There is something about human nature that makes every person want to put their pen to a map and draw their own alignments for transportation infrastructure. Go to any Purple Line Focus Group meeting and you’ll understand this phenomena. Everyone is encouraged to participate in this process, but regular citizens rarely if ever dramatically change alignments. Unlike regular citizens, leaders of agencies/major stakeholder groups can have a big influence – one that can be greatly disproportionate to their actual understanding of basic transportation principals… Such is the situation with UMD and the Purple Line.
Without a more thorough explanation of why MTA’s preferred alignment is a bad idea (read our counterargument), there seems to be little reason to seriously consider parting with it (in purple above). If the university wants to continue to go against a multi-year, multi-million dollar planning process, then the burden of proof is on them to prove the benefits of the Stadium Drive alignment (in orange above). Instead of providing a reasonable rationale, University Administrators continue to go around campus sewing the seeds of misinformation into every imaginable facet of the university bureaucracy. What’s worse is that they are resorting to scare tactics (such as suggesting the project will require a 5 foot fence on either side) to support their alignment. The only organizations with the will to fight them are the GSG, the Diamondback, and RTCP.
There are essentially 4 arguments administrators use to support their position (safety, aesthetics, the Univesity Master Plan, and the supposed “nearness” of Stadium Drive to Campus Drive), none of which are supported by the real facts…
If light rail is so unsafe, why does it succeed in other heavily pedestrian environments in some of the densest metropolitan cities around the country and world (including on other college campuses)? When Campus Drive is closed to private automobiles, that would amount to a 78 percent reduction of vehicles on the roadway. The Purple Line would replace many buses, so the actual reduction in vehicle/pedestrian conflicts would be even more pronounced. Light Rail is no more inherently dangerous than buses. At 10-12 MPH through campus, Light Rail operators could easily stop the train for pedestrians. University administrators have yet to rationally explain how the Purple Line scenario proposed by MTA would be worse than the status quo.
The MTA is proposing a series of avoidance and mitigation measures to ensure the Purple Line respects the core of campus. These measures include minimizing the appearance of catenary wires by affixing them to light posts and an estimated $2 million in streetscape improvements (new sidewalks, signalized crosswalks, street treatments, landscaping, and maybe even a parallel bikeway). The MTA proposes no fences like the ones described over and over again by University Administrators. Instead, the MTA plans a series of low barriers designed to discourage non-crosswalk street crossing. Some raise concern over noise and the effect of vibrations on research facilities. Modern Light Rail is extremely quiet. Indeed, many systems are so quiet that bells and flashing lights are installed at crosswalks to warn pedestrians of approaching trains.
The Campus Master Plan:
The Master plan clearly states that Campus Drive should become a dedicated transitway. The document is searchable. Look for instances where the words “Metro”, “Campus Drive”, and “Purple Line” occur. We challenge anyone to find one sentence in this document that categorically supports the Stadium Drive alignment.
The “nearness” issues:
If Stadium Drive is so convenient why don’t all Shuttle-UM buses run on it?
The University’s focus should be on working with MTA to maximize metro access to campus just as the University Master Plan suggests. They need to use their expertise on the campus community to find ways to maximize the potential benefits of the Purple Line on Campus Drive. Instead they continue to obstruct the process and propose alignments that are plainly inferior.
If they continue to insist on the superiority of the Stadium Drive alignment, we urge that they actually support their position by facts. Their strategy so far is to ignore the most basic principles of academic inquiry and prey upon the university community’s ignorance over the project. They are doing it with cheap scare tactics and a focused (although perhaps more reckless than intentional) campaign of misinformation.