routes) in road systems.
Market forces vs. Legacy Decisions. It is less expensive to build in non-urban areas and employers often offer free parking.
Job centers and housing affordability need to be reconciled against market forces. Dead office parks (e.g. Executive Boulevard) grab the attention for redevelopment and subsidies while the MPDU program has not meaningfully brought family-supportive housing to places with high job concentrations.
Some old job centers are not thoughtfully repurposed while struggling job centers (White Oak, Wheaton) are not getting the full support of county resources to become the next Bethesda, Rockville, Silver Spring, etc.
 The First Mile/Last Mile (FM/LM) issue. Where there are poorly designed transportation options for the FM/LM, FM/LM is a negative factor.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
1)      Examine tax policy, real estate tax credits, and tax increment financing. Encourage density and discourage sprawl. Make tough decisions about what to support and what to starve.  Ask if the County wants to spread economic development resources thin, or focus them on places that have market forces behind them.
2)      Fund a complete interagency coordinated comprehensive transportation system.
a)      Rationalize the bus system with a greater focus on ridership vs. coverage and take into account First Mile and Last Mile issues to facilitate a more efficient and economic transit.
b)      Fix the east-west mobility issue.  The Purple Line and ICC are great starts, but Viers Mill, Metropolitan Avenue/Capitol View Avenue, Plyers Mill, and other E/W connections are painfully slow and under-invested.)
 3)      Introduce adaptive traffic signals to improve traffic flow.
 4)      Consider a Montgomery County Transportation Authority. The Authority could have the following attributes: It could include governance for both BRT and Ride-On (and other County transit initiatives like bike trails, micro transit pilots, etc.); It would have separate bonding authority not linked to the County’s limits; It could have a 5-7 person board made up of appointees by the County (Executive and Council), the State and perhaps larger municipalities in the County; It could have authority to levy a small increase to the State gas tax or sales tax to finance County transit projects.
 5)      Promote increased telecommuting through the technologies that enable remote work and the policies that support and permit the practice, and effectively market them to workers, starting with County employees. 

Key Indicator II.  
Percent of Residents Taking Public Transit to Work

About the Indicator: The U.S. Census reports 1-Year estimates on the percent of County residents commuting to and from work by public transportation.
 1.  How are we doing?
Census data shows consistent, if not very high, use of public transit for commuting. In 2017, the County introduced two related questions on the Resident Satisfaction Survey: The percentage of residents reporting they walked or biked instead of driving at least twice a month (38%), and the percentage of residents reporting they used public transportation instead of driving at least twice a month (39%). The 2017 survey is a representative sample of 1,075 County residents, with a margin of error of 3%. These questions will be asked next on the 2019 survey.
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 New transit initiatives. Construction of the Purple Line and BRT (bus rapid transit) systems are underway.
 Current transit options. They are accessible, becoming more reliable, less expensive, less stressful, environmentally beneficial, and employers provide incentives to use them.
 Transportation Management District (TMD) surveys.  The TMD surveys capture non-auto driver mode share (the percentage of commuters who travel to their worksite by means other than single-occupant vehicle) which informs master planning. 
Negative Factors
 Personal choices. Transportation costs are rarely factored into peoples’ decisions on where to live, and people with higher incomes are less likely to use public transit.
 Limited support. There is a lack of funding and focus on transit from the State level, and a reluctance to increase funding through mechanisms such as an increased State gas tax or vehicle miles tax to finance transportation/transit projects.
 Planning and building systems is challenging. Rolling out BRT (bus rapid transit) system and the use of bicycles is a slow process due to insufficient funding and NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitudes. Also, there is no integrated transportation system that places enough emphasis on the first and last mile.
 Limits to current options. MARC train schedule is too limited, and other options such as Metro have limited hours, negatively impacting jobs such as restaurant workers (there are, however, trade-offs to restoring hours such as having to maintenance work during peak ridership hours). 
 Siloed thinking. The County is not working closely enough with WMATA or MTA; they are seen as competition for funding. 
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
 1)      Focus on improving the three primary benefits of mass transit: (1) Speed, (2) Low-cost, and (3) Reliability
 2)      Mandate transit benefit ordinance.
Require employers to offer transit benefits and default to “Transit Pass Benefits.” Mandate that employers offer a parking benefit cash-out so that pedestrians and bike commuters can enjoy equal footing with their co-workers who are subsidized to park and drive. 
 3)      Holistic redesign of the transit system region-wide.
a.      Address feeder and coverage issues.
b.      Minimize duplication.
c.       Address gaps and equity issues.
d.      Promote bicycle and pedestrian connections to transit where jobs and housing are “cut off” from the existing transit stations (stations that have lots of housing nearby and within ¼ mile but it is dangerous to walk/bike to transit so usage is limited).
 4)      Bus Rapid Transit
BRT could be financed either under the County Transit Authority concept, or as a Metro capital project with the County underwriting the annual operating costs, or as a P3 project along the lines of the State-financed Purple Line with FTA grant/loan support.
5)      Transportation for people with disabilities.
 “Off the Wall” Ideas: These strategies could have an impact but for different reasons are considered less feasible.
1)      Address issues inequitable access to the Transit System. Work to change attitudes and decisions about access by offering incentives and awards.
2)      Re-focus Transportation Management Districts. Promote the home end of the trip rather than the work end. 
3)      County supported Circular Mass Transit. Service supporting Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, and Virginia. Extend the Purple Line into Virginia.
4)      More housing density around transit, including bus stops.
5)      More pedestrian-friendly streets.
6)      Expand MARC to connect with VRE (Virginia Railway Express), Metro, Amazon and other employment hubs.

