It seems that this summer, purple is the new black. It's probably just the Governor election in Maryland, but the purple line has been front and center lately in a way I've never seen before. There have been a dozen stories written about it lately. Of course since it's suppose to run on the same rigth-of-way (ROW) as the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT), and the trail is used as the main reason for not building it, it matters to cyclists.
Some in the county, including County Executive Doug Duncan and Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition President Mier Wolf, have pushed for heavy rail.
But the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition has openly fought ANY purple line because they claim they want to protect the CCT. The two candidates to replace Duncan both claim to support the purple line with small differences.
On the campaign trail, [Isiah] Leggett and his primary opponent for the Democratic nomination, council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), have said they support the Purple Line but disagree on its design. Silverman favors a predominantly above-ground system, while Leggett said he would consider some tunneling known as "cut and cover" to avoid neighborhoods.
And then the Governor is clearly pushing for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
Officials do not have a preference as to what mode the transitway should take, but Flanagan said bus rapid transit ‘‘may beat light rail in terms of cost effectiveness.”
How is that not a preference? Plus, what they're talking about is not true BRT - that would run in it's own right of way like a train on rubber wheels - their system will run on regular roads. When buses are the alternative, no wonder this is true.
Among the directors of the "Save the Trail" organization is the Vice President for Government Affairs of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, Jay Hansen.
As someone else wrote about the Governor's position
It is interesting that this tour apparently focused on the difficult engineering challenges while the effort to build the intercounty connector has focused so much on how engineering can resolve environmental and community conflicts.
Interesting too, that this project won't even start until the ICC is complete - but they claim it wasn't pushed to the back burner. While I'm discussing the ICC, I also saw this recently
Another element planners could address is the desire for a bike path. The ICC master plan calls for one running the entire length of the highway, but the state plans to construct only about seven miles of a bike path, almost all in Montgomery County.
Back onto the purple line, personally, I think heavy rail make the most sense, but I could live with light rail. The argument is that a metrorail type line wouldn't be able to win federal funding because it's cost-to-ridership ratio would be too high. Someone in the know told me that under today's standards metro wouldn't have been able to get federal funding, but that may be a different problem for a different blog.
So what about the positions on this? One thing that's been coming up a lot is that the ROW is too narrow.
We learned that it will 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 Station; and they showed us some narrow roads where houses would have to be taken to make way for the project.
There isn’t much room between the CSX railway and residences and businesses on either side of the tracks in downtown Silver Spring. Another transit line next to the tracks would be a tight squeeze.
yet, the bicounty transitway study seems to show a different picture. And I read this
An approx. 60' width is needed to accomodate two light-rail tracks and a 10' wide trail. The County owned Georgetown Branch Corridor right-of-way is at least 60' wide over its 3.3 mile length from Lyttonsville to Bethesda, and is 90' wide or more for over 1/2 of its length. Adjacent property owners have encroached upon the r.o.w. in many places so that it appears much narrower. At the Columbia Country Club, 4/5 of the public right-of-way has been fenced off for the private use of Club Members, with no compensation given to the public.
Why is it such a tight squeeze?
In those areas, 25 feet must separate the transitway from the CSX tracks, and planners have had to develop alternatives, such as raising the transitway over the tracks, that would preserve the community and be cost-effective.
That's just ridiculous. All over the country - all over the world, transit runs right next to rail. Ever ridden the red line out to Silver Spring? That is a CSX "rule" I think, not a federal railroad rule - and as such it can be changed. Again with the CSX. Another claim of too narrow comes from a board member of the Coalition for the CCT.
the danger arising from a trail-transitway separation of eight feet (perhaps less)
Arguments about destroying greenspace are valid. There is the question of are we willing to sacrifice the park-like setting of the eastern CCT for transit improvements. I'm not sure what the answer is, I do love trees, but I don't think this means taking all of the parkness away.
