Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Purple Line Vote Affirms Maryland "Rail on the Trail"

The metro area's arbiters of all things transit, the National Capital Transportation Planning Board (NCTPB), today voted unanimously to endorse light-rail as the preferred mode of transport for the 16-mile Purple Line project between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The light-rail option, which has already received the support of both the Montgomery and Prince George's County Executives and County Councils, along with the Coalition for Smart Growth and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, has faced a long string of criticisms from Bethesda/Chevy Chase area residents who fear that the project will render their three-mile spur of the Capital Crescent Trail system both physically and environmentally unsound.

Trail supporters lobbed various critiques at the Purple Line prior to the vote, including claims that it would make the area unsafe for schoolchildren, lead to the deforestation of Bethesda’s last remaining green space and the system will amount to little more than a “two billion dollar trolley line.” Others reasoned that the planned location of the Purple Line’s Bethesda depot at Woodmont East is too far away from the Metro, the National Institutes of Health and the soon-to-be relocated Walter Reed Army Medical Center to have any impact on traffic in the area. Anti-light rail advocates instead proffered that the NCTPB should endorse rapid bus service from Bethesda to Silver Spring as the Purple Line’s preferred mode of transport.

“Some of my constituents in Chevy Chase will advocate…bus rapid transit on Jones Bridge Road - [an alternative that] is not supported by the residents of Jones Bridge Road,” said Montgomery County Councilmember and Purple Line Now! founder, George Leventhal. “The difficulty that we have in proposing an alternative that is preferred by both counties, and that is likely to be endorsed imminently by Governor O’Malley, is that anywhere you try to move this transitway, you encounter other problems…This alternative, which is included in our master plan and has been endorsed by both counties, is indeed the right transitway for our congested, urban, inside-the-Beltway corridor.”

Leventhal went onto to point out that his county initially acquired the Capital Crescent Trail for the express purpose of having both a “recreational hiker/biker trail” and future transit line at the same site.

“There would not be a trail today had not Montgomery County, back in 1990, acquired that right-of-way for the purpose of building what is now called the Purple Line,” he said.

Though some area organizations- most notably the Bethesda Civic Coalition's Save the Trail campaign, which collected some 18,000 signatures in support of their cause – opposed the plan, the majority of testimony submitted to the NCTPB was overwhelmingly favorable. With an estimated daily ridership of between 42,000 and 46,000, many believe that the “Rail on the Trail” will provide a crucial east-west link between Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, resulting in an economic boom for outlying communities and a more efficient Metro system. Even frequent trail users spoke out in support of the plan, illustrating just how multifaceted the Purple Line debate had become.

“The media, unfortunately, portrays the issue of the Purple Line as black and white. You either support the Capital Crescent Trail or you support the Purple Line, but not both. That’s not the case with WABA,” said the cyclist organization's Executive Director, Eric Gilliand. “When finally constructed, the Purple Line will include a direct bike-ped link with the Silver Spring Transit Center, where it will eventually link with the Metropolitan Branch Trail coming out of DC. This is a critical bike/pedestrian transit project that must move forward.”

With NCTPB approval now in hand, the Purple Line’s next stop is with Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who is expected to endorse the light-rail option and announce a timetable for construction by year’s end. In the meantime, NIMBYs on the other side of the Potomac can get ready for another Metro-centric debate now that plans for a proposed Silver Line, running from downtown Washington to Dulles Airport, are being openly discussed.


Erica Schlaikjer on Jun 17, 2009, 11:05:00 PM said...

To read more about the debate between light rail and bus rapid transit, check out this post on

The World Resources Institute, a D.C.-based environmental think tank, evaluated the proposed Purple Line transit alternatives, and found that bus rapid transit, NOT light rail, would reduce more greenhouse gas emissions, cost less and be less risky.

Read about that analysis here:

Pam Browning on Jun 18, 2009, 11:04:00 AM said...

