Purple Line advocates worry about U-Md. plans to alter use of Campus Drive

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some University of Maryland students and Purple Line supporters are criticizing a university plan to temporarily close the main road on the College Park campus to all private vehicles and many buses this summer, saying they worry the restrictions will discourage transit use and complicate plans to build a light-rail line along the road.

The university is considering closing Campus Drive to all but pedestrians, bicyclists, campus shuttles, emergency vehicles and university service vehicles from June 19 to Aug. 15 as a test of longer-term plans to create a "traffic-free, pedestrian-friendly zone" in the heart of campus, said university spokesman Millree Williams. Metrobuses, most commercial vehicles and private cars would be rerouted north of Campus Drive along Regents Drive, he said.

"We really just want to see what sort of problems would occur so it could inform our thinking in the future," Williams said.

But some Purple Line supporters said the restrictions would make transit more inconvenient.

"A lot of people view it as relegating transit to the edge of campus," said David Daddio, editor of the Rethink College Park blog.

Daddio and other Purple Line supporters said they wondered whether the university is trying to complicate the Maryland Transit Administration's plans to run light-rail trains along Campus Drive. A 16-mile Purple Line would run between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

"I think they'll try to use [a future pedestrian mall] as justification against a Purple Line alignment" there, said senior Joanna Calabrese, director of environmental affairs for the student government.

University officials and state transit planners have been at an impasse over a Purple Line route for more than two years. State planners say running light-rail trains through the central campus is necessary to serve the most riders. The university's preferred route, partly along Preinkert Drive, would have too many safety problems, said Michael D. Madden, project manager for the state's Purple Line study.

University officials have said running trains along Campus Drive would be dangerous to pedestrians and that electromagnetic interference could affect sensitive scientific research in nearby buildings. Madden said the university is considering proposals from the state on how to reduce that interference.

A Purple Line route did not factor into the university's plans for the pedestrian zone, Williams said. "There is no preemptive strike" against a Campus Drive route. "The Purple Line has not been part of these discussions."

Madden said the summer restrictions would have no impact on the $1.68 billion project, which is still in a relatively early planning stage. "If [the Purple Line] is not on Campus Drive, we don't know where else on campus it could be," Madden said. "We've emphasized that the Purple Line needs to be fully integrated" into university plans.

Madden said the state's Purple Line plans would include closing part of Campus Drive to private vehicles but would allow buses and university service vehicles.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company