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Purple Line Passes Important Test

The Washington region's Transportation Planning Board, which has to pass on any big project that wants to compete for federal funds, signed off on the Purple Line transitway this afternoon.

The resolution to add the entire Purple Line project to the region's Constrained Long Range Plan passed unanimously.

This is a major and necessary step for the project, which would provide an important new east-west transit connection for tens of thousands of people. But there are many steps to come before the Purple Line could start running late in the next decade, and many of those steps will rank as "major."

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley still needs to approve the proposal, which almost certainly will call for a light rail line rather than a bus rapid transit system, then the state must apply to the federal government for New Start money. The federal standards for approving transit projects are much too tight, given their importance not only in moving people but also in shaping communities.

The transportation panel, made of of representatives from all the local jurisdictions, has been studying Maryland's proposal for a while, but before voting today, it heard from cycling advocates, environmentalists and government officials from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, speaking in support of the plan.

They wanted the light rail line along the route proposed by the state of Maryland.

It was interesting to hear Eric Gilliland, exec director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, speak briefly in favor of the line. He said that the issue too often is portrayed as support for the Capital Crescent Trail vs support for the Purple Line. They can coexist, he said. (Gilliland's main point in testifying before the board was to protest the lack of cycling projects among those approved by the Transportation Planning Board to qualify for federal stimulus money.)

George Leventhal, an at large Montgomery County Council member, noted another issue frequently debated: Couldn't the Purple Line be a bus rapid transit system using Jones Bridge Road on its way into Bethesda from New Carrollton.

Residents along Jones Bridge Road don't want that, Leventhal told the board. "Any way you try to move this transitway, you encounter other problems," he said.

The AAA Mid-Atlantic also issued a statement in support of the line. "A major weakness of Washington's current rail system is its horeshoe design that is totally focused on getting people into and out of the city."

Opponents said the Purple Line is an example of small thinking that won't take many cars off the road or deal with the BRAC problems to come with the Walter Reed relocation. It will divide neighborhoods and diminish the quality of life along the line, they said. Why anyone's backyard? one critic said. It's an old plan not designed for these times. They want the state to go back to the drawing board. (As I typed this, I started to get the Purple Line and the Intercounty Connector confused. It's interesting that people find the same ways to oppose both highways and a transit projects.)

There should be such debates about all these projects. There are plenty of legitimate concerns about whether the Purple Line, like the Intercounty Connector, will live up to the claims its advocates -- including me -- have made for them.

But I haven't heard a strong enough local argument against moving ahead with the Purple Line while continuing to work on concerns raised by residents along the line in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Advancing transit projects like the Purple Line and the Metrorail extension to Dulles are too important to the region's future to derail.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 17, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics , transit  | Tags: Dr. Gridlock, Purple Line  
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This is an important step forward. The Purple Line has many fewer opponents than other transportation projects. The ICC and Beltway HOT lanes, for example, have much less support from neighborhoods near the right of way than the Purple Line does, and are opposed by environmentalists who support the Purple Line. The disproportionate attention paid to this very small, but wealthy, group is a sad commentary on what's happened to American politics.

Posted by: wondering27 | June 17, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The Purple Line link doesn't work.

Posted by: subwayguy | June 17, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: subwayguy, try the Purple Line link again. I think there might have been a temporary problem with the site. I was having trouble getting through for a while.

Posted by: rtthomson1 | June 17, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Middle-class and working-class people in Silver Spring and Langley Park oppose the Purple Line, because they fear losing their homes and businesses! Some homes are threatened by the track itself, including a building at the beautiful Falkland Chase Apartments. Rezoning would lead to big-time destruction. Ever larger circles for "smart growth" would be drawn around each station. Instead, go for the TSM option, Transportation System Management, improving the bus system, crosswalks, etc.

Posted by: catbird500 | June 17, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

The testimony of Eric Gilliland on behalf of WABA for the Purple Line and for more trails is entirely consistent. The Capital Crescent Trail remains unfinished into Silver Spring, and the trail network badly needs this missing link to be completed. The Purple Line project will complete the Capital Crescent Trail, giving us more trail than we will have without the Purple Line.