The Purple Line Draft Environmental Impact Statement clearly states that the Trail can be extended into the Silver Spring Transit Center with all of the Bus Rapid Transit alternatives, including the Jones Bridge Road alternative.

Light rail along the trail is NOT necessary to extend the Trail into Silver Spring.

I wonder if WABA members know this.

The only reason I can see for a biking organization like WABA to support the closing of the Trail for years of Purple Line construction, and the needless destruction of all the trees and shade along the Trail, is that perhaps WABA cares only about high speed biking and is happy to create a Trail that will in effect remove walkers, families and children, nature lovers, dog walkers, and anyone who might slow them down.

Mark Western on Jun 18, 2009, 8:59:00 PM said...

Okay, let's cut to the chase on this. Any transit option is - right now - most likely a pathetic waste of money.

Why? The answer is simple. No one - no supporter of any option - has any idea what use/ridership will be, not for light rail, bus rapid transit, any other option.

Not a single taxpayer was asked by anyone in the entire planning process "if they would ride" a particular option, how it would benefit potential riders, etc. Instead, people were asked if they "support" one option or another and computer models were used to "estimate" ridership. I would love to be corrected, but I personally asked anyone who would listen if they could share the consumer research data on who would ride/use the different options etc. I was continually presented with computer model analysis of “similar” environments and how many people said they “supported” a particular option.

Let me ask you this. If you – personally – were starting a business, would you:

a) Ask people what product they would “support” or vote for?
b) Survey and interview your target market to understand what product they wanted and would pay money for/buy?

If you answered a), I have some land to sell you!!

You do not have to take any side of this argument to realize and admit how insane spending $1, let alone hundreds of millions to billions of dollars, on any of the options is without taking the most simple (and inexpensive by the way) of steps - thoroughly surveying, analyzing, and understanding who will use a particular option, with what frequency, how riders make choices and tradeoffs with their transportation needs, dollars, time, etc.

Whatever is built, please be clear, it will be built with absolutely ZERO understanding of how people may or may not actually use it. Whatever is built, it will be done so based on political values and not on what should be the determining factors – consumer research on who will use it!!

We have no idea if people will ride light rail, bus rapid transit, etc. We just know what people - most of whom would not ride either option by the way - would vote to build.

I do have a preference on the issue, but that is irrelevant. If the proper research is done and it says build light rail, build the outer Purple Line, implement bus rapid transit or whatever, I am in!!

Congratulations on inefficiently spending many many millions of taxpayer money while also ruining a very nice tract of tree lined trail property forever based on none of the facts that matter!!

Nice work!! Good luck Governor O’Malley on explaining this one 20 years from now!!

The good news is, you still have time to stop this gross negligence and waste of taxpayer money - buy the right solution and not votes!!

Anonymous said...

MAW - I think you are missing information on the larger plan for mass transit in the region. The purple line would be a start of a rail system that circles the inner beltway region. This will encourage smart growth within rather than suburban sprawl and decreases traffic for commuters who travel from areas such as Silver Spring to Bethesda.

Chris Loos on Jun 19, 2009, 12:18:00 PM said...

My prediction: ridership will far exceed the current estimates, as it has for every light rail project built in this country recently. There is huge pent up demand for alternatives to sitting in traffic, especially in a congested area like MoCo and PG county.

The vocal minority will continue to howl about how this project is a waste of money, but I predict they'll become conspicuously silent when 50,000 passengers are riding the Purple Line every day.

Chris Loos on Jun 19, 2009, 12:28:00 PM said...


Bus Rapid Transit works great when its done well, as demonstrated in cities like Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Columbia.

The problem is that in the US there seems to always be the temptation to cut corners to save costs. Dedicated rights-of-way are eliminated. Off-bus fare collection systems become standard pay-on-the-bus system. Stations become bus shelters. Soon you have a system with only marginal benefit over a regular bus line, and no one using it. Light Rail might be pricier, but you know what you're getting.

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