Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Share Stories  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |  Get Gridlock:    Twitter |    Facebook  |     RSS   |  phone Alerts

The Latest on the Purple Line

I just spent the better part of the day on an informational tour of the Purple Line, known officially as the Bi-County Transitway.

Let me set the scene for you: Transportation Secretary Bob Flanagan, project manager Michael D. Madden and a bunch of aides walked us through the nuts and bolts of the project. Then we all piled into a mini-bus for a tour of part of the proposed transit line. I gotta tell ya, nothing beats a two hour mini-bus tour with a bunch of government officials. Aww, I'm just kidding, guys (and Erin). It was actually very helpful and was a good chance to talk at length about a project that many people think has taken a backseat to the intercounty connector. Plus, they gave us free water.

Here's what we learned: It's going to be a long time before anything is built. The hoped for timetable has construction starting around 2010-2011 and ending sometime around 2015. That's the hoped-for scenario, so it's quite possible nothing will happen even by then.

We also learned that they're studying six options: three light rail scenarios and three rapid bus ones. Metro-style heavy rail was shot down long ago, Flanagan said, citing high costs and some community opposition.

The line will extend 14 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton, with stops in Silver Spring and College Park along the way. If bus service becomes the preferred option, it could be phased in. Light rail would be done all at once.

Cost estimates range from $375 million to $1.6 billion and the state hopes to get half of that from the feds. Flanagan talked at length about how hard it is to get transit funds from the federal government, repeatedly citing the arduous process that has surrounded the Dulles rail project. He said cost-effectiveness would be a key criterion for the feds to consider and noted that bus service would be more flexible on that count.

Flanagan noted the advantages of bus service on several counts, actually. He said it would provide more travel flexibility because routes could go into neighborhoods or adjust with development, he said it would be cheaper and he said it could be done faster, perhaps a lot faster.

It's important to note that he's talking about what transpo people call Bus Rapid Transit, which is a new kind of bus line. It runs continuously like a Metrorail line and uses new-style buses that are much niceer and much easier to get on and off. So don't picture this as the same as what Metro and county buses provide. The closest thing we have to it now is the D.C. Circulator.

Flanagan said that an initial environmental document would be released mid-2007 and one of the proposed options will be chosen by the end of next year.

We learned that it'll be very difficult to do anything. They showed us how little space there was to build anything between existing train tracks and neighborhoods; they showed us how little space there is coming into the Silver Spring Metro station; and they showed us some fairly narrow roads where homes would have to be taken to make way for the project.

One really interesting thing that we learned is that this project is not expected to make traffic better on any area roads. (Yes, you read that right.) Flanagan said there is too much pent-up Beltway demand for a transit line to reduce traffic there and that, in any case, the goal was to provide people with options in a congested, developing corridor.

So that sums up our little tour. What do y'all think of the proposed line? Good idea? Waste of time? Never gonna happen?

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 5, 2006; 4:21 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Don't Block the Metro Box
Next: More on the Purple Line


I think this Bus Rapid Transit idea is really interesting - are there other places that use it successfully? How do you convince people who are not usually bus riders to take it? (By which I mean "people who can afford cars.") And how do you deal with the fact that those buses are going to get stuck in traffic? Dedicated bus lanes?

Posted by: h3 | July 5, 2006 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Tagging non-heavy rail as the "Purple Line" is a bit disingenuous. It might be faster than typical Metrobus service, but it is much different from any other [Insert Color] Line.

Posted by: GhettoBurbs | July 5, 2006 5:40 PM | Report abuse

To address and add to the comments posted earlier: I went to one of the community information meetings for the Inter-County Transit Proposal. The Purple Line designation is promoted by the Sierra Club, who still has the original idea of a fully circular heavy-rail Metro line mapped out in their literature. The proposed plans for the BRT (bus rapid transit) did include dedicated bus lanes. Some other technology is possible, such as transponders on the buses that would make the traffic signals turn green if a bus is approaching the intersection. The transponder idea may not be feasible, as it could negatively impact the other traffic. The bus design that I chose was a futuristic design, used in a city in Colorado. I'm hoping that if the new transit options have an exciting look, along with a large amount of publicity and employer support, the idea could take off and bring commuters out of their cars.

There are other community information meetings scheduled. I found out about the one in College Park through my Prince George's County Councilman.

Posted by: midanae | July 5, 2006 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Three points to consider:
1) At this point, the projected ridership of the Purple Line does NOT justify the projected expenditure. Therefore the current defense for the Purple Line is that it will promote regional economic development (i.e. the Purple Line will enable zoning changes to increase density and justify leveling neighborhoods and displacing long-standing residents);
2) The Purple Line will not positively help the environment as it will sacrifice multiple green spaces, tree canopies and watersheds all to induce exisitng bus riders to use the Purple Line. It will not induce a significant number of drivers to leave their cars at home.
3) There is no indication that the Purple Line will significantly improve the vitality of communities such as Langley Park and New Carrolton but it will definitely have negative impacts to economically and culturally diverse neighborhoods such as East Silver Spring.

-A SSTOP Member

Posted by: Robert Rosenberg | July 5, 2006 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Rosenberg's assertions are completely false. The "leveling of neighborhoods" he suggests would happen after the Purple Line is built has never happened in Montgomery County. Metro stations like Grovesnor-Strathmore and Forest Glen still coexist with long-standing residential communities. What redevelopment that does occur will be adding mixed uses (housing, office) to existing strip shopping centers such as in Langley Park.

As someone who rides the Purple Line route daily, I can see how it will improve not only our commutes but the communities it passes through. The combined efforts of Columbia Country Club and various NIMBY groups in Bethesda and Silver Spring to derail this project should be ignored as they seem to care little about the people who will actually use the line - be it Bus Rapid Transit or, hopefully, light rail.

Posted by: thecourtyard | July 5, 2006 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, it sure seems like a useful idea - it's pretty obviously ridiculous that you have to go through downtown to get from one side of the red line to the other, or from the Silver Spring end of the red line to the New Carrollton end of the orange line. There should be an easier way to do that, without having to work out fifty billion buses on three different transit systems that take different methods of payment and run unreliably.