Posted by: silverspringtrails | June 17, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Describing Falkland Chase's buildings as "beautiful" is ludicrous by any vaguely credible aesthetic standard and provides further evidence of the specious ratiocination employed by Purple Line oppoinents.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | June 17, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

We need a purple line that will follow the beltway (more or less) the whole way around the city.

Posted by: DWinFC | June 17, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Linking completion of the Capital Crescent Trail with building a $1.7 billion (and counting) rail project is specious - the state could complete the trail's "missing link" any time it wanted at expontentially lower cost. The trail will be narrow, crowded, dangerous, and devoid of shade - as pleasant to ride/commute on in the long DC summer as riding under the power lines along the WO&D trail. As an avid cyclist, I am upset that all the cycling associations seem to support any trail at the expense of high-quality trails. And there is no source of funding identified for construction and maintenance of the promised trail alongside the trains; until there is, we should all remain skeptical that it will happen.

Posted by: kschnee | June 17, 2009 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I'm really excited about the Purple Line. Right now there's almost no practical way to go between PG County and MoCo County without taking multiple buses or going into DC. So I think the Purple Line will finally create a reasonable alternative to driving, which will be great for people who don't have cars, or who are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to driving.
Catbird500 makes an important point about people being afraid of losing homes/businesses, but I think that if the County Council and Planning Board specifically create protections for renters and small business owners, we can have the benefits of the Purple Line without mass displacement or destruction of neighborhoods that residents might fear.

Posted by: aaronlawee | June 17, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

No! The Purple line shouln't follw 495 for the same reason that the Orange line shouldn't follow 66. Look at the orange line in Arlingotn where the Metro line follows neighborhoods vs. the Fairfax Metro stops that follow 66. Which have resulted in better growth and improved neighborhoods? Who wants to live near 495? No one I can think of. No point in following 495 unless you just want to put up parking garages around every Metro.

Posted by: mandrake | June 17, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

While I recognize the value of public transportation, I would hope that the value of the communities in which we live is viewed as no less important.

I strongly question the latest proposed PL plans which include multiple stops along Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring. I believe one of the stops is located only 1 mile from the existing Metro station, and the next stop is only 1 mile further. These mutliple stops are wasteful, useless, and only serve to further harm the neighborhoods that will be adversely affected by the PL. Commuters who are not willing to walk a mile to a metro stop are the same people who won't use public transporation at all. And those physically incable of walking that far will have to rely on buses, regardless of where the stops are located. I have seen no logical explanation for so many stops.

If the PL must be built, a better plan is needed.

And yes, I ride the metro to work each day. And doing so requires me to walk one mile in each direction.

Posted by: sevenoaksresident | June 17, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Purple line is long overdue. I'm all for progress and CHANGE!!!

Posted by: thorhero | June 17, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

This is good. Hopefully, this and the Silver Line will be good for congestion problems.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | June 17, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Why can't the Purple Line be underground like the existing lines? Of course the capital costs would be higher, but the result would be vastly less intrusive to the highly developed neighborhoods all along the path.

Posted by: wilkerso | June 17, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Several Points:
The Purple Line would not be part of Metro. It will be a separate fee train - without a direct connection to other Metro lines. This makes no sense.
With a Purple Line we will loose 17 acres of inside the beltway mature trees along the Capital Crescent Trail.
This heavily used walker, runner, biker trail has 10,000 users per week. There is no guarantee that the proposed paved trail along the train will be built. And the proposed design doesn't fit in areas along the alignment.
The Purple Line will not reduce traffic, but increase traffic. Developers are salivating about the idea of developing around the stations. This will increase traffic congestion and pollution.
If we want to move forward and think about the future, let's build a 21st century addition to our Metro system - an underground metro line circling the beltway. Let's not build a train line designed last century.