All trees must be removed in a 60' wide swath to make room for transit and trail between Rock Creek and Bethesda if the Inner Purple Line is built on the surface. Trees would remain along the south side of the corridor to shade the trail for the major part of this section, where the right-of-way is considerably greater than 60' wide. But the tree canopy will be opened. Light-rail cars will pass by trail users as frequently as every several minutes during rush hour periods. Much of the park character of the Trail will be lost in Chevy Chase/East Bethesda neighborhoods. But access to trails and parks would increase overall if the Purple Line transit/trail is built. Neighborhoods east of Rock Creek do not have good off-road access to Rock Creek Park. Completion of the Inner Purple Line transit/trail would provide neighborhoods on both sides of Rock Creek with good access to a trail and to Rock Creek Park. Trail users would be separated from motor vehicle traffic at the roadway crossings, so vehicle interactions overall would be reduced.
So, there would be some green space. I think it's important that bike advocates walk the walk. If we want to get space in places for our transit choice we shouldn't stand in the way of other good transit options.
But is it a good transit option? I haven't heard anything definitive about it. Opponents like to say that it won't do anything.
"To destroy the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, to put in a light-rail system that will not meet the transportation needs of the county or improve the Metro system, is foolish to say the least," Pam Browning said.
But I tend to agree with the Post.
It would begin to compensate for Metrorail's main deficiency -- its radial design, which reflects planners' flawed assumption that the District would forever be the lone focal point for the region's development and job growth. Much of the economic boom in recent decades has taken place in or near suburban hubs ringing the city; naturally, traffic has followed. A four-mile link between the Metro stations in Bethesda and Silver Spring, two of Montgomery's major development centers, would reflect the new reality of commuting patterns. Eastward, there is equally powerful logic in a rail line linking Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.
And the Purple Line has benefits for cyclists.
The preferred CCT alignment for the final 1.1 mile from Lyttonsville into Silver Spring is along the CSX corridor. A CCT built along any other route into Silver Spring would not provide good separation from motor vehicles and would not have a seamless connection to the Metropolitan Branch Trail that is needed for the regional trail network. CSX has said it will never allow the CCT in their r.o.w. as a trail-alone project. But CSX has sent a letter to Maryland DOT Secretary Flanagan in early 2004 affirming its willingness to discuss the Inner Purple Line joint transit/trail project with state planners. It is much better for the CCT to be in the CSX r.o.w. as part of a transit/trail project than to be excluded from the CSX r.o.w. entirely.
Despite the individual letter above, the CCCT and WABA have the same positions stated best in this letter
Polarizing the issue into a "if you are not with us you are against us" kind of debate hurts bicyclists because it diverts attention from the real challenge. A public right-of-way such as the Georgetown Branch is a community asset that should be designed to serve the broadest population possible. It will take commitment and creativity to make sure that this valuable transportation corridor will serve everyone: transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians. WABA is committed to making that happen.
Finally, all this brings me to something that Richard Layman said on his blog.
This is the one concern I have with "Rails to Trails" programs. You create a built in constituency to oppose transit, if people aren't willing to co-locate transit and trails.
At first I was inclined to disagree. So few rail-trails are suitable for conversion (in low density areas - like the Western Maryland Rail-trail, too narrow - like the CCT in DC, plenty wide enough, etc...) that I didn't figure this happened very often. Then I saw this in my hometown.
NOISY protests over a possible light rail line on Richmond have eclipsed a quieter discussion of where to put rapid transit in the East End, a historic neighborhood in the midst of economic revival and on the threshold of gentrification.
The other remaining option, also a rail corridor, is a half-block north of Harrisburg. The leafy strip, an abandoned rail right-of-way scarcely 50 feet wide in places, has been converted into a community treasure called the Harrisburg Hike and Bike Trail.
Homes back up to it, and if a two-direction transit route was built there, the space left for walking and biking would be cramped.
"Definitely not," said Jessica Hulsey, who lives a short stroll from the trail. "We worked very hard to create these trails."
So, it does happen. I still disagree and claim that it's the exception, not the rule. There are thousands of miles of rail trail in the U.S, very few of these miles involve transit conversion fights. But we need to be cognizant that when we fight to "save a trail" from transit conversion - especially one that was always set aside for such use - we shoot ourselves in the foot when the next rail trail opportunity comes along.