Posted by: h3 | July 5, 2006 8:46 PM | Report abuse

It is easy to try and dismiss someone's opposition to any infrastructure project as NIMBY but the reality is that while mass transit in general may be deemed positive for urban development, the current proposed alignments are highly flawed. In addition to my comments mentioned above, which are accurate, please consider the following:

1) The existing bus lines that the purple line would either enhance or replace are currently underutilized
2) The proposed routes are so circuitous that even with dedicated lanes and controlled stop lights would not result in any gains in commute times
3) If the goals of the purple line are twofold: 1) to rapidly connect urban centers and 2) to alleviate congestion on the existing road network, then why is there such little consideration of heavy rail with deep tunneling? The answer cannot just be one of cost as heavy rail/deep tunneling from a Return On Investment perspective can be deemed just as favorable (or unfavorable) as light rail.
4) If, as a state (since this is a state-level project), we are trying to prioritize our funds for the highest impact projects for our tax dollars, then wouldn't it make more sense to install mass transit infrastructure along the obvious growth patterns of the county (e.g. the 270 corridor) where sprawl needs to be controlled, land acquisition and infrastructure are more affordable and the net result would move drivers (as opposed to existing bus riders) to use mass transit?

Posted by: Rob Rosenberg | July 5, 2006 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps I don't fully understand how the rapid transit bus would work, but I can't fathom how this would be a faster option encouraging people to leave their cars or, for people taking metro, to use this form of transportation.

Currently, there are multiple metro buses that run the same line that run roughly every 10-15 minutes between Silver Spring metro and Bethesda metro. They travel down 410/East West Highway. This road is mainly two lanes through most of its stretch, and one of the most congested east/west routes in the county. While the buses are scheduled to run frequently, they are consistently late and often stuck in traffic. I know many people that pay the extra cost of taking the red line all the way around because this is a faster (and less stop and go) route to take. There aren't any other direct routes between Silver Spring and Bethesda that I could forsee a rapid transit bus taking. Sure you could argue they will put dedicated bus lanes on this road, but this road has never been widen for multiple reason:

1) It is too narrow in many locations to widen to accomadate a full bus lane along it's stretch. This is due to houses, developments, and streams and watersheds which would be envrionmentally compromised if road construction occured (unless you want more flash flooding).

2) It runs through a relatively ritzy part of the area (Chevy Chase) who's residents refuse to cede any of their land or have development come any closer to there 2 million dollar homes (Chevy Chase residents are actually a huge opponents of the Purple Line for this very reason). These are also not people who would be taking public transportation.

Even with "new-style" buses, I don't see this as being a form of transportation that would help anything and ultimately would be a huge waste of money. Unless these "new-style" buses are equipped with a flight mechanism, they are still susceptable to traffic and will not have the ability to "run continuously" as stated. One reason the circulator is successful is that it runs a route that really no metro bus runs, and does not fight with traffic coming in and out of the city as it travels across the downtown portion of the city. The proposed line is already heavily congested and already has metro buses that do not provide the same ride as the metro.

Another gripe I have with the proposed rapid tranist solution of "dedicated bus lanes" is that do you truly believe in this area people will obey the traffic laws and stay out of these lanes? Have you seen how many people illegally use the shoulder to get to an off ramp on the beltway? These lanes are not common enough in this area for people to care, they just want to get to work as fast as possible.

Unfortunaly the purple line will probably never be built. If the planning for this had begun back in the 70's, perhaps. At this point, people will always argue the cost will never justify the means. They will come up with excuses and reasons why we shouldn't build them it, be them environmental, economical, or logisitical. I'm not sure what the future will hold for this area as development and congestion continue to grow. Rush hours that last all day long? Everyone switching to a telecommuting work day? Flying cars like the jetsons? Now that would be cool...

On another note, does anyone know if the montgomery county council decided to fund the elevator project on the south side of the Bethesda metro station? This would place a bank of fast elevators (such as at forest glen) at the south end of the bethesda metro station that would travel to the street (and also create infastructure for a purple line platform).

Posted by: Laura | July 5, 2006 9:12 PM | Report abuse

All of the options discussed are what NYC has been doing! Light rail now takes rides to adjacent areas in New Jersey. They have the buses that run 24/7 and are not like metro buses. So its about time DC learns what other cities are doing and how it can work for them.

Posted by: Ted LeBlond | July 5, 2006 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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.

Posted by: builditnow | July 5, 2006 9:39 PM | Report abuse

I lived in a town in France which had bus rapid transit. The bus-only lanes (with dividers so that cars couldn't use the lanes) went down the middle of the street and were fantastic -- and the traffic lights were synchronized so that the busses (and only the busses) had right of way ... and NEVER had to wait. People loved the service because it was actually quick and convenient. BUT YOU KNOW there will be no way that our bureaucrats will pull this off, and those busses will be stuck in MoCo traffic.

Posted by: michael | July 5, 2006 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Laura, the Montgomery County Council did approve funding for the Bethesda South Entrance. This was a 9-0 vote after the Council received more than 500 letters on the subject... an extraordinary outpouring.

The Council appropriated $5 million to do the final design and engineering (this means the blueprints that the builders will use) which will occur in the fiscal year that starts this month. The actual construction costs are estimated at $40-45 million and would have to be spent next year and the year after. The county council offered to share the construction costs with the state. (Normally, in Maryland the state, along with whatever Federal aid is available, pays 100% of both design and construction costs for Metro projects.)

Posted by: Ben Ross | July 5, 2006 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Ottawa has a dedicated route for buses, a sunken road known as the "Transitway" that is not open to other traffic. Pittsburgh has something similar, a special bus-only route that branches off the highway west of the city and detours around the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Such an idea seems like a more practical alternative than a dedicated bus lane, ESPECIALLY if they botch the dedicated lane the way DC did. Anyone who has driven on 7th or 9th Street NW knows what I mean. The city tried to take away a lane of traffic on each street for use as a dedicated bus lane, but they didn't change any of the parking rules and they still don't enforce the laws against double-parking. End result, the bus lanes, if obeyed, would narrow 9th Street to ONE available lane for traffic (two at most) where there used to be three lanes. Everyone ignores the "Bus Only" signs. I'm not at all embarrassed to admit that I ignore them too. Otherwise there would be no way to get anywhere. If the bus lane were an ADDITIONAL lane I might respect it, but to TAKE AWAY an existing lane? No way.

