Based on the proceedings at the Purple Line meeting last night, we demand that the University retract its request for the reconsideration of the Stadium Drive alignment (which they themselves allowed to be dropped long ago). This request is a waste of public funds and demonstrates their continuing disregard for the MTA’s planning process. The University must work more cooperatively with MTA and their ongoing refusal to allow the East Campus developer to meet with MTA planners is completely incomprehensible. Their approach to the Purple Line goes against everything the community should expect of a upstanding public institution. Our faith in them is badly shaken by this debacle and to continue this make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach will only further degrade the University’s reputation.
We’ve been to few public meetings as productive as MD Transit Administration’s (MTA) Purple Line Focus group meeting last night. For the first time, the vast majority of the stakeholders for the College Park portion of the project were in one place at one time to hear one message from the MTA. That message was that the MTA strongly prefers routing the Purple Line along Campus Drive with a stop in front of the Student Union over UMD’s newly proposed alternative on North Campus along Stadium Drive. Unlike the several top-level university officials present (all with the same ridiculously simplistic talking points in hand) the MTA project team had a coherent and strong argument to route the transit project in the most accessible location. Their arguments very closely matched those we made yesterday in the Diamondback.
The single biggest concern for University officials seems to be whether the transitway would act as a barrier to pedestrian movement across Campus Drive. This argument fell short at the meeting when it was explained that peak pedestrian activity occurs every 15 minutes during regular school days (with the change of classes) and that since two trains (one in each direction) will come every 12 minutes during peak hours, many times trains won’t even be crossing campus during peak pedestrian times. To further debunk pedestrian concerns, the MTA pointed out that the current situation, with unrestricted automobile access, is far more dangerous for pedestrians. With the closure of the road to automobiles (planned anyway in the Campus Master Plan) and the replacement of several bus lines by the Purple Line, how is it that a light rail traveling at 10-12 mph across campus more dangerous than the status quo?
The second major line of argument from the university is that Stadium Drive is relatively close and that transit riders will not be greatly inconvenienced by the extra walk. This argument certainly overlooks the fact that Stadium Drive is largely disconnected from central campus by sports practice fields that already make walking to classes from underclassmen dorms on North Campus an unbelievable chore. If the University is so sure Stadium Drive is convenient perhaps they should start moving every single Shuttle UM route off Campus Drive to that roadway. Their suggestion to shift the Purple Line north to Stadium Drive is equally preposterous! To be effective, transit must go where people are and where they need to be, not relegated to the side.
An interesting discussion was sparked by RTCP Co-editor Rob Goodspeed during the Q&A. When he asked about the supposed need for a 130 ft Right-of-way (50 ft for the Purple Line supposedly) within the East Campus project, the MTA responded “We don’t know where that came from.” A discussion ensued between Richard Perlmutter from the East Campus Development team and MTA. It turns out the 130 ft Right-of-way was completely bogus (as well as the developer’s claim that that alignment would impinge on the engineering fields). Therefore there is now not one legitimate reason to route the project around rather than through the East Campus Development. Rob was vindicated,