Posted by: abhatt1 | June 17, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

NIH is where most of the jobs in Bethesda are. If the goal was to take traffic off the beltway during rush hour, a route following Jones Bridge Rd to Wisconsin Avenue would make more sense. The CCT route would seem mainly to help people take the train to restuarants in Bethesda...thus, a park and trail gets sacrificed for going out to eat in a different neighborhood without driving. can't we all just tip in for nicer restuarants in Silver would be cheaper and much better for the environment

Posted by: CCTuser | June 17, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

The natural development of a transit system that starts off looking like the spokes of a wheel is to finish up with circular arcs to connect the spokes. Otherwise one has to go all the way to the center and go back out for "circular" transit. Opposition is misguided. This is the way things work.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | June 17, 2009 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Even PL stops along Wayne avenue in Silver Spring could be designed in such a way as to provide needed access to the line without being redundant and destroy too much private property. Becuase new tram lines are relatively rare in the U.S., people seem to think that PL will be like Metro running through their neighborhoods. This could not be further from the truth. Tram cars are narrower, shorter than rail cars and are designed for easy on-off at street grades. What the anti PL folks need is a field trip to any European city where new tram lines have been built to see how these have been retrofitted into existing communities. The tram in Dublin, Ireland comes immediately to mind.

Posted by: sbg1 | June 17, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Thompson, your reporting on the Purple Line is always shamelessly biased. This was not an even handed report of the COG Transportation Planning Board Meeting.

For example, why not for once mention that 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.

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.

Posted by: PamBrowning | June 17, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

The current purposed route of the Purple Line west of Silver Spring is a mistake we will live with for years to come. It will destroy our quiet park. It will leave rail cars sitting in front of the theater and restaurants in the middle of Bethesda. It makes no more sense than building a high speed rail line down through Rock Creek Park to the Potomac. Or is that next?

Posted by: CDavies1 | June 17, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

I drove the beltway for over 25 years from Bethesda to Fort Meade. The vast majority of the traffic comes down I95 and/or 270 and goes around to VA or back up 270. The Purple Line would do little to actually make a difference on the beltway or any other east to west road.

However, it would disrupt and lessen the quality of life for nearly 100,000 citizens along the route for the sole purpose of adding significantly to the tax base of Montgomery county by allowing more development along the proposed route. This is the real reason for the state and/or local governments support of a $1.7B project using money neither the state nor the county actually has.

Posted by: TonyC3 | June 18, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

"The CCT route would seem mainly to help people take the train to restuarants in Bethesda...thus, a park and trail gets sacrificed for going out to eat in a different neighborhood without driving. can't we all just tip in for nicer restuarants in Silver Spring..."

What an unbelievably ridiculous, classist thing to say. Have you thought at all about all those people that come to Bethesda to work in those restaurants? to clean your offices and do your dry cleaning? You think they enjoy taking 3 buses for two hours to get like five miles west of SS or like 10 west of CP? The PL is as much about urbanization as it is about social justice. Just because you like your quiet community the way it is doesn't mean thousands should have to spend hours getting there to fix your food, clean your houses, walk your dogs and mow your lawns.

Posted by: supersmax | June 18, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

"What an unbelievably ridiculous, classist thing to say."
---in response to Che SuperMax, let me first say that I welcome everyone and anyone to come to my quiet neighborhood...though I clean my own house and mow my own lawn. (FYI I don't live in east bethesda near CCT..nor can I afford any country club fees)

My point is that the purple line proponents' claim to be "green" would be more true if the route went to NIH because that would likely take more cars off of the road. I feel for anyone taking 3 buses, but moving people from one form of public transport to another is not really a "green policy"....nor is mowing down a public park for that matter.

SuperMax re-affirms my suspicion that part of the purple line's appeal is its populist charm. Several decades ago there was a big push to replace the C&O Canal with "the People's Parkway". a google search will reveal some hilarious ads that aren't too different from the Purple Line campaign.

Posted by: CCTuser | June 19, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

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