Posted by: Rich | July 5, 2006 11:23 PM | Report abuse

By overlooking Metro, the planners for this line have made a HUGE mistake. Metro is the only feasible solution to this problem. In fact, the Purple Line should follow the Beltway around the city, connecting each of the end-points of each existing Metro line. It makes no sense for people who live in Silver Spring to ride through DC to get to Bethesda or for people who live in Alexandria (i.e., King Street station) to go into DC to get to Arlington (i.e., Clarendon station).

While it would be an exorbitant amount of money (probably tens of billions of dollars) and would require federal, state, and local money, I think this is the only correct move. Putting a light rail in, as Steve said, would not help traffic and would only be a temporary "solution" (if you can even call it that) to the problems in the area. The answer is dedicated funding and support for a REAL solution... such as the Purple Line I described.

Posted by: driver guy | July 6, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

The proposed "inner" Purple Line (inside the Beltway) would run along the Capital Cresent Trail from Silver Spring to Bethesda. An advantage of this alignment is that it could, conceivably, eventually be extended down to Georetown. I'm not sure what alignment has been proposed from Silver Spring through College Park to New Carrolton.

County Executive Doug Duncan has proposed a Purple Line alignment for the Bethesda/Silver Spring segment that would, for the most part, be outside the Beltway. That proposal is for tunneled, heavy-rail, with only one new station to be added. That wouldn't add much solution to the transit problem in the Bethesda/Silver Spring/New Carrollton corridor.

If the Capital Crescent Trail route is used, it was formerly a rail line so the grade is readily adaptable for light rail. There also would be only one intersection that would require new major construction to eliminate an at-grade crossing (Connecticut Ave.).

For me, light rail is preferable to dedicated bus lanes. Light rail runs on electricity, where the dedicated bus lanes would require petroleum-using buses which would contribute to the greenhouse gases and smog in the down-county area. Source point pollution can be more easily controlled from electrical generation plants than from the exhaust pipes of buses, trucks and automobiles, etc. If the buses were electric traction (overhead electric supply), I would consider this a less onorous, but still less preferable, option to petroleum-powered buses.

Posted by: Mike in Baltimore | July 6, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

As bus will never be a train: It's as simple as that: no matter how they try to peddle it, i.e., "Bus Rapid Transit" a bus will never have the efficient, carrying capacity of a rail system. BRT is another way of cheapening the transit construction costs and ultimately making it look like the politicians are saving money but in the long run are being very short-sighted.
Advocates of bus rapid transit have probably never been stuck on a crowded bus stuck in traffic with no air conditioning!

Posted by: P. Darmody | July 6, 2006 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I don't agree with "driver guy" that a Metro line around the Beltway makes sense. There are very few places where there is a major destination right on (or right near) the Beltway. The ones that come readily to my mind are Tysons Corner, the Franconia-Springfield transit hub (but that's a destination used to ACCESS transit), Old Town (which is not right on the Beltway but is perhaps a mile or two away), and the Redskins' stadium. I suppose perhaps Montgomery Mall is not that much further off the Beltway than Old Town is. ExxonMobil's facility on Gallows Road might qualify, but I don't know how many people work there.

But my point is that if the goal is to reduce commuter traffic, a line on the Beltway doesn't do it. People do not work right along the Beltway, so the line would require (a) parking for people to get to the line and (b) a means for people to get FROM the line to their jobs. Hard-core transit advocates will call for bus service, but let's be realistic--many people will not warm to bus service because it makes you a slave to the bus schedule. If you cannot be certain that you will leave your job at a set time every day, you can't rely on the bus, and my guess is that most of the people the "Beltway line" would be intended to serve are people who don't necessarily leave work at the same time every night.

Now, I do agree in principle with "driver guy" that the hub-and-spoke design of our subway was a dumb idea and that SOME sort of link between the spokes would probably be a good thing. I just don't agree that it makes sense to run it around the Beltway. I was trying to think of which areas in DC should be served by something analogous to London's Circle Line and I drew a blank. I can think of SOME areas that could be connected, but I keep running into gaps in between those areas where the expense of a mass transit line doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Rich | July 6, 2006 11:37 AM | Report abuse

For "Mike in Baltimore"--I believe all of WMATA's new buses are CNG-powered. I'm curious whether that changes your position. CNG vehicles are considered ILEVs under the federal guidelines.

Posted by: Rich | July 6, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for joining us yesterday on the tour. You sure drank a lot of that free water.

The DC Circulator is a reasonable comparison in terms of the look and feel of what a Bus Rapid Transit would be. However, there is an important difference. The Bi-County Transitway would involve a substantial investment to reduce travel time for riders going east-west inside the Beltway.

Also, the Bi-County Transitway may not relieve Beltway congestion (we're working on other strategies) but could provide some congestion relief on east-west roads inside the Beltway. While a light rail might not begin construction until 2010 and take several years to complete, some of the benefits of a number of our Bus Rapid Transit options could be implemented in a much quicker time frame.

Posted by: Robert Flanagan, MD Transportation Secretary | July 6, 2006 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Statements like: "the Purple Line will enable zoning changes to increase density and justify leveling neighborhoods and displacing long-standing residents)" are inflammatory and have no basis in actual fact.
I urge MoCo residents to think towards the future - no one can argue that the situation on East-West Highway is good and that it will soon become much worse (with putting in 100s of additional condo units along the Silver Spring stretch).
RR said: "The existing bus lines that the purple line would either enhance or replace are currently underutilized."
You MUST be joking. Have you ever ridden the J2 to Bethesda from Silver Spring and had to stand for a hot, sweaty hour in stop-and-go traffic being lurched into other riders? I think not or you would have no question that the Purple Line is needed and it should've been built yesterday.

