New Bus Rapid Transit System Operates in Greater Washington

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A growing interest in bus rapid transit has contributed to the recent opening of a BRT system in Montgomery County, Maryland, the first for the county. “BRT offers riders the amenities, speed and comfort of a light rail experience, but with greater versatility and much lower installation costs,” says Darin Piippo of Landscape shapesStudio 431. Studio 431 worked with the architectural firm ZGF, Montgomery County, general contractor General Concrete, and engineering company RK&K to design the stations of the BRT system. The project required that the stations be single-branded, accessible, safe, comfortable and offering a positive lifecycle investment.

The project was custom in every sense of the word, as each of the 17 station sites had unique elevations, slopes, and dimensions to consider. Modular and scalable, the stations vary in overall size from 24 to 75 feet long and the number of components they contain. Some have an air shelter, others three or four. Each station includes an illuminated marker that identifies the location of the station and flashes to signal the arrival of buses.

ZGF incorporated materials and natural elements reflecting the regional geography incorporated into the design. “We wanted to pay homage to the landscapes around the county and the hills and woods of the region,” says ZGF project architect Chris Somma, AIA. The shelters are reminiscent of tree canopies, the lower structure branching out to support the canopies. The granite on the benches and terminals of the station pays homage to the county’s stone quarries, which provided stone to many of the Smithsonian Institution buildings lining the National Mall in Washington, DC

The roofs of the stations are made of cross-laminated wood, a structural and renewable resource; they are the first transit shelters in the United States to use the material. Wood panels add warmth and an inviting feel to the shelters, a departure from the often cold, industrial feel of transit stations. Perforated stainless steel columns and benches add “a less prescribed organic texture and pattern,” says Somma.

“It was a complex project,” he adds. “Studio 431 did a great job of fixing the issues that could only be solved if they were the ones building the products. Their engineering knowledge has helped immensely. Their expertise in lighting was essential. They understood the county’s goals. And, at the end of the day, they delivered our design.

Chris Kirsch of Concrete General notes that maintenance is a major consideration for transportation services, and he appreciated the way Studio 431 thought of a station design in which parts, not an entire station, could be replaced if necessary. Studio 431 created tutorials and shared tips with the general contractor and his teams on the component installation process for each station. “Knowing the Studio 431 installation process has been essential to our success,” says Kirsch.

Studio 431‘s Piippo summarizes the project and the teamwork that made the BRT system so successful. “We had the right people in the right seats on the bus, all traveling in the same direction. The collaboration between the stakeholders was excellent. It was always like a partnership.


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