Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some concerns, some advantages.

Norris used to dread his weekly hour-long Metro trips between the University of Maryland and Bethesda. It took him an hour, using both the Green Line and Red Line. “The commute was horrible,” he said.

The Red Line’s infamous U-shape makes Metro trips twice as long than if driving straight across by car, which ultimately forced Norris to abandon Metro, except on rare occasions. Instead, he borrows his friend's cars instead to travel home, cutting his commuting time in half.

He and others yearn for the completion of the the Purple Line, which would eliminate the U-shape by connecting the east-west gap with a straight across route and a shorter ride for everyone.

Although the Purple Line has been hailed for its ability to cut commuter travel time, other state residents believe the transit line will have a negative impact on their communities.

The Purple Line, first designed in a method under study since 1992 to shorten the route between improve transportation between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, will be a 16-mile light rail line extending from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Although the Purple Line will be welcomed by those seeking a shorter commuting time, it is not universally embraced. Many state residents are concerned that it will ruin a popular running and biking trail, and pose safety risks, among other things.

The Maryland Transit Administration has addressed community members' concerns in a series of meetings, drawing in property owners, developers and chambers of commerce members. Michael Madden, project manager of the Purple Line with the MTA, sought to ease their concerns by explaining that the line would have a minimum adverse impact.

On Nov. 9, Madden met with the Town of Chevy Chase Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group to address concerns that Chevy Chase officials and residents expressed in a letter written by Mayor David Lublin.

“The Capital Crescent Trail is used by tens of thousands of users – like senior citizens, commuters and bikers,” said Patricia Burda, community liaison for the Town of Chevy Chase Town Council.

Burda raised concerns that the transit will decrease the width of the trail — used hourly by an estimated 240 people, which is twice the amount of the second most popular trail in the county - and make it more crowded than it is now, according to a study conducted by Capital Crescent Trail and Georgetown Branch Trail members in 2006

“The town is also particularly concerned about the right-of-way, which is particularly narrow,” Burda said. “Because it's so narrow, especially before the tunnel in the town, the transit will have to brake hard, causing a lot of noise.”

Also, the town is also worried about the potential noise from the railroad tracks.

To address concerns of noise and safety, the state said they would look into decreasing speeds of the light rail, which are generally around 45 miles per hour.

“Near East-West Highway, it's about 25 to 30 mph, but the state expressed they wouldn't go down that low,” Burda said. “All of these things are all up in the air - we're still negotiating.”

Madden, aware of Chevy Chase's safety concerns, said that the University of Maryland — which would be the Purple Line’s eighth stop from the east — has also expressed similar concerns.

Cory Krause, a student representative to the Purple Line, explained that the light rail line also could cause electromagnetic interference throughout campus.
“A lot of magnetism can mess with research equipment on campus,” Krause said.

To address this concern, Madden said that the University of Maryland and a MTA working group to design ways to reduce the interference - but Maryland has yet to approve it.

"We would place restrictions on the speeds of the LRT, down to 15 mph and place restrictions on the amount of steel mass in the LRT,” two factors that increase electromagnetic interference, Madden said.

The station would be located at Stamp Student Union, one of the busiest areas on campus along Campus Drive, raising concerns that the trains might pose a risk to pedestrian students in the area.

“The issue is that the transit will probably be very silent, and students could get killed if they don’t hear it coming,” Krause said.

He also said the trees along Campus Drive could cause leaves to fall especially during rainfall, leading to slippery rail — a condition in which moist leaves cling onto railroad tracks resulting in a loss of friction of the transit wheels and rail.

But, Madden said that wet leaves shouldn't become a hazard with this particular line, as it has with others.

“Leaves from trees is not an issue for a new light rail transit system, like the Purple Line, because newer LRT vehicles have improved braking systems that are not subject to slippage due to wet leaves,” he said. “We are also confident that all pedestrian safety concerns, as we continue to work closely with the UM community, can and will be addressed.”

Moreover, Krause said the line would provide countless benefits for the university. “It will increase mobility across campus, decrease noise pollution, and increase popularity for neighboring areas, which will cause a flourishing of economic prosperity,” he said.

Madden agrees that economic development will be a benefit. “The Purple Line connects key business districts and employments, such as downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Langley Park, University of Maryland, College Park and New Carrollton,” he said.

Though these are the predicted popular stations, Madden said that there are a total number of 21 stations total, which should be a boon to area and surrounding businesses.

But the biggest boon will be in time saved commuting, Madden said.

“It will improve travel from east to west,” he said. “It will also provide mobility for people who don’t have it.”

Because of the current lack of quick east-west mobility, commuter Richard Layman bikes, avoiding both public transportation and the need to drive. He lives in Washington, DC near Takoma Park, and cycles Layman bikes seven miles each day to Bethesda for work-related trips.

“For trips less than ten miles, the bike compares favorably, if not faster than public transit,” he said.

Most of his trips Layman makes on his bike are less than ten miles, which he says takes him around 25 minutes. But it takes more than 30 minutes to make the same trip on the Red Line, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Trip Planner.

Another commuter, Sreya Sinha - and a frequent user of the Red Line - said she’s pro- anticipating the opening of the Purple Line - and with good reason.

“It will definitely allow me to save travel time if I want to travel home to Rockville from College Park because right now it takes almost two hours since the Red Line runs in a big U,” said Sinha, a student at the University of Maryland. “The proposed Purple Line will cut across that, hopefully halving my travel time.”

Sinha takes rides the Green Line from at the College Park station to Fort Totten, where she transfers to to get on the Red Line to get to Rockville - physically located just west of College Park. Because of the Red Line’s U-shape, she has to ride Sinha must travel south, and then north, and wait through 24 stops to finally reach her destination.

Commuters traveling from Silver Spring to Bethesda, two busy stations with popular business districts, will really feel the difference. Madden explained Silver Spring is considered one of the busiest stations of the Metro.

“Silver Spring and Bethesda on the Red Line...generate high levels of midday Metrorail travel,” according to Transit Ridership Trends and Markets by WMATA in March 2009.

WMATA recognized this high ridership, especially between the two business districts, Bethesda and Silver Spring. Currently, those riding traveling from Silver Spring to Bethesda must endure 17 stops on the Red Line, about 40 minutes.

In response to the long trips for a large amount of people, WMATA announced on Nov. 30 that Montgomery County residents will see additional service on the J2 buses between Silver Spring and Bethesda to “provide more frequent service,” according to a press release. This change will take effect on Dec. 19.

But the Purple Line will mean that there will only be five stops from Silver Spring to Bethesda.

The Purple Line will also be one of the first transit systems to connect multiple Metro trains, three MARC commuter train lines and the Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line at New Carrollton, Madden said. It also has connections to regional and local bus routes.

This connectivity will allow the MTA to omit building new parking lots around the Purple Line. “Commuters can walk or bike, take the Amtrak, take a MARC train or a bus to get to the Purple Line,” Madden said. This will save a significant amount of money but Madden declined to comment on exactly how much.

Some believe that the benefits override any negative concerns that community members may have about the Purple Line.

“I believe that the Purple Line should be implemented on campus,'' Krause said. "The main concern is student safety, but this doesn't mean that the project should be discontinued because of it. ,” said Krause, referring to the university’s concerns. “There are plenty of innovations that can keep safety at a manageable level while increasing mobility and livability of a campus community.”

No comments:

Post a Comment