Posted by: K. Jentz | July 6, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for writing in Bob! You are officially our first official to join in and for that you deserve an award. Perhaps one day we'll get you one.

You're right about the Circulator and I hope no one took my comments to mean that the two would be exactly alike. The Circulator is as close as we have to BRT in our area in that it runs constantly and is a new kind of bus providing a more comfortable ride. But it doesn't run on dedicated lanes, which would be a fairly huge difference.

On the Beltway issue, I assume you're referring to express toll lanes as a (partial) solution to congestion? If so, what's the latest on those studies and if not, what are y'all planning to relieve some of those jams?

As for the water, I had just one bottle! It was the TV guys who drank them all. It's always the TV guys, Bob.

Posted by: Steven Ginsberg | July 6, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Having lived in the B-CC area of MoCo for the past 38 years I can say without a doubt an above ground line between Bethesda and Silver Spring will never happen. Pols will come and go with all sorts of promises to fix this transportation problem. Yet nothing will happen.

The Capital Crescent Trail is not an option as no home owner along the trail will accept a light rail or bus line through their back yard. Not to mention good luck getting Columbia Country Club to accept anything driving through their precious golf course besides a golf ball or a golf cart.

East-West Hwy. is the only direct road route between Bethesda and SS. It's too narrow and too congested to carry any dedicated bus lanes.

The answer is the most expensive option, underground rail, which no one wants to pay for. The longer we wait the more expensive it gets.

The sad fact is the Purple Line or whatever you want to call it will never be built. You'll never get Chevy Chase homeowners to agree to a rail or bus line through their neighborhoods. No one wants to pay for underground rail. So we're stuck with a bunch of ideas that will lead nowhere.

Posted by: KP | July 6, 2006 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I whole-heartedly agree with driver guy that the heavy rail purple line for Metro would be the best alternative, now and for the future. Virginia shot down their portion of the proposed purple line due to environmental concerns. While I do care about wildlife, I also care about the destruction of humans' quality of life as we spend hours in our cars. I advocated BRT because that's the most viable option on the table. My opinion is that we need evert option that we can get. I know that people are saying that there is limited funding for transportation projects, but if we can rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq, we should be able to fund transportation to forward the economic development of America.

It is taking entirely too long for this to become a reality; I started hearing about the ideas in 1998 and it wasn't new then. I hope that the citizens exercise their voices and speak up to get the much needed mass-transit options up and running. We cannot continue even inner-beltway development because of the amount of cars that will be added to horrendously congested roadways.

Also, for all of the smart communities that are planned so that people can live, work and shop in the same area, the housing options are hardly affordable. As someone who is of moderate income and willing to take public transportation to many activities, I am disappointed that the smart communities cannot serve me. The people must speak up and demand first class transportation alternatives for a first world economy.

Posted by: midanae | July 6, 2006 4:47 PM | Report abuse

In response to K. Jentz's comments:

1) I was a rider of the J-2 for a number of years in the recent past and while there were definitely peak periods that were crowded, relative to the overall capacity utilization that would justify building a light-rail, it is under utilized. In fact, there has been discussion of stopping some of J-2's late night service. But let's say for discussion purposes that my assessment is wrong, wouldn't it be much more efficient to quickly and affordably add additional bus service now instead of trying to deploy a circuitous light-rail system that even according to Mr. Ginsberg's article " not expected to make traffic better on any area roads"?

2) Just because you disagree with my comments does not necessarily make them wrong or inflammatory. Both transportation experts and politicians have informed me that the benefits of the light rail are not justifiable from a ridership standpoint or a commute time perspective, therefore the argument has been based on perceived economic development along the route. In fact, according to the project team, while no option has been ruled out, the BRT option is not as preferred as light rail because the flexibility of the BRT system is a detractor from an investment/development perspective because the routes can be easily shifted.

Posted by: Rob Rosenberg | July 6, 2006 5:30 PM | Report abuse

"Both transportation experts and politicians have informed me..."

Wow, politicians said it, too? Then it *must* be true!

Posted by: h3 | July 6, 2006 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Rich wrote, "I believe all of WMATA's new buses are CNG-powered. I'm curious whether that changes your position. CNG vehicles are considered ILEVs under the federal guidelines."

CNG is still a fossil-based, carbon-based fuel. ILEV stands for Inherently Low Emission Vehicle, which means there still are emissions, although of a low volume. Electricity can be produced with as low, or lower emissions, even if it is not all currently being produced in that manner. When electricity production gets to be more green, the amount of pollution from electrical generation conceivably could be much less than even ILEV vehicles.

Our economy also depends on natural gas for many other purposes, such as for cooking and home heating. Natural gas prices are already rising, so switching a component of transportation (however little or much) to natural gas would have the potential to drive natural gas prices much higher.

Also, with the ability to generate electricity using many different sources (nuclear, wind, fossil fuels, hydro, geo-thermal, tidal, etc., etc.), no matter how the electricity is generated, the power source for the electrified mass transit vehicle wouldn't have to be changed, but could remain on electricity for decades.

Posted by: Mike in Baltimore | July 6, 2006 11:35 PM | Report abuse

In response to the comments regarding the J2 buses, it is true that they are considering reducing (and possibly have already done so) the number of late night trips on this bus. However the way Rob states it, it is as though this bus is virtually empty except for during peak rush hour times. This is simply not the case.

I was amazed to see the bus completely full at 2 o'clock in the afternoon one day and behind schedule (big surprise). I haven't ever taken this bus in the morning, but i have co-workers that do and refuse to take it anymore because it is always over crowded and travels in complete stop and go traffic the entire trip (from 7-10am apparently too).

I have taken the bus many times at night during rush hour (5-7pm) and after rush hour (8pm-10pm) and at both time frames the bus is very crowded.

