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New-Age People Movers?

Transportation planning experts express concern over lack of market research behind plans for Dulles Corridor Metro.

According to Alan Hoffman, founding principal of San Diego-based planning firm the Mission Group, there are three things that have to happen in order for people to use public transportation.

The transportation has to take a person from where they are to where they are going, it has to get them there quickly with minimal wait time, and it has to make the person feel good about the fact that they used public transit.

"And it has to do all three," said Hoffman. "Three out of three means three out of three."

Hoffman was one of two guest speakers at the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Oct. 24 general membership meeting. The MCA invited both Hoffman and Peter Midgley, an internationally recognized expert in urban transportation, to present information about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a public transportation system that could serve either as an alternative or a complement to Metro.

While BRT is relatively new in the United States, several successful BRT systems operate in Europe, Australia and South America. Essentially, public buses are provided with dedicated lanes to move people quickly and efficiently throughout urban areas. Proponents of BRT emphasize that it can be constructed at a fraction of the cost of a subway line.

Plans for a Dulles Corridor Metro line are already in the preliminary engineering phase, and the MCA's BRT presentation raised some concerns.

"When BRT was considered as an alternative, do you think it was considered fairly along the lines of what we just saw?" asked Adrienne Whyte, immediate past chair of the MCA planning and zoning committee.

BILL VINCENT, GENERAL COUNSEL for Breakthrough Technologies, a non-profit transportation program primarily focused on BRT, also spoke at the MCA meeting. Vincent does not believe that BRT was adequately researched, and said a new Metro line will not be enough to solve the ever-growing congestion issues of Northern Virginia.

"Tonight's discussion is actually about finding a more sustainable way, and a more long term way to handle the transportation issues presented by urban growth," he said.

However, Tom Harrington, Planning Manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said a Metro line was chosen over BRT for a variety of reasons.

"It was certainly looked at extensively, both in the draft and the final draft... when they looked at alternatives, Metro was the locally preferred alternative," said Harrington. "Some of the reasons why they picked Metro over BRT was to have a seamless trip that connected directly into the Metrorail system, because they wanted a tunnel subway through Tysons Corner, and also when they did ridership forecasting, Metro rail had a much higher ridership."

Patti Nicoson, president of the Dulles Rail Corridor Association, attended the MCA meeting and said that "the [Dulles Corridor] project is pretty far along, but there are active studies underway to consider Bus Rapid Transit as a supplement."

For his part, Vincent would like to see more research put into the area's transportation solutions.

"There are two prongs to our transportation design in this area - essentially, build roads and build a Metro system," said Vincent. "I think it seems fair to ask 40 years later, how are we doing? And I think everyone recognizes that we are buckling under the strain. We have some of the worst traffic congestion in the country."

Hoffman said he shares the same concern about a lack of thorough market research.

"I don't care what mode you end up choosing, I just care that questions are answered," said Hoffman. "The question I want to leave you with is, why are people so afraid of dealing with the facts... if you are spending a couple billion dollars, I think you should spend at least one half to one percent of that learning about the people that you are supposedly serving."