New bus route draws protest, some support
Nov. 3, 2004
Benjamin Hu
Staff Writer

Susan Whitney-Wilkerson/The Gazette

During a protest Friday morning, Dan Tam, a resident of the Tanglewood neighborhood, holds a sign showing how close Metro buses on a new route come to cars in his neighborhood.

Residents say roads too narrow; others favor convenience

Seventeen residents in the Tanglewood community off Fairland Road gathered at the corner of Schubert Drive and Beethoven Boulevard Friday, confronting morning traffic with signs protesting the Metro bus route in their neighborhood.

Shortly after 8:45 a.m., a full-length Metro bus drove up Schubert Drive, made a left turn at Beethoven Boulevard, and got stuck in the intersection. Unable to navigate between parked cars lining both sides of the street ahead, the bus backed away slowly and returned the way it came. Protesters shook their heads.

"Our streets are not designed for big buses," said resident Janet Griffin-Graves, pointing to cracked pavement where the bus wheels dig in each time it stops and starts. "The road can take school buses, because those come only twice a day."

Metro's new Z6 route schedule began in late September, and currently sends 71 buses through the Tanglewood community every day from 5:07 a.m. to just before 11 p.m.

Some residents ­ themselves bus riders ­ are unhappy with the service, which they say creates undue noise and safety problems for the area. Others support the new Z6 route for its service between Silver Spring and Burtonsville, which is intended to replace four previous bus routes, now decommissioned.

Ira Graffman is a bus rider who likes the service, but who nonetheless took to the street corner in protest.

"I work in downtown Silver Spring, so I've been riding the buses down for 10 years," he said. "This new bus line is wonderful, but it shouldn't be coming through the neighborhood." Graffman thinks it should stay out of the community, and said he would gladly walk a few extra steps to Fairland Road to catch it. Regardless of how they feel about the bus services, many residents agree that Metro authorities did a poor job of notifying the community ahead of the changes.

"We're told that they put a single ad in the area paper, and posted posters on bus routes before putting this new route through," said Gina Lowe, a Tanglewood resident. "But one ad in 100 pages of newspaper isn't enough, and we weren't riding the buses in the first place to be able to see the posters."

Lowe said that the first notification they got about the new bus line was when new bus stops starting appearing around their neighborhood. The Tanglewood Homeowner' Recreation Association received timetables for the new buses a few days in advance, with no further explanation, Lowe said. There had been a town hall meeting in April, but area residents had not known about it in advance.

Metro spokesman Lawrence Glick said that every effort is made to contact local citizens and homeowners' associations, drawn from a list maintained by the County Parks and Planning commission. However, errors sometimes occur on either side of the process, he said.

"The problem arises if there's a mistake in determining which organizations belong to the affected community and which do not," he said. "Sometimes the contact persons for the organizations are not current, and that's a problem too."

The current plan, he said, allows for a consolidation of four former bus routes into one. The Tanglewood community was a turning point for the buses to leave Fairland ­ shifting the service to a different route would be possible, but then alternative turning points would be needed. Glick said that a meeting was scheduled in later November with the Tanglewood community.

For Tanglewood parents, children's safety is a serious issue, especially as the Metro buses share the road with local school buses. Steve Brenneman, a bus driver for Montgomery County Public Schools, spoke of an incident in early October when a Metro bus overtook him while he was letting students exit the bus at the corner of Schubert and Beethoven. All vehicles on both sides of the road must come to a complete stop when school buses are loading or unloading passengers.

When buses cannot safely drive past legally parked cars, a street supervisor comes down to assess the situation. Metro supervisor Norman Williams arrived to redirect buses back out of the community ­ a decision that drew approval and thanks from the concerned residents.

"Wherever there's a safety issue, we act immediately, to prevent accidents before they happen," Williams said. "When cars are legally parked in a way that we can't drive through safely, supervisors will detour the routes."

One implication is that community members can force a bus route change indefinitely even without Metro intervention, by simply parking their cars in a certain arrangement. By Monday, a newly erected sign declared that the Z6 has been temporarily re-routed to pick up passengers at the nearby Galway Elementary School.

This was bad news for Renee Donalvo, a legally blind Tanglewood resident who relies on the bus and Metro services to get to her job as a public school teacher in D.C.

"Beforehand, I was taking the Metro Access service, which is subsidized by Montgomery County," she said. "But that was expensive, costing the tax payer about $35 each way."

Donalvo said that she was overjoyed to hear of the Z6 bus service, which meant that she could pay her own way and would no longer need to schedule rides with the Metro Access cab service.

Donalvo's neighbor, Effie Liu, said that the bus service was essential for many residents, but was worried that those who relied on it would have no say in the service, whether in dealings with the county and Metro, or with the community associations.

"There are flyers against the bus route around the whole community," Liu said. "Most of the people in community meetings oppose the bus, but there are many people who don't have cars and find it useful: students, the elderly, people with disabilities."

On Monday morning, unable to read the sign, Donalvo waited at the bus stop for half an hour, unaware that the bus route along her street had discontinued as abruptly as it began.

"I will no longer have a bus service, and that is very sad," she said. "Riding the bus gives me more flexibility and independence. I feel like I've lost some of my freedom."