Today our response to Dr. Mote’s op-ed where he advocates for a non-central campus Purple Line is running in the Diamondback. We highly encourage everyone to attend the Purple Line focus group meeting today at 7 p.m. in the University Visitor Center.
>> “Purple Push“, Diamondback, 10/29
We were pleased to read university President Dan Mote’s Oct. 25 editorial titled “Support for the right location,” in which he ended nearly six months of his administration’s silence on the proposed Purple Line. The university administration now deems a street level (at-grade) campus crossing of the proposed rail line as inevitable for cost reasons. This new position is exactly what we and other student leaders advocated for in an April 25 letter to Mote urging him to accept the realities of federal funding requirements. Now that the tunneling issue is behind us, we can focus on finding the best at-grade campus crossing.
Unfortunately, rather than supporting the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) preferred alignment on Campus Drive with a stop in front of the Stamp Student Union, Mote is now advocating for an at-grade route on North Campus along Stadium Drive. The MTA already considered and dropped that alignment some years back, and Mote’s new position continues to work against a multi-year, multi-million dollar public planning process. Much of his reasoning for opposing the Campus Drive alignment is based on an unsupportable knee-jerk reaction and demonstrates a continuing lack of coordination with MTA:
1. Mote claims campus plans call for Campus Drive to become a “major pedestrian walking mall” and that turning the road into a “dedicated transit way” would go against the university Master Plan’s stated goal of promoting “unimpeded [pedestrian] movement across campus.” Mote should have provided the full sentence from the Master Plan: “reduce the number of automobiles on campus and eliminate vehicle congestion to the extent possible while promoting unimpeded movement across the campus.” To rephrase: We want to move people, not cars. Indeed, the Master Plan does call for closing Campus Drive to cars, but not for a pedestrian walking mall as Mote suggests. The purpose of the planned closure is to better facilitate busses, which currently have trouble traversing the heavily congested roadway. The Purple Line would go one step further by replacing several bus lines that currently compete with pedestrians on the road.
2. Mote has legitimate concerns about light rail and pedestrian compatibility along the Purple Line, but personal views are not a substitute for careful study. There are dozens of examples nationally and internationally, including on other college campuses, where light rail succeeds in heavily pedestrian environments without safety concerns. Many of these projects are in far more densely populated areas with as many or more pedestrian crossings per day. The MTA has already produced studies and campus renderings to make this case and they need proper consideration. Similarly, we also believe the best Purple Line route for East Campus development is MTA’s preferred alternative through, not around, that project.
3. Mote expresses concern over potential aesthetic impacts to the campus were the project to go along Campus Drive. He cites overhead wires, the prospect of a fence and the destruction of the “M” circle as several reasons to locate the project in a less prominent part of the campus. The importance of these aesthetic concerns pale in comparison to the benefits of a more central Purple Line stop, but they are still worth addressing. A federally funded project of this nature would bring millions of dollars to the university in the form of streetscape improvements and mitigation funds. We can expect to see new sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, street treatments, landscaping and maybe even a bikeway running along the transitway. Were a fence to be necessary along any portion of the right-of-way, it would be a short one designed to discourage non-crosswalk pedestrian crossings. MTA mitigation plans already call for moving the “M” circle slightly to accommodate the Purple Line.
The Purple Line is the greatest single opportunity to correct the mistake of putting the Metro Green Line more than a mile from the center of campus. That decision, made in the late 1970s and shaped largely by misplaced (and backroom) opposition by top university administrators at the time, was hugely detrimental to the university community. Our only concern is that the university administration is now compounding past mistakes with present ones. To do so without full comprehension of what they are doing is the worst kind of irony.
We encourage everyone with a stake in these decisions to attend the MTA’s Purple Line focus group meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the university visitor center and become engaged in a broader campus conversation about the best way to route the project.