Doesn't seem underutilized whatsoever. That bus runs well past midnight all nights of the week and the trips they are planning to reduce are the after midnight trips (changing from every 20-30 minutes to once an hour roughly). I have ridden the bus after 11 many times and this makes sense economically because there are rarely more than 10 people on this bus at that time.

Also, if this route were so under utilized, they would consider cutting back service to other buses that run the same route (J3 and J4). These continue to run and are very much necessary to handle the number of riders.

I agree that it would be more economical and faster to just add bus service, however I disagree that it is more "efficient". By placing more vehichles on the road you only end up with bottlenecks and slower traffic, not a more efficient commute.

Lastly, in regards to the quote the the Purple Line " not expected to make traffic better on any area roads". Sadly this is true, but not because it wouldn't be used. It's simply that this area is growing "too big for it's britches", and by the time the purple line would be built, the amount of traffic clogging the roads will be immense, so horrible that thousands of people taking public transit everyday won't even put a chip in that amount. Development begets development and the building of any major transit infrastructure will bring more people to the area. More people with their cars, using the roads.

Posted by: Laura | July 7, 2006 3:59 PM | Report abuse

No question about it, BRT sucks! I also don't like the term "Bi-County transitway", it's the Purple Line, people. This is all the fault of the anti-transit Ehrlich administration. Whether it's heavy or light rail, the Purple Line should have been built years ago, and waiting until 2010-11 is a travesty.

Posted by: Ted in DC | July 7, 2006 5:05 PM | Report abuse

That everyone agrees on the need for some form of east-west, circumferential transit system is a given. Unfortunately, there is no agreement on how to do it. The current problem started with the the radial system, Metro & roads, we now have with D.C. being the hub. While this allowed for movement into & out of D.C., it also promoted the growth of the suburbs as well as the exurbs resulting in a large population not having to get into D.C. but needing to travel east or west. A major mistake was the design flaw in building Metro as a series of interlocking hairpins rather than ovelapping closed loops, resulting in people wanting to go from Silver Spring to Rockville having to travel through downtown, an additional 30 -45 minutes of travel. Or, they drive. In response to my questions about that, I was told as recently as last year, that loop closing wouldn't be possible because of the development in the affected areas. Strangely, this development doesn't seem to be an issue for the ICC which crosses much of the same land. So we have the Purple Line, originally proposed by Doug Duncan as following the beltway. It has since been appropriated, moved and marketed by developers who, having seen the zoning change possibilities, have been actively drawing up plans for development along the route and at proposed stations and have campaigned for their anticipated windfall by labelling opponents Country Clubbers and NIMBYs. That studies show the proposed route being one of the most expensive (Above or Below ground) projects which will have little of no impact on auto traffic is immaterial to the proponents.
So, what to do? If we're serious about building a people mover that would be of real use to the riding public (shoppers, schoolchildren, tourists, as well as commuters) we should look seriously at, long last, closing the loops. Second choice would be to put in something like a monorail along the beltway. Third, would be creating an expanded bus system that is a mix of local and express buses, running for extended hours and being more than just feeders to Metrorail. This latter should be done regardless of any thing else.
And any talk of the difficulties of establishing a rider, not developer, friendly system should take into account the difficulties faced by people living in homes under 2000 sq. ft. (the majority) who are labelled NIMBYs and who are most definitely not members of any country club. Why is it that all plans show routes invading established residential neighborhoods and heavily used hiker/biker trails rather than established transportation corridors?
None of this is going to be easy, but the resulting system should be one that is minimally intrusive, maximally useful and will be around for a long time.

Posted by: Howard Kaplan | July 10, 2006 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I really wish people would do a little research before they open their mouths... I'd like to take my own stab at responding to some silly comments here:

"originally proposed by Doug Duncan as following the beltway" Actually, a route INSIDE the beltway, was supposed to follow the old rail lines, and that was proposed when Doug Duncan was in Diapers... so.. No?

"The existing bus lines that the purple line would either enhance or replace are currently underutilized" ... As most bus lines are... for exactlly that reason.. they are buses! Go read Weyrich's "Conservative Defense of Mass Transit". You are comparing low quality of service with high quality of service and attempting to claim that "People don't ride the low Q.O.S. option, so why would they ride the high Q.O.S. option?" Which is totally illogical reasoning.

"wouldn't it make more sense to install mass transit infrastructure along the obvious growth patterns of the county (e.g. the 270 corridor) where sprawl needs to be controlled, land acquisition and infrastructure are more affordable " You just said we need to REDUCE sprawl, and therefore make the underdeveloped 270 corridor more easily commutable?? Do ya see the contradiction there? The easier it is to commute 60 miles from frederick to DC, the more people are gonna do it, the more sprawling developments are gonna pop up. Controlling sprawl means things EXACTLLY like the purple line, better, more efficient means of transportation that encourage folks to stay close and NOT commute 60 miles each way. Things that encourage folks to move into neighborhoods like langley that need revitalization, etc.... Transportation up 270 will only increase sprawl, just like the ICC will, claiming otherwise is completely illogical, again.

Mass transit is a self perpetuating system... Better, more convienient, HIGH QUALITY, transit yields HUGE ridership. This has been proven fact all over the country and the world. The flaw in our analysis, is that we look at low quality systems, with obviously, low ridership, and extrapolate those results onto our proposed high quality systems. Unfortunately, people don't go hop on low quality buses because "well, if we do this now, the state will see high ridership and in turn fund more transportation" ... it just doesnt work that way... the purpose of governemnt is to kick off that self perpetuating system and get the ball rolling.. that's why we pay taxes. Unfortunately, a neglected transit system can self propel itself in a backwards direction just as quickly as it can forwards if it is watched carefully. These sorts of situations are exactlly were the common conservative misconceptions about mass transit arise from. They are totally flawed, and a few conservatives have finally had the guts to come out and say so...

