The Purple Line: More Pitfalls Than Potential

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A June 29 Metro article aptly described the proposed light-rail Purple Line linking Bethesda with New Carrollton. As a community leader whose neighborhood would be directly affected by the Purple Line, I have concerns that have developed as we have participated in the planning process over the past three years:

· The Purple Line isn't going to solve any transit problem.

· The Purple Line would create a number of problems in our neighborhood (and, we believe, in other neighborhoods, as well).

· The Purple Line is going to cost a lot of money to build.

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) estimates of Purple Line ridership predict that 80 to 90 percent of riders would come from existing transit services. Only a few thousand cars would be taken off the road -- and that number would be spread over the distance between New Carrollton and Bethesda. Because the Purple Line would share roads with automobile traffic through some congested areas, it wouldn't be much faster. According to the MTA, the Purple Line would not significantly reduce traffic; what it would do is adversely affect the proposed Green Trail, which would make it safer and easier to bike longer distances around our area.

Claims of "social justice" benefits to low-income riders are specious. We have not heard how much a ticket might cost, but it typically is more expensive to ride a train than a bus. Insofar as the proposed Purple Line is almost certainly going to be a light-rail system, it would replace bus lines, and people who ride buses would probably be forced to pay more. Residents and commuters currently have a functional bus system along the planned route, but a light-rail system would stop less frequently than buses, making it less convenient to ride. Compounding that, rents would rise in areas close to Purple Line stops, resulting in gentrification and the forcing out of lower-income residents.

The Purple Line would also cause problems for some neighborhoods -- mine included -- and these problems are real, not simply instances of "not in my back yard" syndrome. Speaking only for my own area, in East Silver Spring, the proposed alignment would result in a widening of Wayne Avenue -- a residential street -- and that would in turn support greater volumes of car traffic (in addition to the 180-foot-long Purple Line trains). Along a one-mile stretch of Wayne Avenue, MTA planners have failed, despite meetings and written requests, to address traffic management concerns for three schools, two churches, a senior citizens home, a busy shopping center and a 1,690-space public parking structure. In the Silver Spring business district, scarce street parking would be eliminated to make way for the trains, which would affect business along Bonifant Street.

By anyone's definition, $1.5 billion for a 16-mile transit project is a lot of money. Perhaps it is conventional wisdom that any investment in mass transit is a good investment. There is certainly a great deal of political support, and commercial developers are all in favor of transit stops near their properties. That's clever on their part. But buying an expensive tram that would run from New Carrollton to Bethesda in just about the same time as you could make the trip today via Metrorail -- while wreaking havoc on neighborhoods all along its path -- doesn't seem wise.

-- Mark Gabriele

Silver Spring

The writer is president of the Seven Oaks Evanswood Citizens' Association.

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