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More on the Purple Line

Let me add a little more information to clear up a few questions. The rapid bus service would run on dedicated lanes. I asked specifically if this would mean getting rid of any existing traffic lanes and the answer was no, with one exception. Project manager Mike Madden said a portion of Sligo Avenue, which is one of three route options for both the bus and light rail options, may have to be converted to a one-way street.

While existing traffic lanes may not be in danger, some homes and businesses might be. Depending on which alignment is chosen, a number of properties may be taken, Madden and Transportation Secretary Bob Flanagan said.

Laura fretted about how these buses would travel down East-West Highway, but none of the alternatives would run on that road. There are a couple different paths that the service would take that you can check out here.

builditnow had this take on the situation:

"It is interesting that this tour apparently focused on the difficult engineering challenges while the effort to build the ICC has focussed so much on how engineering can resolve environmental and community conflicts. Yes, threading light rail through communities will be difficult but this is quiet rail transit, not a highway choked full of diesel spewing traffic - traffic which, by the way, is growing on all roads big and small in the Purple Line corridor.

"This tour, now? Can it be that the Ehrlich administration finally gets it that if 80% of Montgomery County voters want transit and transit oriented development rather than mega roads and sprawl, maybe they should at least be pretending like they're working hard on this study.

"Unfortunately, the pace of planning of this project could not have slowed down any further than it has in the last three years. The planning consultants have been on life support as the new contract mysteriously remains in procurement for months. It will take more than a tour to convince the public that this train is on track."

I was also intrigued by the difference in tone that the state folks took with this project versus the intercounty connector. With the ICC it was all about how the administration would do whatever it took, with any means possible to build the highway. Yesterday's get together was all about how difficult it will be to build a transit line and all the reasons why it's hard to do. So I asked Flanagan about that.

This is what he said: "There were fewer options for the ICC. We were able to sit around the table with federal elites and we could figure out options pretty quickly. That wasn't true of the Bi-County Transitway."
Flanagan said there are many more options with the transit line. "It's much more complex," he said. "We're developing options working with the communities."

"We made some changes to the ICC to accommodate public input, but it did not require the wholesale public input that this project requires," he said.

Flanagan also said that the transit line must compete for a limited pool of federal transit dollars, while funding for the ICC was easier to arrange.

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 6, 2006; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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The so-called bus rapid transit route on Jones Bridge Road would NOT run on dedicated lanes. At most, it would have bypass lanes where it approaches red lights.

>> Flanagan also said that the transit line must compete for a limited pool of federal transit dollars, while funding for the ICC was easier to arrange.

Much of the state and federal funds being used to build the ICC can, by law, be used for either highways or transit. The Ehrlich administration has CHOSEN to use money that can be used either for transit or highways for highways. In fact, the administration has taken away Maryland Transportation Authority revenues previously used to subsidize transit and reallocated the money to highways. The MdTA is spending money that could have been used to continue supporting transit for commuters of all income levels to subsidize express toll lanes that will be used disproportionately by wealthy commuters on I-95 north of Baltimore.

If the administration had chosen to use its legal option to flex funds between highways and transit, it could have financed the purple line with money it chose to spend on the ICC. Financing the purple line is difficult only because the Ehrlich administration has chosen to make it difficult.

Posted by: Middle-income commuter | July 6, 2006 5:00 PM | Report abuse

So, Secretary Flanagan said the ICC "did not require the wholesale public input that [the Purple Line] requires."

What a joke. In fact, the ICC did have a great deal of public input. The difference is that the state chose to ignore the input, because those living near the ICC route do not have the political clout of those near the Purple Line.

Much of the ICC would cut through neighborhoods where middle-income, immigrant, less politically-active people live. The State Highway Administration received hundreds, perhaps thousands of comments from residents objecting to the construction of a six-lane interstate-style highway (NOT a "parkway") through established communities. They just didn't care. For example, 90% of people in the Longmead community oppose the ICC, but the state insists on ramming the highway through the center of the neighborhood, cutting it in half. Another neighborhood, Cashell Estates, would basically cease to exist if the ICC is built, because so many homes would be destroyed.

Mass transit solutions, such as the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, are what Maryland voters want--not wasteful, polluting, toll highways ($7 per day!) like the ICC.