Key Indicator III.  
Percent of County Roads Rated in “Good” or Better Condition

About the Indicator: The Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s Pavement Management System rates annually the quality of our roads to inform the planning and scheduling of road repairs and related capital improvements. The pavements’ numerical Pavement Condition Index (PCI) score is developed through an analysis of nineteen (19) discrete pavement distresses (cracking, pot holes, environmental distress, utility cuts, etc.) and ranges from 1-100 with 1 being an absolute failure and 100 representing perfect conditions.  Roads with a lower PCI are candidates for systemic patching or resurfacing with hot mix asphalt.  The 19 discrete pavement distresses are measured using high resolution cameras coupled with lasers mounted on slow moving vehicles (akin to Google) that accurately measure and record detailed pavement conditions. 
 1.      How are we doing?
At present, half of the County’s roads are rated as less than good condition. Addtionally, on the 2017 Resident Satisfaction Survey, 59% of respondents rated “road repair” as “Poor” or “Fair.”
 2.  What is the story behind the curve?
Positive Factors
 Appeal. There are low political barriers to fixing roads – this is a YIMBY (yes in my backyard) issue.
 Policy. There is a moratorium on utility work within three years of a repaving project.
Negative Factors
 Financial. Current funding appears to not be enough.
 Political. Decision-makers are too reactive to constituent complaints (squeaky wheel syndrome).
 Climate. Extreme weather increases deterioration of road pavement conditions.
3.  What strategies do we recommend to turn the curve?
 1)      Better two-way communication between County and residents on road conditions.
Better promotion of the use of 311 for pothole notification.
 2)      Prioritize regular maintenance as a matter of performance management.
It saves money in the long run.
 3)      Decentralize County government administration of road maintenance.
To improve reaction time/service.
 4)      Better coordination with utilities on planned work.
 5)      Full restoration of highway user revenue from the state.
Would allow the County to better plan and schedule maintenance and infrastructure needs.
 “Off the Wall” Ideas: These strategies could have the greatest impact but for different reasons are considered less feasible.
1)      Ban large trucks from County roads to the extent allowed by Federal law. No trucks longer than 48 feet (New York City has regulations to govern the operation of trucks).
2)      Start an Adopt-a-Pothole program.
3)      Restrict traffic based on license plates in congested areas. Allow driving only on certain days of the week. This is relevant to both maintaining road quality and the Indicator on commute time.

The Team

Team Captain:
Bruce Adams
Team Members:
Lee Blinder
Omar Dadi
Fred Ducca
Mike Goldman
Neil Harris
Shyam Kannan
Michael Lin
Peter Myo Khin
Shyam Kannan

Michael Lin
Peter Myo Khin
Michael Lin
Peter Myo Khin
Bridget Newton
Joy Nurmi
Harriet Quinn
Jeff Rosenberg
Ben Ross
Bridget Newton
Joy Nurmi
Harriet Quinn
Jeff Rosenberg

Ben Ross
Mitch Warren
Francine Waters
Vic Weissberg
Meredith Wellington
Mier Wolf
Karen Finn
Brady Goldsmith
Crystal Brockington-Sallee
Bruce Meier

Public feedback and questions from the CE’s Listening Sessions relating to this Priority Outcome reflect concerns about:
  • Addressing increasing traffic congestion on our highways and surface roads, especially in light of future population growth; Understanding the relationship between planning/development and traffic (e.g. the Clarksburg Outlets).
  • Addressing concerns about potential expansion of 270 and 495 and backups caused by the American Legion Bridge.
  • Improving our road resurfacing; roads are in poor shape, especially in East County.
  • Addressing the lack of public transportation between Montgomery County and Fairfax County, and between rural Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.
  • Mitigating the loss of commuter/Metro parking spaces in Bethesda due to the Marriott move.
  • Synchronizing the County’s traffic lights to improve traffic flow.
  • Addressing pedestrian and bike safety concerns (this was emphasized more under “Safe Neighborhoods”).
  • Increasing enforcement of no parking/no stopping areas on roads.
  • Developing a deer policy.
  • Adding better on-site parking for Metro and mass transit especially up-county (e.g. Shady Grove), a dedicated Metro station at Montgomery College, a pedestrian bridge over Montrose Parkway and extending that road for better east-west travel.
A public survey on the transition website collected input from residents as well; Respondents conveyed the following related to this Priority Outcome:
  • Survey responses focused primarily on the importance of promoting public transportation, with most responses referencing buses. Respondents generally focused on improving transit options and expanding geographic regions of coverage. Accessibility of bus and rail options was identified as an opportunity to promote equity.
  • The second most frequent topic of responses was roads and accompanying infrastructure. Opinions were split on the merit of expanding major routes like I-270. Many respondents supported enhancing infrastructure dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Multiple responses expressed interest in promoting telework options and flexible work schedules to mitigate peak rush hour traffic.
  • Some respondents supported managing development strategically to integrate residential and commercial areas and decrease commute distances.
  • Area-specific recommendations expressed needs in up-county areas and Silver Spring.
  • Other topics mentioned by multiple respondents were parking, ride sharing, tolls and fees, and zoning.

Performance Index: Easier Commutes

Below can be found the Montgomery County Government Departmental Performance Measures that align with the County Executive's Priority to provide easier commutes.