Unfortunately, hardline administrations, like we currently have at the federal level and the state level in MD, do not see the obvious and continue to support bus projects for the very reason that they are doomed to fail. By choosing bus options, it is easy to give up on the project and scrap it in 5 years. There is no need to commit to it. With a rail project, you actually need to go out and promote it, and god-forbid, let the public know it exists. Unfortunately, the private sectores knows this... therefore bus projects will NEVER spur economic development in a place like Langley Park. Developers will not invest in those neighborhoods, because they realize that the state is not comitted to revitalization and therefore their investments will fail. Therefore, to accomplish all of it's goals, the project MUST be a rail line. Unfortunately, our governot has all but thrown that out the window in exchange for $$$ from big campaign donors in Chevy Chase... its disgusting, and hopefully it will end in January once O'Malley is in office!

Posted by: PJB | July 10, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

One last comment... Buses are also a band-aid approach.. a quick fix.. while cheaper to install, the fact is, buses cost much much more money to operate. One metro bus holds 60 people, one metrorail train holds 600... both have 1 operator. Metrorail returns over 80% of it's operating costs in fares. Metrobus returns about 50%. Do the research, learn the facts... rail is cheaper to operate in the long run, and not by a trivial margin either.

Posted by: PJB | July 10, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I did my homework. While many routes have been proposed over a long period of time (although I have difficulties picturing Doug Duncan in diapers) starting with the venerable "East-West Highway", it was Duncan who is credited with coining the term "Purple Line" and he did suggest placing it along the beltway.
As to the relative cost of mass transit vs. buses, I suppose that after the transit system is amortized, it could possibly be cheaper than buses. Trouble is, it never happens. Again, I am not against mass transit, whatever its form. I just want it to be a truly useful system, rather than a windfall for developers.

Posted by: Howard Kaplan | July 10, 2006 9:30 PM | Report abuse

I did my homework. While many routes have been proposed over a long period of time (although I have difficulties picturing Doug Duncan in diapers) starting with the venerable "East-West Highway", it was Duncan who is credited with coining the term "Purple Line" and he did suggest placing it along the beltway.
As to the relative cost of mass transit vs. buses, I suppose that after the transit system is amortized, it could possibly be cheaper than buses. Trouble is, it never happens. Again, I am not against mass transit, whatever its form. I just want it to be a truly useful system, rather than a windfall for developers.
By the way, as to the statement about encouraging sprawl, what does one call the bumper to bumper traffic from route 108 into downtown DC? This is no longer about discouraging sprawl, it's about dealing with that which is.

Posted by: Howard Kaplan | July 10, 2006 9:38 PM | Report abuse

I did my homework. While many routes have been proposed over a long period of time (although I have difficulties picturing Doug Duncan in diapers) starting with the venerable "East-West Highway", it was Duncan who is credited with coining the term "Purple Line" and he did suggest placing it along the beltway.
As to the relative cost of mass transit vs. buses, I suppose that after the transit system is amortized, it could possibly be cheaper than buses. Trouble is, it never happens. Again, I am not against mass transit, whatever its form. I just want it to be a truly useful system, rather than a windfall for developers.
By the way, as to the statement about encouraging sprawl, what does one call the bumper to bumper traffic from route 108 into downtown DC? This is no longer about discouraging sprawl, it's about dealing with that which is.

Posted by: Howard Kaplan | July 10, 2006 9:39 PM | Report abuse

For more info on BRT and lightrail, see:

Posted by: et | July 10, 2006 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Check out the link at the top at:
The transitway runs on regular roads east of Silver Spring. I can't see how a light rail train running in the road will do any better with traffic than buses.

I'd like to see the Georgetown Branch trail paved for Bus Rapid Transit on workdays, and then let bikers/joggers/walkers use the easement on weekends and holidays.

Posted by: acme | July 10, 2006 11:55 PM | Report abuse

"Do the research, learn the facts... rail is cheaper to operate in the long run, and not by a trivial margin either."

Really? Do the research on rail capital costs, including the huge upfront costs and the huge recurring costs. Rebuilding track bed costs a fortune.

You're not comparing rail in a high capacity corridor like Metrorail to buses running in low capacity areas, the typical trick rail advocates play. You're comparing BRT and lightrail in the same corridor. Volvo buses in Curitiba, Brazil can carry 270 people.

Posted by: xm | July 11, 2006 12:04 AM | Report abuse

"Metrorail returns over 80% of it's operating costs in fares. Metrobus returns about 50%."
I don't think so. You must have read some interesting transit math. Check out the WMATA budget at:$File/3030.pdf

Posted by: anymouse | July 11, 2006 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Light Rail along the Capital Crescent Trail would clear-cut ALL of the trees -- thousands of them -- and run just a few feet away from the Trail and hundreds of homes and apartments, every three minutes at speeds up to 55 mph. This would obviously be devastating for the environment and communities in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring.

There is no light rail system in the US that runs so fast and frequently -- while so close to homes and a trail -- as this proposed light rail.

But just as important, a light rail would fail to provide a meaningful solution to transportation problems. It would fail to provide a seamless connection between the two legs of the Red Line. As pointed out in this column, studies have shown that while it would force riders out of buses, it would not take cars off the road.

A Light rail would create an entirely NEW system, with different cars, tracks and maintenance. Thus, Metro would not be able to use this link to move its cars from one leg of the Red Line to the other. In the event that a portion of one leg of the Red Line is disabled by an accident -- or as a result of terrorism -- Metro could not use the Bethesda - Silver Spring link to move Metro cars across to reach the other leg. At Park and Planning Hearings, Metro testified that a real heavy Metro link would be of significant benefit to Metro.

10,000 trail users signed petitions asking that the Purple Line be placed underground as a heavy rail Metro connection between Bethesda and Silver Spring, OR put in another location.

There is no reason why we can't have meaningful transit and save the Capital Crescent Trail!

It is less than four miles between Bethesda and Silver Spring. We're not talking about going to the moon -- or even Dulles or Baltimore. We could begin in the short run with improved bus service, while planning for the long-term for underground Metro Rail.

It should not be too much to ask that this be DONE RIGHT - for the benefit of the Metro system, the environment, trail users, communities, and commuters.

