Mixed Views On Changes To Purple Line Study

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 31, 2007

Changes made recently to a state study of the proposed Purple Line through the Maryland suburbs are drawing praise from some Montgomery County residents who would have access to more transit stations and criticism from others who could end up living closer to the tracks.

The Maryland Transit Administration announced recently that it had made several significant changes to its study of a 16-mile light rail or rapid bus link between Bethesda and New Carrollton. Those changes include increasing the number of stations from 12 to 21. They would be about eight-tenths of a mile apart and include four existing Metro stops, at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.

Michael D. Madden, the state's project manager for the Purple Line study, said planners had initially assumed riders would use the line to travel long distances between suburban Metro stations without having to ride through the District. However, he said, they've recently discovered that many people, particularly in densely populated areas such as along University Boulevard in Silver Spring, would use a transit line for shorter trips, which they now must make by bus.

Requiring light-rail trains or express buses to stop more would require that they move slower and take more time to load and unload passengers, Madden said. Even so, he said, having more stations would allow more people to be served, and a Purple Line would still be faster than buses stuck in traffic.

"You may have slower speeds," Madden said, "but you could pick up more people along the way."

Delia Aguilar, a community organizer for Casa de Maryland, based in the Langley Park area of Silver Spring, said the possibility of more transit stops is good news for the densely populated area, where many residents can't afford cars. She said residents who rely on public transportation often complain that they must spend up to three hours each way commuting to Bethesda, Rockville or Gaithersburg by taking a series of buses.

"Having faster transportation will sure be more than welcome for people in the Langley Park area," said Aguilar, whose organization assists immigrants.

But other changes aren't being greeted so enthusiastically, particularly among fans of the Capital Crescent Trail and some Chevy Chase residents. The state is now studying ways to build the transit line on the south side of the trail for a 1.7-mile stretch between Pearl Street, which is just east of Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Bethesda, and Jones Mill Road. The transit line was originally envisioned to run along the trail's north side.

Because of the topography in that area, switching the tracks to the south side would put the trail several feet above the tracks and farther -- at least 10 feet -- from them. That would allow more space to install landscaping, sound walls or other buffers for walkers, cyclists and other trail users, Madden said.

Users of the popular trail between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring have been among the project's most vocal opponents, saying a train or bus line would ruin the peaceful setting and destroy too many trees in an urban area's scarce green space. The changes are being made in large part to keep the trail more enjoyable, Madden said.

However, he acknowledged that it would put the tracks closer to homes that back up to the trail's south side. Those neighborhoods would lose their direct trail access through back gates and well-worn paths.

"We think the benefits far outweigh the negatives," Madden said.

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