Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Purple Line Leaves Trails Black and Blue?



Much like the long-gestating InterCounty Connector (ICC), the addition of the so-called Purple Line to the Metro system has enough supporters and detractors to fuel debate far past its proposed 2015 completion. Ideally, the Purple Line would entail a light rail encircling DC - a mass transit alternate to the beltway - though in its current phase the metro addition would link the disparate Red, Green and Orange lines and run through suburban Maryland, from Bethesda to New Carrollton - a project some supporters say would be of great advantage to low-income commuters.

Curiously, however, it's not the usual developer versus preservationist argument that has led to Purple Line partisanship, but an unusually divided contingent of trail users who can't agree whether the new Metro line will be a godsend or unholy mess for Montgomery County’s Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) system - an 11 mile long trail running from Georgetown almost to Silver Spring. Final plans for trail and transit have not yet been finalized, and could include either light rail or bus service, a decision yet to be made, but supporters say that a transit line would enable the incomplete trail to finally connect Silver Spring and Bethesda, pay to upgrade the path from dirt to pavement, and provide rights-of-way at intersections now less friendly to bikers.

The debate was initially kicked off by the efforts of Save the Trail – a local group that’s circulated a petition claiming that the Purple Line would be the only railway in the country to run next to “a popular trail and homes” and, furthermore, that “the existing trail and all of the trees surrounding the trail…would be bulldozed and leveled.” The group claims to have assembled 15,000 signatures for their petition and has suggested alternatives to the expansion – including a new rapid transit bus system and/or an alternative Purple Line route that would run to the National Institute of Health, instead of Bethesda proper, as is currently proposed.

Yet the governor-appointed, statewide advisory panel known as the Maryland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee MBPAC) has now issued a rejoinder to the claims of negative impact on the trail, and is aligned with groups like the Washington Bicyclists Association (WABA) and Sierra Club in support of the new line. In a meeting yesterday, the 21 members of the MBPAC panel voted unanimously in favor of the project’s current New Carrollton to Bethesda route. “It is clear to us that the Purple Line will benefit the trail by creating grade-separated crossings at many intersections and extending the trail into downtown Silver Spring,” said Eric Gilliland, Executive Director of WABA, in a MBPAC-released statement regarding the matter.

But Gilliland notes that while WABA - one of the largest trail advocates in the area - is adamant in their support for the project, Save the Trail has otherwise not been involved in any other sort of trail advocacy, and that some property advocates have been against the line from the beginning. "I don't think they represent the interests of the cyclists" says Gilliland, commenting that "the Purple Line would also allow us to complete and upgrade the trail, now dirt, all the way to the Silver Spring transit center."

MBPAC further claims to have “debunked” the theory that the Purple Line will destroy the forested areas surround the trail, in concert with the Montgomery Bicycle Advocates and the CCCT. According to material supplied through links in their e-release, a minimum amount of trees will be lost due to the laying of any track and, even then, new ones will be planted to provide a buffer between track and trail. Furthermore, they argue that up to six times as many people will be using the light rail system as opposed to the trail and, even then, the increased spotlight on the CCT system will allow for expansion not only into Silver Spring, but Rock Creek Park as well.

While the Purple Line concept has already been signed off by Governor Martin O’Malley (who allocated $100 million in state funds for the project) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and received a favorable environmental impact analysis, Montgomery County is still accepting written comments on the proposal until January 14, 2009. The State of Maryland is expected to announce further details concerning the project’s future in mid-2009.


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very good of you to report on this important issue. To clarify - the state of Maryland has signed off only on planning money for this project. It is now taking comments on whether to move ahead to final design and construction, and whether the project should be light rail or bus. Readers are encouraged to comment - the easiest way is this web form:
http://pcms.company39.com/bicounty/pcms_public/comment.aspx

beyonddc on Dec 16, 2008, 6:09:00 PM said...

"Save The Trail" is a cover. Purple line opposition is 100% NIMBY.

IMGoph on Dec 16, 2008, 8:56:00 PM said...

build the rail line, and you'll get a better trail as well. killing two birds with one stone.

the 'opposition' here is just a bunch of chevy chase WASPs who are scared of the poor, unwashed horde coming across the park from the eastern side of montgomery county. period.

Anonymous said...

"Ideally, the Purple Line would entail a light rail encircling DC - a mass transit alternate to the beltway"

This statement show the ignorance of the author as well as most of the Purple Line proponents.

1) the Purple Line as it is planned now can NEVER be extended to circle DC.

2) No the Purple Line is not truly part of the MetroRail System. Different slower cars.

If any of you developer sponsored wack-jobs can disprove either of these statements please do.

hillary*frank said...

anon 2: chill out! there are a million different ways you could have made your point and not sounded like an asshole.

Ken on Dec 18, 2008, 3:39:00 PM said...

As the author, I ask that you take note of the word "ideally", since the vision behind it was to connect the suburbs and provide an alternate to the deservedly maligned beltway, ideally connecting to the Metros. Even this first phase has not been decided, and we are not making any predictions on what part of it will be light rail. Advocates say there would be at least a 10 foot buffer between the trail and light rail, but that's still very much up in the air.

Nor did we say the cars would be the same style or speed, though something may be better than nothing. I will take note of the fact that you are jumping on a technicality without defending your point on merit.

Sheesh.

silverspringtrails on Dec 21, 2008, 3:10:00 PM said...

"...they argue that up to six times as many people will be using the light rail system as opposed to the trail.." is grossly understating the light rail use. MTA ridership estimates for Purple Line light rail range up to 68,000 boardings each work day, or 340,000 boardings in each five day work week. Trail use has been documented to be 10,000 uses each seven day week. So, the ratio is more than 34 users of light rail for each user of the trail.
The public has a right to expect trail users to make reasonable accommodation and share the Georgetown Branch rail corridor with transit.

 

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