Purple Line plan would narrow traffic on University Boulevard


The first Purple Line open house in Silver Spring on Tuesday was a chance to review updates on the transitway. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The latest change in the plan for a light rail line across Montgomery and Prince George’s counties would narrow University Boulevard from six lanes to four along part of the route in the Langley Park area.

This was one of the changes that the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line project team showed off on Tuesday night in downtown Silver Spring during the first of five open houses to update the public on progress.

The next session is Thursday evening. Here’s the full schedule:

  • Thursday, 5 to 8 p.m., Riverdale Elementary School, 5006 Riverdale Rd., Riverdale.
  • Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Langley Park Community Center, 1500 Merrimac Dr., Hyattsville.
  • May 14, 5 to 8 p.m., Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, 4301 East-West Highway, Bethesda.
  • May 15, 5 to 8 p.m., Woodridge Elementary School, 5001 Flintridge Dr., Hyattsville.

After Maryland picked its preferred route for the 16-mile line and chose light rail as the mode in 2009, the project team focused on design changes that would accommodate community concerns.

The change where the light rail route travels along six-lane University Boulevard is likely to be the most dramatic in its impact on travelers of all sorts. Plans had called for placing the tracks in the median of a rebuilt six-lane road. The community was concerned about the reconstruction’s impact on businesses and other properties along the way, and about pedestrian safety.

Purple Line route
Purple Line route through Silver Spring and Langley Park. (Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

Project manager Michael Madden said the solution  worked out with the Maryland State Highway Administration after a year of study is to take the two middle lanes for the transitway, leaving a four-lane roadway in this sector. Since the roadway would not be widened, the impact on the adjacent properties would be diminished. Pedestrians would have wider sidewalks and a narrower roadway to cross.

On this part of University Boulevard, Madden said, four lanes can handle the traffic. The addition of some turn lanes also could help the traffic flow.

“This will benefit all users,” he said.

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit wrote about the University Boulevard plan in an interesting posting on the Greater Greater Washington blog. Ross referred to the lane reduction as a “road diet,” a redesign style that would be familiar to many travelers in both Maryland and Virginia.

In the Silver Spring area, the most prominent example is the Montgomery County project that redesigned Arcola Avenue, a heavily used cut through route between University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue. The Virginia Department of Transportation put Lawyers Road in Reston on a similar diet.

Many drivers dislike pedestrian safety measures, because they slow them down. And University Boulevard is a prominent east-west commuter route. So it will be interesting to see how they react to the redesign for the Purple Line.

I like the concept. Many pedestrians use University Boulevard, especially in the Langley Park area. Multi-lane crossings can be dangerous under any circumstances. On April 30, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray was on Connecticut Avenue near Chevy Chase Circle highlighting a relatively new style of crossing signal installed to better protect pedestrians who face similar dangers.

A road diet — actually reducing the number of lanes — is a more robust method of dealing with pedestrian safety, but University Boulevard needs more than a new style crosswalk.

 

 

 

 

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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