Pam Browning
Organizer, Petition Drive to Save the Trail

Posted by: Pam Browning | July 13, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

According to the WMATA website it takes 25 minutes between Silver Spring and Bethesda on any of the buses. The same trip on Metro (red line--you don't even have to change trains) takes 35 minutes. What is the big deal here?? Why spend millions or billions of dollars to save 10 minutes??? Seems like a waste. I regularly take the red line train from Bethesda to Brookland metro. And, once the masses exit at Metro Center, there are plenty of seats available. Trains during rush hour run every couple of minutes. I don't see the need to spend all this money and ruin a very nice and useful trail to save 10 minutes.

Posted by: metro rider | July 13, 2006 4:48 PM | Report abuse

I am one of the Chevy Chase homeowners who have been much maligned in some of the postings. I, however, do not own a $2 million house. In fact, I don't even own a $1 million house. Also, as a single mother with a mortgage, I don't have money left over at the end of the month to make contributions to politicians who oppose the light rail. What I do have is a house that sits 75 to 100 feet from the Capital Crescent Trail. I would like each and every person who supports a light rail on the Capital Crescent Trail to answer the following question: Would you like to have a train whizzing through your back yard every 3 minutes at speeds of up to 55 mph? If your answer is no, then don't criticize me and my neighbors for opposing the light rail proposal. Saying that light rail is "quiet" is disingenuous. Yes, it may be quiet compared to the sound heavy rail makes in metro tunnels or to the sound low-flying jets make, but it has to be noisy compared to the sound of hikers walking the Capital Crescent Trail.

I also see a broader public policy issue beyond my own self-interests. The county (and the state of Maryland, as well as DC and Virginia) need a wholesale plan to reduce traffic congestion across the region, not just between Bethesda and Silver Spring. The person who described the bus transit system in Europe seems to have a solution that we should seriously consider as a means for alleviating traffic congestion and the adverse environmental and economic impact of that congestion. It would be great to see that type of a bus transit system (with a dedicated traffic lane barricaded from vehicular traffic) on many of the major commuting routes in our area. People would use this type of transportation if it is clean and fast and convenient -- traffic congestion and high fuel costs will force many of them into these buses.

Posted by: A Chevy Chase Homeowner | July 13, 2006 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I can certainly understand why "A Chevy Chase Homeowner" would much prefer not to have a light-rail running behind her home. But I would point out that if her home is 75-100 feet from the Capital Crescent Trail, then her home was built when a B&O Railroad freight train was regularly using the space the trail now occupies. That space was a working rail corridor from about 1910 to 1986, and has been earmarked for potential use as a rail transit corridor since 1986 in all of the County planning documents. I do not expect "A Chevy Chase Homeowner" to welcome light-rail, but she also knew, or should have known, that rail uses of this space could be expected.

It should also be recognized that this is not just about a four mile transit system connecting two communities (Bethesda and Silver Spring). This is about a fourteen mile system connecting neighborhoods along the route beyond Silver Spring through Langley Park and College Park to New Carrollton. It also will connect between four major Metro stations, not just two. "A Chevy Chase Homeowner" appears to have not noticed that this discussion is about the Purple Line, and is still fighting the old Georgetown Branch Trolley proposal for a single track system that did end in Silver Spring. This is not just about Chevy Chase and Silver Spring any more.

Pam Browning makes the point that 10,000 trail users signed her petition opposing rail on the surface. I am among the many trail users who will not sign her petition. The trail does not extend into downtown Silver Spring, but instead ends in Lyttonsville less than 1 mile east of Rock Creek. Those of us who live in Silver Spring neighborhoods have been waiting 20 years for the trail to be built through our neighborhood to downtown Silver Spring. The plans for the Purple Line provide for the trail to be rebuilt alongside the light-rail continuous through our Silver Spring neighborhoods into Silver Spring. Opponents of light-rail have no credible plan for completing the Capital Crescent Trail because they have no way to get access to the CSX corridor without being part of a transit project. That is one of the reasons why the Washington Area Bicyclist Association refuses to sign the so called "Save the Trail" petition and supports shared transit/trail use in this corridor. Pam Browning has a lovely tree lined trail behind her house in Chevy Chase, and I certainly would not expect her to welcome transit. But again this is not just about Chevy Chase - we are still waiting for the trail in Silver Spring.

Wayne Phyillaier

Posted by: Wayne Phyillaier | July 13, 2006 7:38 PM | Report abuse

In response to the preceding posting, there is a big difference between having a freight train pass by a few times a day and having a light rail pass by EVERY THREE MINUTES. Moreover, just because the space has been earmarked as a potential rail transit site since 1986 doesn't mean that the county should adopt the current light rail proposal. As Pam points out, "there is no light rail system in the US that runs so fast and frequently -- while so close to homes and a trail -- as this proposed light rail." Moreover, how could anyone enjoy the trail with a high-speed train going by every three minutes just a few feet away?

Posted by: A Chevy Chase Homeowner | July 14, 2006 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I have talked to thousands of trail users - hikers and bikers - while petitioning. The overwhelming majority said they would not be interested in using the Capital Crescent Trail adjacent to light rail trains, stripped of the trees, shade, and natural character. So getting into Silver Spring under these conditions would be an irrelevant point for the clear majority of trial users.

But, in any event, there are two additional important points in response to Wayne Phyillaier's assertion that we need the light rail to get the Capital Crescent Trail into Silver Spring:

1) Getting into Silver Spring on the old- railroad right-of-way may be impossible for the light rail, not to mention a light rail AND the trail. There simply is not enough space. But please don't take just my word, or Wayne Phyillaier's on this. PLEASE HIKE THE TRAIL AND LOOK FOR YOURSELVES.

I encourage everyone who is concerned about having the Trail extend into Silver Spring to walk the Trail -- and continue walking on the old rail road right of way -- as far as you can go into Silver Spring. I tried this and got to about 16th Street. After that it was too dangerous. I believe that most trail users would not feel comfortable or attracted to hiking and biking adjacent to light rail, CSX, and MARC trains, in a very narrow, congested, ugly, dangerous, railroad corridor. It's an absurd idea, manufactured to build support for the light rail.

