Metro Opens Doors (to Automobiles)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is set to decide Thursday on whether to pursue a controversial proposal to sell three-fourths of its public land at the Takoma Metro station for the construction of about 85 high-end townhouses, nearly all with two-car garages. This auto-oriented project is not the transit-oriented development that WMATA claims to champion.

The space-consuming internal roadways serving the townhouses would require a severe reduction in the size of a buffer park that protects the adjoining residential community. Most of the 168 trees on the site would have to be bulldozed. Further, the sale would leave no land to accommodate additional bus bays that inevitably will be needed. Additionally, downsizing transit functions into a constrained area would downgrade station access for vehicles and pedestrians and compromise safety.

Contrary to WMATA's proposed design guidelines, the plan would channel buses and cars into the same traffic circle and increase the distance between the elevator and the isolated drop-off area for passengers with disabilities. Proposed fencing along the traffic circle's outer edge would not eliminate the potential for dangerous mid-intersection drop-offs. The bus waiting area's unobstructed field of vision would be obscured by a central island of bays for idling buses that would make it more difficult to identify danger or to assess the status of buses.

In the 1970s, we were among the D.C. and Maryland residents who extracted a promise from WMATA to provide parkland to protect the surrounding residential community. The need for the buffer is heightened by the recent approval of 411 residential units on nearby private property. The new development intensifies concerns about the ability of overstressed streets to accommodate projected growth.

At a 2006 hearing, more than 90 percent of participating D.C. and Maryland residents opposed the WMATA plan. Almost 900 D.C. residents signed petitions opposing a 2002 version of the townhouse plan. Many testified that a compact, mixed-use design, prepared by a local architectural designer, exemplifies how a creative approach can retain enough public land to accommodate additional bus bays, an accessible and safe bus waiting area, and an improved park. The space-saving building would occupy only the presently paved areas and would incorporate the existing 150 surface parking spaces. This greener alternative would include environmentally sound enhancements such as a green roof and rented residential parking to discourage automobile use.

WMATA's financial position would not be enhanced significantly by the sale of this land. The expected profit is overshadowed by the unnecessary expense of replacing existing station facilities and by the revenue loss from not maximizing transit capacity. An alternative designed in harmony with the existing facilities might generate greater profit to WMATA even if the land is sold at a lower rate in return for public benefits. WMATA's financial analysis fails to assign value to fostering the current transit facilities and the parkland.

WMATA has continually dismissed the legitimate concerns of its D.C. and Maryland neighbors. In fact, this week's vote was scheduled over the objections of Montgomery County officials. Congress and area jurisdictions should require more accountability and less heavy-handedness in return for the fare increase and dedicated taxpayer funding that WMATA is seeking.

-- Ruth Foster


-- David Paris

Takoma Park

The writers are members of DC/MD Friends of Takoma Transit and DC/MD Neighbors for Takoma Transit. David Paris is a member of the board of directors of Historic Takoma Inc., a historic preservation nonprofit incorporated in Maryland and the District.

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