Posted by: MeHere | July 6, 2006 11:36 PM | Report abuse

There are many myths about the Bi-County Transitway (AKA Purple Line). Let me address just a few:
Myth: The BCT will get people off the road.
Fact: No evidence of this, and in fact, where bus lines are curtailed and/or people have to ride a bus to a BCT stop to catch the BCT (increasing the time and cost of commuting), people may give up on public transportation and begin using their automobiles. This has happened in other cities such as St. Louis, where buses no longer take people to where they want to go but to a light right station. It should be noted that several years ago when a true Metro-operated "Purple Line" system was envisioned a Maryland Capital Beltway Corridor Transportation Study stated that only about 1% of drivers would be diverted from the Beltway to the Purple Line. That would have been, at peak areas, on the Maryland portion of the Beltway, between 2,000 and 4,000 drivers. Of course that was when the Purple Line was going to be a Metro operated fast subway system.

Myth: Over 50,000 people will use the BCT daily.
Fact. At Maryland Transit Administration Focus Group meetings in early May and early June 2006 MTA reported that 11,000 people currently travel by bus in the Langley Park-Bethesda corridor and that fewer use the bus between Langley Park and New Carrollton. They also noted that many of those people who travel short distances would still continue to use the bus once a BCT is built. Assuming that 8,000 current bus riders will use (or be forced to use) the BCT and 3,000 people will give up their cars to use a BCT, that is only 11,000.

Myth: "Traveling at up to 55 miles per hour, the Inner Purple Line will enable commuters to bypass the most congested section of the Beltway." (Inner Purple Line website)
Fact: While it might be true a light rail train might be able to achieve a 55 mph speed in a few areas it will go the speed limit in former traffic lanes and it does have to stop to pick up passengers. With every stop comes deceleration and acceleration, which limits average speeds no matter what the top speed. In 1999 the average speed for light rail systems was 16 miles an hour. During fiscal year 2002 the 27 light rail systems, according to the American Public Transportation Association, had an average speed 15.3 miles per hour.

Myth: Light Rail is quiet and safe.
Fact: Depending on the light rail system adopted, it may indeed be quiet, but regardless of the system adopted, it will not be safe. Just look at Houston's light rail system that has been involved in 124 accidents between the first week in January 2004 and the first week in January 2006. And it should be noted that being quiet is not necessary a good thing. In January 2006 on World Braille day a Houston light rail car struck a blind pedestrian.

Myth: Property values will go up.
Fact: Normally property values go up around a light rail station. But property values always go down along a light rail route. Who wants to own a home or business with two lanes of track and trains running down them just outside your window?

Myth: The BCT will spur economic development.
Fact: Many cities, such as Portland, Oregon, have been misled by this myth, and have ended up having to pay businesses subsidies to spur development. It would have been cheaper just to pay the subsidies and not spend a billion dollars to build and tens of millions annually to operate the BCT.

Myth: More stations and stops will increase ridership.
Fact: Just the opposite. The more the stops the slower the speed and the slower the speed the lower number of riders. Just look at the new River Line in New Jersey where, to gain support for the system, everyone was promised a stop. In 2003 New Jersey officials anticipated upwards of 10,000 riders for the 34-mile line. This system, which began in March 2004, found that ridership was only 5,039 average weekday trips in the last three months of 2004, down from 5,562 in the summer months.

Myth: The BCT will be cost effective.
Fact: No. Nationwide, light rail systems are not that cost effective, especially when compared to automobiles and buses. The Coalition to Build the Inner Purple Line stated "Factoring in operating costs and system lifespans (sic) - light rail transit is more cost-effective. Each car has twice the capacity of a bus, and one train operator can therefore handle six times the capacity of a single bus. Rail cars also have a longer lifespan than diesel buses. For both these reasons, operating costs are lower for light rail." A light rail car, depending on the particular model, can certainly carry more people than a bus, and therefore, it is possible for a three-train light rail system to have one operator handling six times the capacity of a single bus. But the salary and benefits of one train operator compared to six bus drivers is meaningless when you figure in the construction and operating costs. Additionally, the roads are already built for the buses. The rail car-diesel bus comparisons are almost as meaningless, when you figure in construction costs and actual operating expenses.