2) However, there is an ALTERNATIVE ROUTE for getting into Silver Spring. In 2002, the County paid for a Study of how to send the Trail into Silver Spring in a way that will not cost 10's of million of dollars. But light rail advocates oppose the route that was recommended, because they want to use this issue to create support for the light rail.

Posted by: Pam Browning | July 14, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

To address the poster "Laura's" comment:

2) It runs through a relatively ritzy part of the area (Chevy Chase) who's residents refuse to cede any of their land or have development come any closer to there 2 million dollar homes (Chevy Chase residents are actually a huge opponents of the Purple Line for this very reason). These are also not people who would be taking public transportation.

You are 100% wrong on this assertion and perhaps you should take a trip down the CC Trail to see these "2 million dollar" homes or look them up online. You'd be surprised.

The homes that line the trail - of which I own one of - go for about what a townhome runs in Herndon and Gaithersburg. The people who live along the trail are in small, single family/starter family homes and apartment style condos. The Chevy Chase you're confusing this with is about 3 miles south of the trail.

And you're right, I don't take public transportation. Why should I? I walk or ride my bike to work, in Bethesda, down the CC Trail. That seems a lot cheaper than building a railway, don't you think?


Posted by: CC Resident | July 14, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

In response to several of Pam Browning's comments:

She is simply wrong on the facts when she asserts that the corridornow used by the trail is barely wide enough for the trail. The trail corridor does appear narrow - because adjacent property owners have encroached on the publically owned right of way by erecting fences. For example, at the Country Club the right of way is a full 100 feet wide, but the Club has erected fences so that the trail only has 16 feet width in places and trail users feel like they are in a hampster cage. The publically owned r.o.w. on this corridor is at least 66' feet wide over its length from Bethesda to beyond Rock Creek. The Bi-County Transitway engineers need less than 60' for two transit tracks and a full width trail with a buffer space between transit tracks and trail. Check out to see their drawings of how this can be done.

Pam asserts there is a 2002 study showing an alternative route through Silver Spring. Perhaps she means the Interim Trail route shown in the 2001 M-NCPPC CC-MBT Trail Facility Study. That route is very indirect, follows local roads, and crosses several busy highways at dangerous at-grade crossings. It was judged to be so inadequate by the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail that the Coalition testified to the Planning Board that this route would be completely unacceptable as anything more than a temporary route, until the preferred route on the CSX alignment could be completed. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association also holds that position. The reader should ask Pam to show the route she is refering to - it is not a trail that can be taken seriously.

Wayne Phyillaier

Posted by: Wayne Phyillaier | July 14, 2006 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Good idea, Wayne. As Groucho Marx said:

"Who are you going to believe -- me --or your own two eyes?"

I look forward to providing a tour of the Trail to everyone who is interested.

Please contact me (Pam Browning) at


Posted by: Pam Browning | July 15, 2006 6:23 PM | Report abuse

As a Trail Tour Preview, please see Trail photos at:


Posted by: Pam Browning | July 15, 2006 6:38 PM | Report abuse


Your website has dozens of pretty pictures of the trail. But not a single picture of any trail east of Rock Creek to Silver Spring. Will your "trail tour" also be all about Chevy Chase and forget about Silver Spring? Any website (or tour) that only covers Chevy Chase is telling only half the story. Your website makes my point well that you have no interest in the trail beyond Chevy Chase.

For the readers who would like to see the trail discussed from a regional perspective, I suggest

Wayne Phyillaier

Posted by: Wayne Phyillaier | July 15, 2006 8:17 PM | Report abuse

Wayne -

Perhaps you should consult a map or visit the trail yourself. In a sense of irony, the CC-T is in purple.

The CC-T more or less ends just past the trestle of Jones Bridge/Mill. Beyond that, it runs through an industrial park.


Posted by: ccr | July 16, 2006 12:30 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for posting that map. It shows several things clearly:
1) The CCT now ends well short of downtown Silver Spring.
2) The existing route we residents of Silver Spring must use to get to the CCT is on-road, indirect, and crosses several busy roadways.
3) The planned, preferred route to finish the CCT is along the CSX corridor.

Still waiting for the trail in Silver Spring.

Wayne Phyillaier

Posted by: Wayne Phyillaier | July 16, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

In response to Wayne:

MY APOLOGIES that my website is not up-to-date on Silver Spring photos. As I mentioned, I have technical difficulties updating it. (Verizon gave it to me free and doesn't want to give me access now!)

We'll start our Trail Tour at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda, follow the old CSX Corridor into Silver Spring, as Wayne suggests, and then look at the alternative routes.


Posted by: Pam Browning | July 19, 2006 7:11 PM | Report abuse

No LRT system in the country travels at 3 minute headways. It is almost technically impossible for LRT to operate at less than 5 minunte headways realibly unless the alignment is near complete exclusive ROW, which the Purple Line is not proposed to be.

The Baltimore LR operates at 10 minute headways and it can't keep on schedule due to the Howard St mixed traffic segment and handycap lift delays. Just the other day I saw one train come 3 minutes after the last one.

I think there will be more opposition to this project once the region realizes they ain't getting "Metro". The DC Metro averages some 33 mph. Its unlikely the Purple line will average better than 16-20 mph. It will not save time east of Silver Spring and will worsen congestion by taking out traffic lanes.

This "heavy rail is unaffordable" is nonsense. No one has made any justification for that whatsoever.

For thought:

The Balto LR in 2001 had an accident every 16 days on average.
Through that time since 1983, the Balto Metro had been in one accident its entire existence.

Posted by: Balto Metro Man | July 20, 2006 1:24 AM | Report abuse

There's an old addage "just because you can doesn't mean you should." Seems to apply to the whole purple line issue.

Posted by: What ever happened? | September 7, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

I say, extend the light rail line through Bethesda, alongside the CCT, through Dan Snyder's LIVING ROOM, accross the Potomac, make a stop at the CIA/DHS, run the light rail along 123 to Tysons, turn it down Gallows Road to Merrifield, and on to Annandale and Springfield.

Posted by: Fairfax Transit | September 16, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company