Myth: The BCT will have no impact on bus service.
Fact: It will have a dramatic negative impact on bus service. People will be forced to take a feeder bus to the system because the bus they formally used would no longer be taking them directly to where they wanted to go, because it would no longer be in operation. Addressing this issue in 2001 the U.S. General Accounting Office noted that bus systems will be forced to "reroute their bus systems to feed the rail line." "This," the GAO reported, "can have the effect of making overall bus operations less efficient when the highest-ridership bus route has been replaced by Light Rail; the short feeder bus routes can be relatively costly."

Myth: The BCT will not impede traffic nor cause congestion.
Fact: Given the alignments being considered for the BCT and the problems inherent with light rail and bus-rapid systems dealing with intersections, traffic, etc., it is likely that a BCT could significantly worsen congestion on roads such as Piney Branch and University Blvd. Nationwide light rail increases congestion whenever the rail lines occupy former street space. In June 2004 it was reported that when a new light rail line opened in Minneapolis that "motorists who once were able to drive to work in 12 minutes require 50 minutes. This is because empty light-rail trains are so important that traffic signals give them priority over automobiles, meaning people who could once drive on streets with synchronized signals must now frequently stop."

Posted by: greg of silver spring | July 9, 2006 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Greg, you ought to provide some hard citations for your assertions, because they don't appear to be true, or you mix up various things, at least you do so with Portland, Oregon.

For example, you have to remember that Portland is a center city, and like all center cities has some disadvantages compared to suburbs, hence incentives, which are pretty common urban economic development strategies.

Nonetheless, incentives in places along the Interstate-Yellow line are a far different issue when compared to areas like Riverplace and the Pearl District, which are adding billions of dollars of investment to the tax rolls, without other than the normal incentives that exist (such as access to Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits, in the case of some condominium conversions of warehouse buildings in the Pearl District).

The Portland Streetcar is making this possible. And a goodly portion of the money to pay for its construction came from private industry, because they recognized that better transit connections would make their land much more valuable (which has been the story ever since streetcar systems were being developed beginning in the 1870s, at least in the Washington region).

WRT your point about feeder buses. Exactly. If you don't do this, what's the point? The key is to do this in a way that people's trips become more time efficient, not less. Montgomery County has a damn good track record in doing this. DC, not as good. But still, DC hasn't dropped quality bus routes in favor of subway. E.g., the X bus on H Street NE gets you downtown faster than walking to Union Station. So it remains, and is a successful line, one of the most profitable in the system (meaning least amount of subsidy).

I write about these issues in my own blog, which is about urban revitalization more generally, with a great deal of writing about transit:, Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space.

Anyway, what I was going to comment on is Steve's quote from Flanagan about how there is more federal funding available for freeways than for transit. That's a story in itself...

Posted by: Richard Layman | July 9, 2006 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Richard, Although it is somewhat outdated, please see my March 2005 analysis of the BCT on
It has over 160 footnotes to sources. Hopefully, a newer version will be completed by the end of the summer,using new Maryland Transit Administration and Federal Transit Administration information. Fortunately, the Maryland Transit Administration is, knowingly or unknowingly, supplying some much data that negatively impacts their studies. Greg of Silver Spring

Posted by: Greg of Silver Spring | July 9, 2006 7:24 PM | Report abuse

I am not among the few who make enough money (or have enough money) to live anywhere that the so-called purple line will help me. I think it's despicable that state tax dollars by hard-working people will go to benefit the rich snots in Bethesda and Chevy Chase who avoid tax in every way shape and form. So what if their maids and servants can get to their houses easier - that just means they can pay them less and put them further in poverty instead of pushing up their wages and helping them mainting a living wage.

Posted by: Not rich enough to benefit | July 10, 2006 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Not smart enough to see the benefits,
Bethesda has more jobs than downtown Baltimore. Most of the people that work there don't live there. If you build transit from New Carrollton to Bethesda you allow people to live in more affordable locations and access their jobs in weathier areas. BTW - I hardly think "rich snots" will be taking the transit.

Posted by: Commuter | July 12, 2006 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I love rapid transit but the key is rapid. Neither the BCT nor the Purple Train will be rapid. Better to improve existing bus service, on time and predictable--no more no shows. If they can use GPS in Ireland, to alert people waiting for a bus as to where it is at any given moment, why can't we have a high tech system here. We could if we were serious about transportation and not about changing zoning conditions for developers. dth

Posted by: David | July 17, 2006 4:45 PM | Report abuse

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